Helping out at a wild foods cookery school in Cornwall, Penzance

Assisting at the Fat Hen Cookery School in Cornwall

The Fat Hen Cookery School opens up a world of learning; from nutrition to knife techniques. Caroline’s workshops are a whirl of sensation. The touch of the filleted fish; alternately slippery and rasping, the smells of uncooked seaweed and three cornered leek. When out foraging, the sounds of birdsong, whispering trees and the ocean crashing in the distance. The beautiful view from the kitchen, surrounded by the scenic Cornish countryside and the new tastes; black pepper dulce butter, seaweed focaccia, wild garlic salsa verde.

 

Vanilla pannacotta seaweed set Cookery workshop Fat Hen

The workshops last for about eight hours, and cover many different facets of eating; learning to successfully sharpen a knife, filleting a fish, how to smoke meat, the nutrition profiles ofseasonal wild foods, tips for a perfect pannacotta, cleaning and preparing seaweeds, a variety of recipes for seaweed, where to find it, and how to cook it.

 
How to fillet a fish Cornwall Cookery School Fat Hen

Chef demonstration tasting of vanilla pannacotta

Fat Hen cookery school post workshop feast

The workshop ends with a veritable feast of the foods foraged and prepared by Caroline, Chef Rob and the members of the class. Below is some of the foods sampled; miso soup, smoked haddock, sea spaghetti stir fry with soba noodles, crispy sea lettuce, sea spaghetti tapenade, seaweed focaccia, olive oil with elderberry vinegar, salsa verde.

 

Caroline works hard to accommodate food intolerances, modifying her menu and lessons based on whether the participants have coeliac disease or are lactose intolerant or vegan.

I also helped at a Wild Foods class, this was the land version of the seaweed class.

In this class Caroline taught us about skinning and gutting a rabbit, how to forage up a fresh green salad, shared tips on how to smoke rabbit meat, shared recipes for sweet pickling crab apples and crispy gluten free crackers.

 

Locally produced wild rabbit butchering workshop

 

During the foraging part of the workshop she covered where and when to find sea beet, three cornered leek, black mustard, navelwort, primrose, sorrel, apple mint, Alexanders, hogweed, rock samphire and nettles along a section of the Cornish cliffside.

 

 

Caroline’s class also has a safety aspect, where she discusses poisonous plants, and showed us how to identify foxglove and hemlock waterdrop wort.

I think this side of foraging is neglected, considering the frequency of poisonings caused by misidentification of plants, and one that should be addressed more. Even within the last decade, Nicholas Evans, author of The Horse Whisperer poisoned himself and three family members, causing renal failure in all four by misidentifying Boletus edulis for Cortinarius speciosissimus. Caroline taking the time to show new foragers what to pick is a valuable part of the foraging walk.

 

Boletus edulis

Boletus edulis. Edible, tasty.

Cortinarius speciosissimus

Cortinarius speciosissimus. Kidney failure, death.

After bringing the greens back to the kitchen, Caroline, Chef Jim and the workshoppers continued to cook for the meal at the end of the workshop while I played dishpig.

 

Cookery school wild food foraging workshop

Fat Hen Cornwall cookery school workshop day

 

At the end of the workshop they sat down to smoked rabbit, wild garlic tapenade, sea beet salsa verde, steamed Alexanders, gluten-free bread and a bit of white wine.
Fat Hen cookery school Cornwall workshop

Related;

Fat Hen have upcoming workshops and foodie days, you can check out their calendar here. Staying with Caroline has been so educational, other wild foods I have been cooking can be found by clicking the links below;

Gorse cordial

Nettle tea

Preparing seaweed

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How to make wild garlic pesto (vegan friendly!)

