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RECIPE: How To Make Wild Garlic Pesto

Spring is a fantastic time of year for walking in the English countryside. The weather is often warmer and the blossom on the trees provides a wonderful backdrop. We even get a bit of sunshine sometimes! It’s also a great time for foraging for the spring greens that start growing – there’s nothing like picking free food whilst on a walk. At the moment, nettles, ground elder, three cornered leek, garlic mustard (aka Jack-by-the-hedge) are all flourishing and they can all be used to create and add flavour to delicious dishes. Wild garlic is our favourite and we have a fabulous recipe for wild garlic pesto.

There are some basic rules to foraging in the UK. You are allowed to pick flowers, fruit and leaves but you are not allowed to dig up roots (e.g. horseradish) unless you have the landowner’s permission. We never take more food than we need.

Wild garlic is an invasive plant and when it grows it spreads wildly, which is fantastic for a forager. It’s usually easy to recognise and has a very definite garlicky smell.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

A few weeks after the leaves show through, delicate little white flowers will appear. These are edible too and have a very mild garlic flavour – they make a fantastic edible garnish. The buds can also be pickled and can be used as substitute for garlicky capers.

If you are foraging it is really important that you are 100% sure of what you are picking. Never eat anything if you are not certain about what it is. Many plants are poisonous and some can look very similar to edible species. Beware: there is a plant which looks very similar to wild garlic when it’s young and just peeping through the soil. Arum maculatum, also known as Lords and Ladies, is very toxic. Apparently even putting the leaves into your mouth will result in an immediate burning sensation. It sometimes grows worryingly close to the wild garlic. When it’s more mature it develops shiny arrow-head shaped leaves but when young, looks very similar to wild garlic.

lords and ladies toxic
Young arum macularum (lords and ladies) – BEWARE
Wild garlic
Young arum macularum (lords and ladies) on the left, growing alongside wild garlic – BEWARE

Bluebells, or their white-flowered counterparts, which can also easily be confused with wild garlic’s white flowers, can also grow nearby. Bluebells are extremely pretty but also poisonous.

Whenever we gather wild garlic we go through a process of washing it thoroughly and checking each leaf when we get home.

Recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto

This is a recipe that is not at all accurate – it’s one where you can fling the ingredients together and end up with something delicious. Our wild garlic recipe uses cashew nuts instead of pine nuts. They are a lot cheaper and add a lovely creaminess to the pesto.

Ingredients

Bunch of wild garlic leaves

Handful of cashew nuts

Chunk of Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese

Slosh of extra virgin olive oil

Squeeze of lemon

Pinch of salt

Method

Roughly chop the wild garlic leaves and place into a blender. Throw in the nuts. Roughly chop the cheese into chunks and add these. We recommend adding the leaves first – to the bottom of the blender – so that the weight of the nuts and cheese ensures they get chopped up more finely.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

If you are planning to eat the pesto right away, add the oil, lemon juice and salt. The pesto freezes really well but if we are planning to freeze it we don’t add the oil or seasoning; instead we stir it in once it has defrosted.

Blend together until you get the texture you like – smooth or nutty – both work well.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

If you are planning to freeze the pesto, decant into containers and pop into the freezer. We recycle plastic takeaway containers as they provide the perfect portion for two people.

Wild garlic pesto recipe

We’ve tried variations using pistachio nuts and nutritional yeast, which can replace the cheese in order to develop a vegan version. Pistachio are more nutty in texture and their flavour is more pronounced in the finished pesto.

The great thing about this recipe is that is so easily adaptable – mix and match ingredients. It’s the underlying gentle garlicky flavour that the wild garlic leaves produce that make this such a brilliant pesto. We’ll be foraging and freezing for as long as the season lasts.

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RECIPE: How to Make Stinging Nettle Hummus

If there’s one thing that can ruin a walk in the lovely English countryside it’s stinging nettles. If you brush past them with bare skin you can get a painful sting which usually isn’t harmful for most people but hurts for a while. But you can exact revenge on them by eating them! Nettles are not only edible, they are highly nutritious – they contain iron, calcium and magnesium, as well as vitamins A and B. They are great in soup, can be dehydrated to make crisps, can be used like spinach in a variety of dishes such as stir fries and stews, and can also be used in dips and sauces. The process of cooking with them renders them harmless by getting rid of the sting. One of our favourite things to make with them is stinging nettle hummus and we have a recipe.

