Chick Chick Chicken…

After a couple of weeks of rather wonderful weather, Mother Nature seems to have remembered that this is Britain, not Spain, and she’s sent us lots of rain to remind us before we go out and spend too much money buying flip flops and floaty dresses. Sigh. As I sit here and type today, I have PomPom chicken keeping me company in the house. She got into a fight with Bully last week (who is twice her size) and it left her with a patch of skin almost the size of a 5p piece, torn almost completely off. Peter being at work, my darling friend Imona got roped into helping and two steri-strips, lots of ground cumin (I’ll come to that in a minute) and micropore later, we now have a house chicken. She has been spoiled rotten with lots of cherry tomatoes, ebelskivers and bizzare conversations with two featherless weirdos who keep looking at her and pretending they can speak chicken. Given that PomPom is a Silkie, she looks alternately like a fat Victorian lady wearing a white choker or a rather portly vicar in black robes and a clerical collar.

 

 

Fifi <3 Sorrel – Mesh is no impediment to consumption

 

 

 

The Garden Post-Chicken Barricades

 

The other hens and I have finally reached a compromise that is mostly agreeable to all. I have barricaded every single raised bed in the garden, thereby making the view from my kitchen more like a bizarre allotment/building site than the beautiful kitchen garden I’d envisaged after reading oh-so-many shiny magazines. In return, we’ve only had to cut the grass once and the slugs appear to have beaten a hasty retreat.

Yes…you do occasionally step on something that goes ‘squelch’ when walking round the garden, and the neighbours must now be completely convinced I’m insane when, during the initial phase of anti-chicken barrier construction, the hens kept finding all the gaps and took great delight in scratching up my sweetcorn, and I kept running out of the house, shouting at the top of my voice for Fifi to get out of my damned vegetables!! Despite how exasperating they can be at times, I really do love keeping chickens!

 

 

Chicken of the Woods

 

Now onto the second chick of my chick chick chicken…Chicken of the Woods! The season is here and we have been picking lots of the lovely fungi on our wild food walks. It really is a very bizarre mushroom. Pouring out of the trees like yellow orange lava or expanding foam filler, this unlikely looking member of the Fungus Kingdom actually tastes freakishly like chicken. So much so in fact, that you could make ‘chicken’ nuggets with it that would fool many an unsuspecting vegetarian into thinking you had cruelly served them chicken. I’ve eaten this mushroom in lots of different ways, but my favourites are as pakoras (and we will be serving ‘Chicken’ pakoras at tomorrow’s Supper Club), as nuggets and in curry. My mum makes a mean Chicken of the Woods Curry that redolent with the heady scent of spices and coconut milk.

 

 

Chicken of the Woods – “That’s Edible?”

 

Chicken of the Woods likes to grow on Oak, Sweet Chestnut and Willow mostly. In Leeds, I’ve only ever found it growing on oak, but I hear that in Cambridge it loves Willow, so it does vary according to where you are. The time to pick it is when it is still vibrantly coloured, but the edges have flattened out and are no longer bulbous. In the foraging books, they will tell you that young Chicken of the Woods has a texture like oysters, or in the words of my (then) teenage brother…Boogers. Appetising no?

 

 

Chickweed

 

The third Chick is Chickweed. Chickweed is a truly amazing Wild Herb. I love eating it; with its mild, unassuming flavour, it is the perfect addition to salads where its miniscule hairs are perfect for clinging onto salad dressings, and I have served Chickweed fritatta to people on countless wild food walks to a chorus of Mmmmms. It’s not just great eating though, it’s also quite a fabulous little herb. It is incredibly soothing on your skin and can be used on even the most sensitive and irritated of skin. It is a star ingredient of my Gardener’s Revenge Hand Creams and Solid Lotions. I even use the infused oil in my facial cleanser. I love it so much in fact, that I turned a whole 6 foot by 4 foot raised bed in my garden to it last year instead of growing ‘real’ vegetables. I nearly had a heart attack when my Mum-in-Law tried to ‘help’ me by weeding the bed for me!

Which brings me to another thing I’ve been meaning to write about. Do any of you lovely people on the world wide web who forage also grow your own veg? And if so…how do you deal with all the ‘weeds’ in your plots?

 

 

My Allotment when I got it in 2010

 

I have an allotment plot and last year, the manure that was delivered was absolutely FULL of Good King Henry seeds. What this means is that I turned up to my plot a few weeks ago to find hundreds of these little plants had appeared, seemingly overnight, in amongst my currant bushes and onions. I ended up pulling up the ones growing on the raised beds and gave them to friends to eat, but left the ones growing on the half with no raised beds. Seeing as my plot is right by the path to get to the communal compost heaps, I have a feeling that everytime people walk past my plot they shake their heads and despair at my plot’s shoddy upkeep. The thing is…I simply can’t bring myself to pull up all that delicious, hassle free, free food. A similar thing has happened in my garden at home wherethings like plantain are cosseted, sorrel is given pride of place in amongst my strawbs and Clove Root is greeted with great joy. So are they really weeds if they’re wanted?