Wild garlic pesto from non-traditional ingredients

It is wild garlic season and I wanted to make pesto with it. Pesto is traditionally made with basil, Parmesan, lemon, olive oil and pine nuts. I didn’t have lemons, Parmesan, pine nuts or basil but these were all fairly easy to swap out, and the result is a deep green, garlicky nutty spread I am finding delicious to put on everything savoury – toast, pasta, gammon, couscous, poached eggs…

Wild garlic nettle pesto how to make

This recipe for wild garlic pesto also includes nettles, but you can leave those out if you would like. If you have Parmesan, you can add about 50g after blending the garlic and nuts. Also, you can leave the Parmesan out, and keep this recipe suitable for vegans!

Not-pesto wild garlic pesto recipe

 

Four cups chopped wild garlic leaves

1 cup cooked nettles

500g toasted cashews, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds

One bulb of garlic, roasted

Juice of two limes

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 
Blend the garlic, nettles and nuts in a food processor, adding oil gradually to make a paste. Blend in the roasted garlic. Add the lime juice and salt/pepper to taste.

 

 

Spring wild garlic nettle recipes

How to make foraged wild garlic pesto

How to make wild garlic sunflower seed pesto

This may not be pesto, but it is very tasty. Because the wild garlic season is so short, it might be a good idea to make a big batch  and freeze some for later in the year.

Related; other foraged food recipes!

Gorse cordial

Rosehip and Apple jelly

Horta Vrasta

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Pickled Alexanders, leek bulbs and flower buds

Another great day foraging in Cornwall…

…has left me with a wide array of local, extremely seasonable greens that I can’t eat enough of fast enough! The alliums are sprouting and flowering at the moment, and the Alexanders are at their peak.

Trying out a pickle on the tricornered leek buds and bulbs, and the Alexanders stems to eat after their growing season is over for this spring.

 

How to pickle allium buds and bulbs

For pickling the tri-cornered leeks, bulbs and Alexander stems I used a previous hot pickle recipe that worked well.

Hot vinegar recipe

1.25L apple cider vinegar
250mL water
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 bay leaves

…with a few small changes this time around; the addition of a teaspoon of each of fennel seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds, and two finely chopped onions. I added the spices to the pot, and heated up the pan to begin releasing the flavours. After a few minutes, I put the vinegar in the saucepan with the spices and let the mixture start to simmer.

How to cook apple cider vinegar pickling recipe

Self sufficiency hot pickling Alexanders

After the vinegar started to simmer, I added the buds, took the mix off the heat and poured this into the sterilised jars. To pickle the leek bulbs, I repeated this process again, but instead of adding the bulbs to the vinegar, I stuffed the long leek bulbs vertically into the sterilised jars, and poured the hot vinegar over them.

 

Adding three cornered leek flower bulbs hot vinegar

Preparing Alexanders for pickling

Pickled Alexanders used a bit of a different technique, the tough nature of their stems means more preparation was required to get these ready to pickle.

After taking off the leaves and smallest stems, first job is to use a knife to first strip off the outer layer of shiny green bark, then using the peeler to remove the fibrous layer underneath.

 

Peeling Alexanders stems preparing hot vinegar pickling

Self sufficiency spring preserves how to pickle Alexanders

I spread a layer of salt on the bottom of a large bowl, and laid down the tubes evenly on the salt. Then I spread another layer of salt on the top to cure the Alexanders in the fridge over the next 4-6 hours.
How to pickle preserve Alexanders Fat Hen Cookery School

Curing Alexander stems jar pickling

After this time, the Alexanders are cured and much softer than when they went in the bowl. The bowl is also full of liquid expressed during the curing process so I rinsed off any remaining salt and brine, and dried the Alexanders with a paper towel.
Salt cured Alexanders after photo pickling Uk

I sliced up the tubes, roughly 1cm thick, and like the flower buds, when the vinegar mix was simmering on the stove I added the Alexanders and then immediately took the vinegar mix off the heat. I also put a couple of sprigs of fennel in the bottom of the jars, and after the mixture was poured into the jar (headspace of about 1cm), an extra sprig of fennel on the top of the mix.

 

How to prepare Alexanders jar pickling spring preserves
Pickling Alexanders recipe foraged foods UK
How to pickle three cornered leeks homemade

 

Seal well and leave all these pickles for about a fortnight to mature and absorb all the flavours. The buds should stay crunchy and onion-flavoured, while taking on the tartness and salt of the vinegar.

