On Saturday we went for another morning hike, and this time I took carrier bags with me for foraging fun. I brought back a couple of bags of ingredients, one bag full of apple mint found on the verges of wasteland, and one full of wild greens, which I made into a surprisingly delicious soup, one which I would readily serve at a dinner party, it was so incredibly moreish!
I’m really new to this foraging malarky, but I have found reading around the subject an absolute necessity. The most useful book in my collection has been Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Forager – with colour photographs and anecdotal deescriptions making plants far easier to recognise than your standard illustrated, botanical texts. I took my digital camera out with me as always, and came back with photos of various plants. I then pulled out our various reference books to check what I’d found – it’s imperative that you are picking what you think you are, as so many edible plants seem to have a near-identical poisonous twin!
Besides a decent knowledge of what you’re picking, common sense seems the most important factor in foraging for food. I avoid picking anything from the roadside, as I would rather avoid potential pollution. I won’t eat watercress, no matter how lush it looks in the burn outside our house, as it picks up any pollutants in the water, and you can never tell what’s in the soils that water has run through – or what has been discarded into the water further upstream! And I avoid anything from below waist level along the tow paths, where dogs have regularly marked territory – and worse!
Wild Green Soup
Wild rocket? Or could it be ragwort or groundsel – neither of which you really want to be eating…
As with all foraged recipes, the quantities and leaves used must be variable according to what you can lay hands on. I was also limited to using what I had in the fridge when I got home – which on this occasion just happened to work spectacularly well!
- Knob of butter – I used some of the wild garlic butter I mixed up after last week’s forage
- 2 sticks of celery, diced
- 1/2 large white onion, diced
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 carrier bag of foraged leaves – I used largely nettles – largely dead nettles – topped up with wild garlic leaves and flowers, Jack-by-the-hedge leaves and flowers, cleavers, a few dandelion leaves and a handful of slightly past its best spinach from the fridge to put it to use!
- 1 litre veg stock – I use bouillon
- 1 small tin sweetcorn
- 1 tsp cheap honey
- 1 small tub single cream
Before you start you’ll need to sort and wash your greens. I removed the leaves and flowers from the tough stems, rinsed under cold water, and spread on a tea towel to dry. Larger leaves I washed individually, smaller leaves and flowers, in a colander. Make sure to discard any nibbled leaves or those with insect eggs on the underside.
Begin by frying off the onion and celery in the garlic butter. If you don’t have garlic butter, add garlic once the onions and celery have softened. Do not brown, just gently soften down in their own juices.
Add the diced potatoes and soften for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock, then all the greens, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes (or until the potatoes break apart).
Remove from the heat, and stir in your small tin of sweetcorn (drained). Blend until smooth (you may need to do this in batches.) Return to the pan.
This is the point where tasting really comes into it. Stir in the cream over a low heat, season, then taste. The sweetcorn should temper the bitterness of the greens, but if it is not enough, try adding a teaspoon of cheap, runny honey. It won’t flavour the soup, but will lift and intensify the sweetcorn. Black pepper can really lift the flavours. You might also like to add a grating of nutmeg – nutmeg and greens LOVE one other!
I also collected a considerable amount of apple mint, as mentioned above. This I divided into three piles. One pile I washed on the stalk, bunched together in groups of 3 stems with an elastic band, and hung up to dry.
With the two remaining piles, I removed the leaves from the stems and washed individually, then patted dry with the tea towel. Half were placed in an airtight box in the fridge, the other half in an old take-away tub in the freezer, for crumbling into recipes later in the year. The fresh leaves make a delicious mint tea, which makes me wonder why anyone would buy mint tea in bags at this time of year!