Stinging Nettle

Despite them being found all over the British Isles nettles are not native plants, they were introduced by the Romans a couple of thousand years ago. Some stories suggest that they were used by Roman soldiers who would flog themselves with the nettle plants in order to use the stings to warm their skin in cold northern climes.

If you do get stung by a nettle there is a plant that you can use that helps soothe the pain. The standard view is that a dock leaf rubbed onto the sting will help. Actually it’s a plantain leaf (which used to be called dock in bygone times) which is more likely to help. Rubbing the sting with a dock leaf won’t harm but plantain will provide more relief.

It is the perfect time of year to go foraging for spring greens. We are already keeping an eye on our local patches of wild garlic, ground elder, mustard garlic, sorrel and three-cornered leek to see how they are growing, and also to plan lots of recipes for them. Stinging nettles are absolutely ready right now.

Preparing Stinging Nettles For Hummus

Go foraging for nettles. Try to find a patch where it’s unlikely that dogs may have been walking (just in case they have used that area for a toilet). Hardy foragers pick the nettles with their bare fingers but we use gloves to save ourselves from the stings. It’s best to pick in early spring to get the most tender leaves (the leaves will become quite tough as summer progresses). You need around half a carrier bag’s worth but you don’t need to be precise.

A word of warning – nettles are generally one of the easiest plants to identify but please be 100% sure that you have identified the correct plant. If you have the slightest doubt, don’t eat it. Plant identification apps aren’t always reliable either.

Wearing gloves, wash the nettles and have a look through them to see whether there are any leaves that should be discarded and look out for any insects to brush away. You can also make sure that no extraneous leaves from other plants. It’s quite common for grasses to end up in your bag as well.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Place the nettles into a saucepan and pour boiling water over them to cover them. Stir for a minute or so. They will start wilting. This process gets rid of the sting and you can handle them with your bare hands from now on.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

While they still have their lovely green colour, using a slotted spoon, transfer them into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes.

Blanch Stinging Nettle

Keep the hot water from the saucepan and pour it into a mug – you can enjoy a nice cup of nettle tea, which has a mild, refreshing flavour and tastes a bit like green tea or coca tea. Then drain the nettles and let them dry naturally. They can then be used in our stinging nettle hummus recipe.

Stinging Nettle Tea

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Ingredients

Bowl of blanched stinging nettles

1 can of chickpeas, drained (if you’re keen to avoid food waste, you can keep the liquid, which is called aquafaba, which can be used to make vegan meringues)

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic

Juice of 1 lemon

1 dsp peanut butter (you can substitute tahini, or omit completely if you can’t eat nuts)

Slosh of olive oil

Pinch of sea salt

Method

In a food processor or blender, combine the lemon juice, garlic and peanut butter. Give them a whizz.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Add half the chickpeas and half the nettles with a slosh of oil and blend again.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the remaining nettles, chickpeas and a pinch of salt, and blend again.

Have a taste – does it need more lemon or salt? Add seasoning as necessary. We tend to like sour flavours so added  the juice of an extra half lemon. You can decide how much you would like your blend depending on whether you prefer a smooth or chunkier texture.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

Decant into a bowl and serve with warm pitta bread.

Stinging Nettle Hummus Recipe

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Go With The Sloe – How to Make Sloe Gin

It’s autumn in the UK, which means it’s the perfect season for foraging for fruit and mushrooms in the countryside. We are lucky to have many sloe (blackthorn) bushes in our local area and one of our favourite things to do at this time of year is to make sloe gin.

Sloe gin is a liquer made from gin and sloes, although other alcohol bases can be used. Unlike gin, which is quite perfumed, sloe gin is much sweeter, deriving its flavour from the fruit infusing into the alcohol as well as some added sugar.

Gin is a very fashionable drink these days, with a huge number of flavours and variations available, as well as it forming the base of a vast array of liquers and cocktails. Sloe gin is available commercially but if you have access to sloe bushes it is great fun to make your own.

It’s a really easy process and you can adapt it to your personal taste. It just needs a little patience.

Here’s a flow chart – or, if you will, sloe chart:

How do make sloe gin

This is what the colour will look like after around three months. You can see that already the gin has acquired the colour of the berries.

Cheers!

Postscript – sloe gin is also great if you pop the bottle into the freezer for a couple of hours. The alcohol doesn’t freeze fully but becomes slightly syrupy. It’s delicious, so remember to keep some back for summertime.

As with all foraging, do make sure you are 100% certain about the fruit that you are picking. There are some great identification guides.

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