orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Wild food of the month - Of Jack and David

It's been a funny old month once again.  No time for posting and even less time to look at all your lovely blogs.  The weather has been plain crazy this year.  After a warm winter the cold had arrived in February with a bang.  But in March it became almost summery and I optimistically planted my tomatoes out early this year, at least a large part of them.  Then in April we had nothing but rain, except for the last 3 days when summer made another brief cameo appearance with rain and wind following again today.  Needless to say we are hopelessly behind on the land and the weeds, loving all this rain, are taking over big time!

So I thought it might be time to take up the wild food of the month feature again.  I have a new camera and I have been busy taking pictures for the book.  The trouble about this book is that I seem to find new edible plants almost every week and it's taking on encyclopedic proportions.  Anyway, to get back to the sub-heading of today's post, first let me explain about David.

I did another wildfood walk a couple of days ago and was hugely honoured to have a very special participant, the famous botanist David Bellamy.  Those of my readers not from the UK may not have heard of him, but in Britain he is something like the David Attenborough of botany.  He has hosted hundreds of TV programs on botany and has written 56 books in his long an illustrious career.  Here we are inspecting one of the last few tiny aspargus shoots of the season:

Obviously I was a little nervous to be lecturing such a distinguished expert in his own field.  I'll take on any Master of Wine at a wine tasting any day, but botany is just a wee hobby of mine.  However, it turned out we completely complemented each other, me talking about edibles and David pointing out rare orchid species, telling us how fern got its Latin name and how cherry trees attract ants to defend themselves from other insects.  On a couple of occasions he dived into the undergrowth and returning with some plant or other and he was asking me what they might be.  At first I thought he was trying to test me!  I must say it has given my confidence levels a huge boost.  I am now very much hoping he will be writing a foreword to my book.

Now to Jack...  Jack-by-the-Hedge to give him his full name.  I'm torn whether to use this lovely poetic name for this plant in my book or the more descriptive common name of garlic mustard.  Anyway, this is what he looks like:

The plant grows to about a metre tall with largish round slightly serrated leaves topped by delicate white flowers and grows all over the place along the sides of pathways and wastegrounds.  The leaves are very thin and wilt quickly after being picked and when rubbed give out a distinct mustard and garlic aroma, giving it it's other common name.  It is a member of the mustard family and therefore belongs to the brassica group (hey, you can tell I'm not a botanist!).

The leaves and flowers can be used as a salad ingredient and give a lovely spicy punch.  My favourite way of eating them was apparently also a favourite with Henry VIII, namely as a herb sauce.  I just make a simple bechamel with butter flour and milk and just as thickens I throw in some finely chopped leaves and flowers and a handful of grated cheese.  Delicious on new potatoes or as we had it at the last wild food walk, on some trout!  The seeds can also be used.  Simply crush them together with some coarse sea salt and use as a condiment.

Wishing you all a happy May.


sunflower said...

Oh how wonderful! I love David Bellamy, he was always on telly during my childhood emerging from the undergrowth wearing a daft hat.
A huge star!

Good luck with the book and the weeds, Tara

Heiko said...

Tara, the trouble with most of those weeds, they are edible! There's a hell of lot to eat our way through!

Mr. H. said...

Sounds like a very exciting wild food walk, congratulations for your continuing successes in these endeavors.

I'm still looking for that wild mustard, I know it must grow around here somewhere...but where?:)

Stefaneener said...

Lovely to read of your exploits. The plant looks very useful.