Friday, 15 May 2009

Elderberry and Apple Pie

Latin name: Sambucus Nigra (there are many other species found in various parts of the world - this is the common British and North European variety).

Also known as: Black Elder, Common Elder, European Elder, Elderbush

Not everybody likes the flavour of the raw berries which have slight metallic notes, but these are lost during cooking - I've known people who hate elderberries to say they love elderberry flapjack.

Image: Martin Röll, used under GNU Free Documentation Licence.


Chestnut flour pastry - enough to form the pie casing in a 12" (30cm) pie dish. Some people like a thin, light crust, others like it thick so how much you need is up to you
4 Bramley apples or six to 8 wild apples
200g (7 oz) elderberries with the stalks removed
120g (4 oz) sugar
Caster sugar (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (390F)
Use about two thirds of the pastry to make the pie base in the dish. Cut the apples into thin slices and combine them with the elderberries and sugar in a bowl, add nutmeg to taste. Place the resulting mix into the pie, then form the pie lid with the remaining pastry, crimping the edges. If you wish, add caster sugar sprinkled on the top, but be warned that chestnut flour is much sweeter than conventional flour - you can use a mixture of flour and soya milk (or normal milk, if you include dairy in your diet) brushed on the top so the sugar will stay in place or a beaten egg, but I find that most of it sticks on anyway. Prick the top with a fork to form holes for steam to escape or use a pie funnel if you have one.

Bake the pie at 200C for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 150C which will allow the filling to cook without the pastry becoming too hard and bake until the top is golden.

This recipe works well with any berries or with pears.

(recipe submitted by Hedge Chef)

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Chestnut Flour and Chestnut Drop Scones

Latin name: Castanea

Also known as: various depending on species

I learned how to make chestnut flour from a Scottish hippy named Huskie in Avebury stone circle many years ago. It takes quite a bit of time and effort, both in gathering sufficient chestnuts and in grinding them, but is well worth the time since it's naturally very sweet and as such is very suited to cakes. It is, however, quite a heavy flour which means your cakes will be better if you mix it half and half with normal flour; though it's ideal for denser sweet doughs such as drop scones.

There are around nine different species, with different ones being common in different countries - here in the UK, the Sweet Chestnut (C. sativa) grows wild and is quite a common tree in deciduous woodlands, parks and larger gardens where it may have been planted for ornamental purposes - mature specimens can be very imposing trees indeed.

Collect the nuts during late September and early October, removing the shells as you do to save time later. Store them in a warm room or cupboard for around a month to a month and a half until they have dried - the time this takes will depend on the warmth and humidity of the storage area.
Sweet Chestnut.
Image: Wilfried Wittkowsky, used under GNU Free Documentation Licence.

Once they've dried, remove the brown inner shell and grind as finely as you can - this tends to depend on patience rather than skill, as it's a long and rather boring process. The resulting flour is yellow in colour and retains a delicious nutty flavour which makes for an interesting cake.

Basic Chestnut Drop Scones


200g Chestnut flour
25g margarine or 1 egg
250ml soya milk (you can use water, but milk is better)
pinch of salt
Optional - fruit such as chopped apple, elderberries, blackberries, blueberries, sultanas etc.

Mix the flour and salt add the fruit if you're using it), rub in the margarine and mix in the milk. When you have achieved a creamy consistency, the mixture is ready.

If you are using a conventional oven, grease a large frying pan and pre-heat it. I have always cooked drop scones over a fire, in which case I use a flat stone (making sure it's not one of thse types of stone liable to explode when heated) placed over the flames and allowed to heat up.

Take palm-sized lumps of the mixture and simply drop them onto the heated surface - after three minutes or so, bubbles will appear on the surface. Use a knife to turn them over and cook for a further two to three minutes, after which they can be removed and allowed to cool. They're delicious with honey or jam!

(Recipe and info submitted by Hedge Chef)

Wild Garlic Soup

Click here for wild garlic details.

A delicious and healthy soup with a more delicate flavour than soups made with cultivated garlic.


200g finely chopped Wild Garlic
2 finely chopped small onions
4 finely chopped shallots (optional, according to taste)
650ml vegetable stock
Olive oil
Cream or soya milk (optional)

Fry the onions and shallots in olive oil until they're soft - don't let them become crispy. Transfer into a pan, add the garlic and blend until the garlic is in small pieces. Heat for ten minutes, but do not allow to boil. Stir in the cream or soya milk to thicken the soup, heat for a few minutes longer and serve. If in season, the white Wild Garlic flowers look beautiful if floated on the soup's surface. Serve with fresh crusty bread.

(Recipe submitted by HedgeChef).

In Season Now - Wild Garlic

Wild Garlic. Photo © J R Crellin 2004, used under Creative Commons Licence.

Latin name: Allium ursinum (Bear's Garlic)
Also known as: Ramsons, Wood Garlic, Bear's Garlic, Buckrams

One of the easiest wild foods to locate, woods and hedgerows are packed with pure white wild garlic flowers now and will continue to be so until sometime around the end of June. The easiest way to find it is to simply walk along and keep sniffing - the aroma is distinctive and very similar to that of the garlic sold in shops. The plant is very common in deciduous woodlands and hedgerows, where it prefers slightkly acidic soil.

Wild garlic was very commonly eaten not many years ago - Culpepper's Herbal encourages the reader to "just try a little in your next salad." Salad remains my preferred use for it, as it has a flavour more delicate than that of cultivated garlic which adds a subtle and delicious taste - the flowers look beautiful scattered over any salad. It also works very well in omlettes and any other recipe that calls for garlic.

All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves have the best taste, especially if you can find them just before the plant flowers. Towards the end of the summer, pods will develop which can be used in the same way as the cloves of cultivated garlic. Like cultivated garlic, it is known for its anti-oxidant properties which are beneficial in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol and is said to be more potent than the shop-sold varieties. An infusion of the plant will help to rid the body of internal parasites such as threadworm.

The name Bear's Garlic comes from an old belief, possibly a myth, that bears will seek out the plant and consume it when they awake from hibernation for its beneficial effects on health.

Caution: Wild Garlic is a member of the lily family and bears some resemblance to other lilies, many of which are highly poisonous. To be certain, crush the leaves between your fingers and sniff - if it's wild garlic, the garlic smell will be obvious.