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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Wild Food of the Month: April

I have some catching up to do, so I will put things into 2 entries today. First of all the promised April instalment of the popular series of "wild food of the month". I know I seem to be writing about different wild foods all the time. On the weekend we had some business inland in the town of Licciana Nardi.

The weather was good and having some time to kill between a visit to a vineyard up there and a wine tasting I was conducting for a bunch of Dutch guys we indulged in a spot of sunbathing...

...as well as a walk through the countryside. And my goodness did we find a lot of asparagus. I don't know what it is about the inlanders, but in our coastal village I have no doubt half the population was out in the woods on a lovely weekend like last one and you'd be lucky to find any flimsy little spear. But inland we picked over a kilo of asparagus, only stopping when we couldn't be bothered anymore!

The other wild food we tried for the first time last week was wild hop shoots. They look very much like wild asparagus, but grow in boggier soil down by the river. The leaves are different too, but you very much eat them the same way.

But... that's not what I wanted to write about today. This month's featured food is the angelica.

First of all on that subject: to anyone I've sent seeds of angelica to, no mine aren't coming either. Something I've only read subsequently, they do not last well and need to be planted within a week of harvesting. So sorry about that, I shall send you some more seeds when they are available in autumn.

All parts of this large and striking plant are edible, but I haven't quite worked all the uses yet. Many years ago I had a source for them in the north of Ireland. I had read that the roots could be eaten as a vegetable like turnips. So being skint and hungry, I thought I'd give it a go. It tasted of soap to me and I was not hugely impressed with the result. This had put me off angelica for a while.

Last year I used the seeds together with some other herbs to make a liqueur in the Chartreuse style. Now that did turn out to be delicious. The leaves can apparently be added to fruit jams such as plum, which is something I should maybe try out when the plums are ripe in a few weeks. What I'm concentrating on today is the stem though.

But first things first, this is what it looks like

It grows up to 7 feet tall and the stems are thick and hollow with distinct ridges.

When any part of the plant is broken it exudes an intensely aromatic smell.

Now what to do with the stems? Chrystalised angelica stems.

Harvest about finger thick stems of angelica and cut into 2 inch lengths.

Cook the for a few minutes until tender, then peel the tough outer skin off with a sharp knife. Weigh the result and add the same weight sugar to it. Leave in covered bowl in a cool place for a couple of days.

After that boil again for some minutes, drain, weigh again and add another equal measure of sugar or maybe slightly less this time. Leave for another 2 days.

After that, boil one more time, drain and dry in a food dehydrator for about 12 hours. They will last almost indefinitely like this. Use the result to decorate cakes or if you have to give sweets to your kids, try giving them these. We've tried it out on our English pupil, who loved them.


Mr. H. said...

Your Angelica is some what similar to our lovage they must be related...both very pretty plants. I'm so glad that you found so much asparagus, what a treat that is.

Those sunny days that you guys have been having sure sound nice, how about sending some our way...:)

Heiko said...

Yes, I would say it's related to lovage. Also the aromatic smell is not dissimilar. I might send you some seeds too once they are ripe.

Jan said...

I'm not sure we get wild angelica here, but they're quite a fleshy plant so maybe it's too dry.

When I was collecting wild asparagus a couple of weeks ago I was surprised that only one spear grew per plant, I expected more!

Heiko said...

It's quite dry where we are, although the winters are wet. They do tend to grow next to ditches and streams though. With asparagus, I think the more mature the plant the more spears you get.

Ayak said...

These posts of yours have made me so much more aware of all the food that can be found growing wild. Of course Turkish women know all about these things. They are often to be found picking all sorts of wild plants to use for food. I am determined to start looking more carefully in future. Now that my camera is working I can at least take pics and check them out...probably with you!

(Haha...you'll never guess what the word veri is....eatem!)

kathi dunphy said...

I detest this weed ! It is SO invasive and is taking over every ditch and vacant field in New Brunswick, Canada, where I live. It turned up on my 8 acres about 5 years ago and I am constantly fighting it. Lop it off and 6 more grow in it's place. Mow it in the pasture and it tries to go to seed at 6 inches rather than 6 feet. We call it the Evil Weed !

Heiko said...

Kathi, I'm surprised to hear it described as an aggressively invasive weed. As it's only a biennial it should be reasonably easy to control. My philosophy on weeds generally is, if you have a problem, eat it! :)