Anyway, when it came to deciding what recipe to share with you, I couldn’t really figure out what to pick. Since my last blog post, so much has suddenly come into season and is growing like mad that I thought I would just give you a list of things to inspire you, with sort-of recipes, and leave you with Google and your imaginations to help you cook up more interesting things. So this is my top 10 things to forage this June:

1. Red Poppies. Not only do they look beautiful bobbing in the meadows, their petals made the most unbelievably coloured conserve or glycerite. To make Poppy glycerite, pack a jar full of poppy petals and cover them completely with a solution of 60% liquid glycerine and 40% water and leave on your windowsill until the colour has leached out from the petals. Nat and I will be using this to make Red Ripple Ice Cream for the Supper club. It’s also great herbal medicine. I’ve used it for stress and insomnia before now. And according to my fave Wild Herbalism book Hedgerow Medicine, Red Poppy Glycerite is also great for irritable cough, nervous digestion, IBS, headache, over-excitability, anxiety and nervousness.

2. Chicken of the Woods. Need I say more? It tastes like chicken!!

3. Fairy Ring Champignon: I picked my first two of these this week and with the rain we’re currently having, they will be popping up everywhere very soon. They grow in dark rings in the grass. I’ve found them most often on grass verges. They make unbelievably delicious pickled mushrooms, dry very well and are lovely sautéed in butter with some chopped fresh herbs, then finished off with a little lemon juice.

4. Good King Henry. It’s so good I’ve grown literally hundreds of plants on my allotment. Can be used in anything you would use spinach. I’ve used it to make Roast Mediterranean Veg & Feta Cheese tarts, quiches with mature cheddar cheese, curries ( think saag paneer), and even dips.

5. Chickweed. So tasty! Fave uses in salads with fruity vinaigrettes, curry & soup.

6. Lemon Balm. Where we used to live in Bristol, there was wild Lemon Balm everywhere. Here I have to grow it in my garden but if you keep your eyes peeled, you may be in luck and find it in unlikely places! Try making it into a posset. Soooo tasty and sooo easy! It also makes a delicious tisane.

7. Elderflower. The season for this is only just starting and I will be writing a longer blog post just about this wonderful bloom in the next couple of weeks but I thought I’d remind you about it anyway. The flower buds before they open make lovely pickle so if you want to give it a go, go soon before it’s too late and you have to wait till next year. Use the recipe I shared for Pickled Wild Garlic Flowers. The flowers when they’re out also make fabulous fritters, cordial, and sylabub (infuse the flowers into double cream for 4 hours or overnight in the fridge, strain, sweeten to taste then whip to soft peaks and serve with a gooseberry compote. I’m currently making elderflower chocolates (think Turkish Delight but with elderflower and covered in dark chocolate). As soon as the jelly sets I’ll be able to seal them in the moulds with more chocolate and go to sleep!

8. Roses. Rose Petal Preserves are amazing and now is the time to start picking petals if you want to give this a go. Once you’ve made the preserve, try using it to make basbousa, the Middle Eastern Dessert. I will be experimenting with making Raw Rose Petal Syrup in the next few weeks and will keep you posted on how that turns out. I will also be sharing the most amazing basbousa recipe EVER that I got from my Sister-in-law Ruwaeda once I have perfected the syrup.

9. Sweet Cicely. Sweet Cicely is a truly amazing plant. It’s one that I really wouldn’t recommend absolute beginners to foraging to try and identify this on their own as it can easily be confused with its deadly poisonous/toxic cousins. But for those of you who are more confident with your plant identification skills, the unbelievable flavour of aniseed with a surprising sweetness awaits you in this beautiful plant. Try using it to make Cheesecake, layer it in Apple Pies to give an interesting twist or use the seeds to make Raita.

10. Nettle Seeds. I’m saving talking about these for a future blog post so I won’t go into detail here, but they really are rather amazing little things.Once the seeds are ready, they are bright green and hang down in lovely bunches. Pick nettles with gloves, hand upside down to let bugs escape, then strip off the seeds. I dried them in my dehydrator but you can just leave them to hang till dry, then rub through a sieve to collect the seeds and leave behind the fibrous bits. I use the seeds in oatcakes or blend with honey to make an electuary that is great for stress & low energy levels. It’s like Ashwagandha and acts as an adaptogen. Just don’t eat too much or you will have more energy than you know what to do with! 1tsp is more than enough.

Muhaimina Said-Allsopp