This month we can just start to feel Autumn creeping up on us, and this indicates that our most bountiful season is kicking off. Fruit, nuts and fungi will soon fill our baskets and bellies, and preserving these for the colder months can get underway. In the meantime, you can still enjoy fresh ingredients from the wild, including a box of freshly-picked wild mushrooms and arguably the best stone fruit there is.
Please remember to follow whatever government restrictions are in your local area and that if you do manage to get outdoors, please be respectful of nature ensuring that you leave no trace. Here at Forage Box, we have been shocked by the terrible reports of littering, feral camping and destruction of the environment that has seen a spike since the COVID-19 UK restrictions were eased.
Species included: Chanterelle, Hedgehog Fungus, Dryad’s Saddle, Various Boletes.
Wild fungi is easily the most intriguing element of foraged food and any edible species definitely come with their own mystique, not least because of the deadly reputation associated with some wild mushrooms that have found their way onto the dinner plates of unfortunate (read: careless) foragers. With all of that aside, you can be 100% confident that the species in your box will not put you in hospital or the morgue - they all fall neatly into both the ‘easy to identify’ and ‘delicious’ categories.
Your box will contain a sample of each of the following: Chanterelle, Hedgehog fungus, Dryad’s Saddle and an example of an edible bolete (this could be a Cep, a Bay Bolete or an Orange Birch Bolete, which are all as delicious as each other). All worthy of being the centre of attention, these mushrooms shouldn’t be mucked about with. Quickly fry them in butter or oil, maybe with a sprinkle of your herb of choice - we reckon that tarragon or thyme are the best options here - and served on some chunky toast. Versatility is the buzzword here though, and you can use these exactly how you would with regular, boring, supermarket mushrooms, such as a creamy sauce or as part of a fancy roast.
One request: please do not eat these mushrooms raw. They must be cooked before consuming.
A wise-cracking forager once quipped: “The only plums you can’t eat are the ones sold in supermarkets.” This is not entirely true, of course, but it is a reference to how unpleasant the imported versions are that you will have probably been subjected to - bitter, watery, overly tart and generally devoid of any flavour. Take a stroll along your nearest hedgerow, however, and you will likely come across a wild plum tree of some description, the fruit of which is simply unrecognizable when compared with anything found in a shop. Sweet, syrupy, soft and bursting with flavour, the damsons in this month’s Forage Box are about as good as plums get.
It is here that we would usually offer some idea of a recipe and how to cook with each item. Don’t even think about it! When you get these through the post, pop off the lid straight away and enjoy these fresh out of the box, knowing that they were hand-picked just hours ago (eat the softer ones first though, as some of them may need a day or two to ripen that little bit more). Damson crops are temperamental and can have bad years for fruiting, plus they have such a small window for being ripe and ready to eat straight from the tree. Knowing this, you can now consider yourself lucky to be able to savour these tasty treats, because we might not have a bumper crop for another few years!
Unlike the bland shop-bought mint tea you may have tried before, watermint tea has a warmth and aromatic quality to it that still works well as an after-dinner drink. Reported health benefits of drinking mint tea is wide-ranging, but we find it best drunk to aid digestion or settle the stomach. Use approximately a teaspoon of dried tea per cup, allowing anything between 1 and 5 minutes to infuse, depending on your taste preference. As much as we love this as a tea, we reckon this would make a belting addition to a dessert - watermint choc chip ice cream anyone?
Watermint grows on the banks of still or slow-moving fresh water and usually in large clumps. Take just the top few leaves for the freshest growth, leaving the remaining plant undisturbed to continue growing.
Arguably the biggest celebrity of the foraging world, Wild Garlic is already a bit of a household name, popping up on restaurant menus across the country. You can probably even buy it fresh from a quality greengrocer when it is season in Spring and early Summer. It is well out of season right now, but fear not - we have plenty of it preserved in various forms! This month you will receive a pot of the seed pods that have been preserved using lacto-fermention, which also happens to add depths of flavours and a complexity not found with the fresh plant (FYI lacto-fermentation is the same process that makes gherkins, kimchi, sauerkraut and other tangy pickles. You will even find it in some beers!)
These seed pods are garlicky, salty, crunchy and powerful. Use them sparingly in salads or as a garnish if you like to keep it simple. If you’re feeling more adventurous however, throw them in a pasta sauce, a weekday curry or even baked into a focaccia. Don’t pour the liquid away either - it makes a great addition to dressings and stocks!
Finally, to those who prefer their wild garlic in its fresh form… don’t worry, there will be plenty of that in your Forage Box once Spring rolls around again!
‘Don’t eat red berries!’ is sound advice that you will have been instructed to follow as a child. It is sort of true too - Holly, Yew and Lords and Ladies are just three dangerous examples - but there are possibly more exceptions to the rule than you think. Guelder Rose isn’t actually a rose at all really, and is a fairly common shrub found in damp soil and it produces an abundance of red berries in late summer, just as blackberries and raspberries are fading away. The berries contain a toxin and should not be eaten raw, however with a little bit of cooking, that toxin is removed and we can enjoy the amazing flavour knowing it won’t make us ill.
To show off the autumnal, and arguably savoury flavour profile of the Guelder Rose berries, we have turned them into a jelly. This jelly also contains a handful of wild crabapples to help it set, but the predominant flavour is that of this often overlooked wild berry. Spread it thickly on buttered toast, or try it paired with some cold meats - we have even tried it warmed and drizzled over some roast vegetables after they come out the oven. Either way, it works wonders as a sweet or savoury condiment to any meal.