If I was honest, we’ve neglected it because we have been so busy and found no time to spend out there. As a result, we’ve had interesting things growing (without any help from us I hasten to add) but we haven’t really had any veg or produce from the ground behind our home and I miss that.
There is nothing more tasty, satisfying and relaxing than harvesting a few salad leaves, tomatoes and courgettes for your supper. Especially after the rigours of a long and stressful working day.
Our fence desperately needed replacing recently so on the back of that, and a bit of welcome good weather, we decided to revamp the garden and do things a bit differently this time. The mess and damage that the new fence inevitably made was the prefect excuse to tackle things differently and set it up in a new way.
We’ve tried things in certain spots, we’ve tried things in pots and we’ve tried a raised bed but my sister bought me Alys Fowler’s The Thrifty Gardener which I love. I then bought her Edible Garden book which has so inspired me and talks about exactly the kind of gardening I have been looking for and didn’t have a name for it……
It just makes so much sense.
We don’t want regimented lines of carrots really (although we have done that) and we don’t actually have time to manage that kind of garden anyway. Plus we don’t really want to see great swaths of precious tasty soil left with nothing growing in it when the weather is rubbish and you are stuck in doors looking out waiting for things to change.
So what is polyculture?
In the true sense of the word, it means ‘growing multiple crops in the same space’. The best example is how the native americans used to grow corn that had beans climbing up the stems and courgettes growing around it’s feet. The three plants develop and produce at different times so the space is very efficiently used to great benefit.
Perfect for a small victorian terrace garden in London.
Alys Fowler follows these principles but not to the letter and the result are stunning and very productive.
Aside from the sight of it being wonderful, the advantages are numerous and there are many publications that explain this.
So with that in mind, we have started out with a nearly blank canvas (I couldn’t bear to uproot my rhubarb and herbs etc so they stay put) and will see what we achieve be it successful or otherwise.
There will be some mistakes and I am already undecided about a few plant combinations but it’s very exciting and it has got me making lists, sketching out plans and scanning all my back issues of Country Living for more plant ideas.
I have expressed my desire to learn more about identifying fungi before and I still haven’t done the course that was a present from hubby christmas 2011. I really must! If only to broaden our menu and save us from inevitable tummy ache.
It hasn’t, however, stopped my foraging this week. There is a field where we walk at the weekends that has a small but productive crop of enormous and delicious horse mushrooms. I haven’t seen them there before but they are certainly there now and boy are they tasty looking.
The fields are still very green and the bright white beacon of deliciousness that these wonderful wild food sources are is clear to see in the middle of the field.
I couldn’t help but notice them and after clearing it with the farm I collected only those that had been knocked off their stems by the ponies in the field. Each morning, though, the ones that were tiny the day before had become monsters and so I couldn’t resist and picked some of those still growing.
Picking them properly is important (always use a sharp knife and cut off at stem, never pull them out with the whole stem) and you should never harvest an entire field.
Always leave plenty behind. There may be others who want to enjoy natures larder too but it is also important to maintain the crop to ensure they grow another year.
There are lots and lots left that will come to maturity over the next few weeks so we should see them again next year.
Preparing them is nearly as important. Never wash them. Clean off any dirt or insects and then brush the outside clean. I’m a great believer that a bit of muck and interest adds to the flavour but if you prefer, the skins can be peeled to remove any possibility of unwanted flavourings (whatever form that might take!!).
I love mushrooms. I love their meatiness which makes them a great substitute for meat in a vegetarian dish. I especially love risotto, chicken and mushroom pie and I particularly love fried mushrooms on a thick slice of thoroughly toasted wholemeal or artisan bread.
What a wonderful autumn gift.
We had Chicken and mushroom pie on Saturday night but we ran out of time for any other mushroom dishes this weekend. In order to continue to enjoy the taste and waste nothing, I have gifted some, dried some and preserved some for later when the crop has finished. Loving them fresh as I do, I have held back a few of today’s harvest to go into a mushroom based dish (whatever it ends up being) that I will conjure up later in the week.
The dried ones have a much stronger smell now they are jarred and I understand that drying enhances the flavour. I can’t wait to use them in a nice juicy dish in the middle of the winter when they are no longer available.
The others I have preserved in oil and vinegar from a recipe in the preserving book I bought some time ago. The flavours in the oil say to me that they should be eaten straight from the jar raw but we will see as I have never used mushrooms in oil before. New things are great!!
The smell of freshly picked wild mushrooms is amazing. It is rich and earthy and reminds me very much of being a child. We always came home with field mushrooms or something edible and free when we had been raking around the open countryside for as much of the day as we could squeeze out of it.
