What’s up Dock?
While I sit here at my dining room table writing this blog post, I am looking out of the back door onto a white winter wonderland…in Spring! The snow is still several inches thick and it’s still hard to tell where the raised beds begin and the path ends. My purple sprouting broccoli stands proud in its bed, surrounded by netting I got off Freecycle to keep the chickens and ducks from eating my greens. Despite its best efforts, it is however only marginally successful; the canny chickens have realised that the holes in the netting are big enough for them to stick their heads through and surreptitiously nibble when they think I’m not looking. Or in the case of Fifi, Cthulhu the dark egg lord and Chiquenta Rodriguez (a.k.a Chicky and named by my brother), whenever they feel like it. As a result, those purple-tufted triffids all look like that time that someone thought it would be a good idea to put chewing gum in their hair and mum had to hack it out.
Velvet shanks in the Button Stage
Quinces Blossoming in the Snow
For those of you who, like me, are living in Antarctica and are despairing of ever finding anything to eat amongst all this snow, don’t give up just yet! All you have to do is go for a walk around your neighbourhood or a local wood. Hunt out those sheltered little spots where the snow hasn’t settled or where the naked boughs of neighbouring trees have given shelter to the earth beneath. There you will find that the Wild Garlic is still fighting on, that the Velvet Shanks, despite the snow, are thriving, that the ornamental quinces are in bloom, that the goosegrass has started to tenaciously cling to walls and the the indomitable dock is still waiting for you to find it.
Docks in a Bucket
Today I am going to tell you about Dock. It seems like an odd plant to talk about; it doesn’t even taste that brilliant most of the time. But it is nonetheless quite a fantastic little plant. It’s normally something of a pain to dig up but if you have an allotment that has a communal compost heap like mine does, you too may be able to benefit from other people’s hard work in digging up this weed from their plots.
My wonderful “Hedgerow Medicine” book says that “The two common docks are amongst the five official ‘injurious weeds’ in Britain, but curled dock has long recognised redeeming qualities as a detoxifying liver and bowel herb, a laxative and a blood cleanser. The root is effective for many chronic skin conditions, including acne and boils, eczema and sunburn, not forgetting the most famous use of dock leaves for relieving the burning caused by nettles”. According to Mrs Grieve, the use of dock leaves to relieve nettle stings would be accompanied by the following words:
‘Nettle in, Dock;
Dock in, Nettle out;
Dock rub Nettle out’
Dock is a member of the Rumex family and therefore related to one of my favourite edible greens, Sorrel. Unlike sorrel where the lemony flavour is unadulterated, dock pairs it with a bitter astringency that makes all but the youngest leaves rather unpalatable. The young leaves however can be collected and added to salads in the spring time where they will give some interest to your platter as well as help to detox your body. They also contain quite a lot of vitamins A and C. Just don’t eat too much of them raw! They can also be cooked as a green vegetable and added to soups, pies, etc.
The part of most interest however is the root. At our last Kitchen Medicine workshop, Julie Bruton-Seal showed how to make Yellow Dock tincture (and if you look at the photo to the left, you can see why it’s called Yellow Dock!). In her book, she suggests having “half a teaspoonful once or twice daily as a cleansing tonic for when the bowels are sluggish, for anaemia and poor absorption of nutrients (if the edge of your tongue shows scalloping from your teeth), for skin problems and any time you feel a bit slow and tired”.
As a spring treat, today I will be giving you not one, but two recipes to try out. One is for Easter Ledger Pudding and involves dock and one is for a Gluten Free (and optionally vegan) Dandelion Coffee and Rosehip Slice that doesn’t. I unfortunately can’t provide you with photos of either because we ate it all. Oops.
Easter Ledger Pudding ( Adapted from an ‘Urban Dweller’s Country Almanac’ by Bernard Schofield)
1lb young Bistort leaves
Docks in a Bucket
A handful each of young nettle leaves, dandelion leaves and dock leaves
1 minced Hard boiled egg
1 beaten raw egg
one diced onion
Salt and Pepper to taste
Blanch the leaves then chop. Combine with the remaining ingredients and place in a pudding basin. Cover the top with grease proof paper and foil and tie tightly. Steam for two hours or until set.
Dandelion Coffee and Rosehip slice (Adapted from ‘Easy Gluten Free Baking’ by Elizabeth Barbone)
To make a non-gluten free version, simply substitute plain flour for the GF flours in the base and the rice flour in the topping for plain flour and omit the Xanthan Gum.
1/2 cup butter (or vegan alternative)2 eggs or 1 packet of silken tofu
1/4 cup glutinous rice flour2tbsp white rice flour
1/2 cup white rice flour1/4 cup strong dandelion coffee*
1/4 cup corn flour1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum1/3 cup rose hip syrup
1/4 cup icing sugar,
2 tbsp water,
For the Base, pulse all ingredients except water in the food processor until they are completely mixed and resemble bread crumbs or damp sand. You could also rub the dry ingredients into the butter by hand before adding the water and forming the dough, but do this lightly as over-handling will give you a heavier base. Add cold water to form a dough then press it into the base of a lined and greased 8 inch square baking tin. Prick lightly with a fork then bake at 175C for 30-40 mins till golden brown.
For the Topping, blend all ingredients together then pour onto base and bake 10-15 mins till set. Leave to cool completely before cutting and eating.
* You make Dandelion Coffee by boiling lots of dried, roasted dandelion roots in a small quantity of water for 10-15 mins, then straining.