Have you whipped your jasmine?
I promise the title will make sense in due course.
Showing people how to identify Ground Elder
At the beginning of every one of my wild food walks, I start off with a ‘how not to kill yourself while foraging’ spiel. Those of you who have been on several of my wild food walks (you know who you are!) will probably be bored of hearing it by now, so I won’t repeat it again. But as you know, this little talk ends with me going over the sustainability of foraging. How much to pick, how to preserve it, how to tread lightly on the earth…
This is Lamu. There are no cars there as the streets are too narrow. That donkey is the Lamu version of the lorry that delivered the bricks for my house’s extension.
While my mum was here, we had a fascinating conversation while driving to Barnsley to buy yet more poultry (cockerels for eating and 2 gold tops to replace our pekins as broody mums for next year), my food wholesalers to buy an inordinately large amount of smoked paprika (mum is slightly completely and utterly obsessed with the stuff. It’s turned her into a condiment smuggler), Costco to buy prunes (I love them, but am banned from eating them while Peter’s around…nuff said) and Waitrose to buy 18 tubes of Euthymol toothpaste (it’s the only one dad will use and is unavailable in Kenya. His dental hygiene is definitely worth the bizarre look I got when I arrived at the till clutching the pastey pinkness). Back to that conversation with mum…we were talking about wild food and what it means to be a forager.
Then mum told me a story. Jasmine is an integral part of Swahili culture. When I was growing up, every evening mum would pick the flowers from our jasmine bush. She would sit on the armchair in our sitting room and, with her fine needle and white cotton thread, would sew them into fragrant clusters of white blossom that she would wear in her hair or pin on her dress. The buds would be tightly closed when she picked them and, as the evening wore on, they would open, filling the air with their heady scent. The next morning, I would collect the by then slightly wilted, but still fragrant clusters, and put them in my room. As I got older, I would sew the jasmine flowers into clusters for mum and when I got married, both Peter and I were festooned with garlands of jasmine and rose.
The trophies of my wild food walk on the 17th of August. Lunch was good that day!
Sometimes though, your jasmine bush would simply stop producing flowers. If the older aunties heard about this, they would ask you “have you whipped your jasmine?” If you said no, they would go out to the garden, armed with thin whippy branches, and slap the hell out of the bush. Enveloped in a haze of flying green debris, they would berate the bush for not producing flowers. They believed that the abuse would shame the bush into coming back into bloom. Kind of like how you would stop stop your daughter from flirting with boys. Only it’s a plant not a person and it’s the shame induced by the scary mum voice and being called to mum’s room and not a beating that did the trick. Regardless of what caused it, after the abuse was over and the ladies had left, the (now pruned) jasmine bush would send out countless new shoots, that in time would produce more flowers than ever.
This is my I-found-chaterelles face.
I absolutely love what I do. Nothing fills me with more joy than a full foraging basket. And sometimes when I go out foraging, I find myself wondering…what would happen if all us foragers were required to look after the plants and woodlands we harvest from? If we too had to whip our jasmine bushes. We would have to prune the wild raspberry canes after the fruiting season is over, we would prop up the branches of the apple tree that is clearly struggling under the weight of all that fruit and we would help to tidy up our local parks and green spaces. What a thing that would be eh?
Larch Boletes! The cuticle needs to be peeled off the cap before eating & the texture is a bit soft, but they have a good flavour & are great in the sautéed mushrooms recipe below. Or use from dried.
I think that to a certain extent we do this anyway. When we pick the nettle tops we’re pruning them, when we pick mushrooms and walk away with them in our baskets we are helping to spread their spores. But how about if the next time we go out foraging, we give something back to nature in exchange. Think of it as a thank you to her for being so generous with her bounties.
Speaking of foraging…the mushroom season has finally started! Yay! I blame all the rain, followed by sun, followed by rain, followed by….you get the picture. They’re popping up like…well…mushrooms after rain. In the last two weeks I have picked horse mushrooms, field mushrooms, chanterelles, chicken of the woods, brown birch boletes, slippery jacks, larch boletes, red cracking boletes, charcoal burners and yellow cracking boletes. I even finally found a handful of fairy ring champignons! SO what to do with all those mushrooms? Well here are two yummy recipes for you to try.
Swahili-Style Sautéed Mushrooms
3 large handfuls of wild mushrooms, chopped
2 white onions, sliced thinly
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 whole green chillies
Salt & Pepper
2tbsp Olive oil
Add the olive oil into a large frying pan and when hot, pop in your chopped onions and whole green chillies. Do not cut them or they will make your mushrooms very spicy. Whole, they will fragrance your meal beautifully without making it the least bit spicy! When the onions have softened and your chillies are fragrant, add in your garlic, cook for another couple of minutes, then chuck in all your mushrooms. Put in a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and as much salt as you like. When the mushrooms are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated, they are ready to serve!
Marrow stuffed with Good King Henry, Wild Mushrooms & Mozarella
Hollowed out marrow about to go in the oven. There’s no picture of the finished dish because we ate it too fast. It smelled so good I forgot about photos!
The aforementioned sun and rain has done wonders for my courgettes. Such wonders in fact that I keep finding marrows. This recipe was inspired by my friends divine stuffed aubergines.
1 Marrow, halved and the seeds scraped out
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of crushed garlic
200g Chicken Breast, diced (vegetarians can substitute this with some tofu, quorn, or even couscous. In which case, omit the cornflour)
175g of mixed wild mushrooms
75g of Good King Henry
2 Balls of Mozarella, cubed
Grated Cheddar cheese
1 Tbsp Marigold stock powder
Salt and Pepper
Drizzle the marrow in olive oil, sprinkle with freshky ground black pepper and salt and bake for 25 minutes at 180C.
Meanwhile, sautee the onion until transparent before adding your garlic. When the garlic is fragrant, pop in your vegetables, seasoning, marjoram and stock powder. When they’re cooked, add in your chicken and cornflour and cook till the chicken is nearly ready. The last thing you want is overcooked chicken! Leave to cool slightly so the mozarella doesn’t melt before stirring it in. Spoon the mixture into the pre-baked marrows. This makes quite a lot of the filling mixture. Pile it on to make a little mountain if you need to. I did! Then top with the grated cheddar and bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is golden. Enjoy!