It brings to mind people like my grandparents and my gran particularly who loved a bit of free food and a forage. I’m sure it is her tasks to us kids to bring home something tasty that fuels my interest in hedgerow eating. I realised the other day when I looked at a photo of me holding the mushrooms that I picked that I have her hands…. almost identical!
The Elder is a much maligned and hugely underrated tree. It generally self seeds where it is not wanted and is quite underwhelming compared to a lot of our indigenous trees that grace our gardens wasteland and countryside.
It looks very scruffy and not much of a tree most of the time. It is awkward in shape and grows without much form.
there are two times in the year when it is splendid and one of my favourites.
Now is one of those times when it is laden with it’s tiny milky white flowers that give off the most heady scent.
The window of opportunity for gathering these potent little flowers is limited and the heads are best picked in the early morning when the scent is at its sweetest; preferably not after rain but that might not be possible with the weather we are currently enjoying.
Pick over the heads for bugs and dead flowers but don’t wash them before you take the flower heads off.
There is a lovely blog post about elderflower cordial by the graphic foodie but this is a recipe taken from a free booklet that came with The Field magazine some time ago (who happen to do some cracking recipes if you like a bit of food for free):-
12 whole heads of flowers (with all the individual flower heads picked off the stems)
600g sugar (the colour of the sugar will affect the colour of your cordial – i.e. demerara makes it darker)
the zest and juice of 2 lemons
the zest and juice of 2 limes
1 litre of boiling water
put all the ingredients into a large heat proof bowl making sure you have picked over the flower heads to check for stalks etc
bring the water to the boil
pour the boiling water over the ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved into the water.
cover and leave for 24 hours
sieve and put into 30ml sterilised bottles.
There are undoubtedly some dodgy purchases made around christmas time and evidence of some of them are all over twitter and Facebook which is very, very funny. My mum is definitely guilty of some of them!
Isn’t it great though when you get a superb gift that hits your buttons, will entertain you for hours and may even prove to be quite practical in the end.
JC bought me a mushroom book last year as he knows that I love a bit of food for free, I have always been interested in wild plants and particularly their medicinal properties and that I would love to know what fungi, beyond the easily identified field mushroom (which is about the extent of my knowledge), can be safely eaten.
I have used it but I don’t feel particularly well equipped or sure enough of my identifications and still only really pick field mushrooms, st george’s mushrooms, morels or chanerelle to eat when I am lucky enough to come across them.
Best of all though, he is also going to buy an identification course of my choice for fungi foraging that he is actually going to join me on too!! I’m absolutely delighted (though he may only be joining me to make sure he doesn’t get poisoned).
I’m still incredibly cautious and really don’t have any courage for picking when I really am not remotely confident in my identifying skills but I am always looking while we are out walking and slowly but surely, I am beginning to see some of the differences.
The Antonio Carluccio book has a good selection of fungi for eating but it is generally limited to what he prefers and uses in the recipes at the back. The Roger Philips book is still key to the detail and how to distinguish the minutia that keeps you safe from poisoning.
Both books are great and even though I now read novels on a kindle, there is nothing nicer than a meaty reference book to flick through. Books, however, are not that easy to carry about so in keeping with the world of apps, I have also downloaded the Roger Phillip’s Mushrooms app for my iPhone. It has similar groupings and visual clues to pin down the correct name of your find but it also has an easy key that helps you reduce the options by allowing you to select colour, edible or not, stem type, cap type, size, how the flesh look and reacts when cut, spore colour and habitat etc. It’s great and the photographs are every bit as detailed as the book.
In the book as in the app, there is information about all the parts that make up the whole identification. For example, not only is the terrain key to breaking down what it MIGHT be, but the surroundings and ground condition is an immediate sign that enables you to eliminate some. Only then can you think about the obvious outward details that differentiate one from another. Once you have reduced the possibilities, then you can get into the detail of the underside, the stem details and many other fine but crucial detail.
Today we found what we think might be one of the shaggy parasol fungi in the spinney while walking the dog. Unlike the simple parasol mushroom which makes good eating, it is edible but may cause gastric upset!! If it were a Stinking Baby Parasol, it’s quite poisonous. I don’t think the stem is right for the poisonous one but I’m not entirely comfortable that is is edible so I have left well alone.
Further away, at the pond, on the rotting trunk of a poplar tree, grow what I think are Wood or Tree Ears and these are edible, albeit that Antonio Carluccio doesn’t rate them for much more than stews. He may have a point, they aren’t particularly appetising when you see them and the texture is very strange.
Ironically, I am likely to chose a course for foraging that is based in London. I’ve already done my research and they seem to do some of the best but I now have to wait until autumn 2012.
It is a true minefield but I am so excited. Can I wait that long?