Related;

Caroline at Fat Hen Cookery School has been a marvellous host and a fantastic resource for learning about many more aspects of foraging. She’s also been teaching me a lot about how to forage for (and prepare) seaweed too!

Pickling capsicums, original apple cider vinegar hot pickling recipe.

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Gorse cordial in the Cornish countryside

Gathering gorse flowers to make cordial

My partner and I went picking gorse flowers in the Cornish countryside to make gorse flower syrup. Gorse hedgerows line the pathways in this area, and all of the surrounding hedges have started to flower. Gorse flowers give off a coconut scent, but I have not found that these really taste like anything. The flowering times and the availability of gorse varies depending on which county you are in in the UK.

Gorse flower is a prickly bush, and extremely prolific in this area! The tips bloom with half a dozen flowers at a time, with tiny leaves and medium-sized thorns. I would recommend wearing a rubber kitchen glove when picking these flowers. My technique was to gently grab and pull off as many gorse blossoms as possible at a time. You will need a lot of flowers to make gorse flower syrup.

Flowering gorse hedgerows syrup recipe

Self sufficiency gorse flowers syrup lemon

We set out to make a syrup, but we ended up with a much lighter, lemony cordial. It’ll be a very refreshing summery drink, I am really pleased with the flavour. Our host, Caroline doesn’t think it has enough of that coconuts gorse scent imbued in the cordial. She’s not wrong, it tastes like a light, sweet, lemony, refreshing summery beverage…but no strong coconut scent or flavour.

Notes for next time;

The gorse flowers may have needed to be picked during a warmer week, on a fully sunny day to catch all that subtle coconut scent.

Fat Hen cookery school gorse brewing

How to make gorse flower cordial;

10 cups gorse flowers

7 litres water

8.75 kg sugar

6 lemons

50g citric acid

Makes about 10 litres


Heat the water to a simmer and add the sugar and dissolve. Add the flowers and lemons and bring to a simmer again, then take off heat and let steep overnight.

Ideal summer beverage how to make gorse cordial

The next day, add the citric acid and stir in thoroughly to the cordial. Leave to sit while you prepare the bottles, ladle, jugs, jelly bag and funnels.

Wash the bottles you plan to put the cordial in and put them and the lids in the oven on a low heat – around 50°C, to dry the bottles. Boil the kettle and soak the jelly bag, jugs, ladle and funnels in hot water for a few minutes.

Fat Hen cookery school gorse cordial

Difference in colour after addition of citric acid.

Sling the jelly bag over the large-mouthed funnel and ladle the cordial into the bag to filter the flowers out of the liquid poured into the jug. It can be helpful if there is someone else to help with this part. Use a narrow-mouthed funnel to pour the filtered cordial into the bottles.

Gorse cordial brewing instructions ladle jug
Fat Hen Cornwall cordial making

Clean off with a damp cloth and leave to dry before labelling. Shelf life of unopened bottle should be 6-12 months. Gorse cordial will last longer in the fridge after opening.

How to make coconut scented gorse flower cordial

Related;

I have only used gorse flowers in cordial, and salads. I have also included other gorse cordial recipes (maybe these will have a stronger gorse-coconut scent)

Grow, Eat, Gather

Eat Weeds

 

Elderflower season will soon be upon us also! Be prepared with a recipe for how to make a rich sweet elderflower cordial.

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Nettle Tea and the Boscawen-Un stone circle

Taking a hike to the Boscawen-Un stone circle

Took a walk to the Boscawen-Un Stone Circle. The mist had thoroughly settled on the moors, lending an eerie air to the event as I wandered between the hedgerows along parish pathways to visit the circle. So far I have found Cornwall to be a bit of a cold, misty and overall miserable place, but the countryside I have been able to see so far has still been beautiful.

Boscawen-un photography gorse hedgerows

The walk was a solid slog through deep mud at times, but the pathway was easy enough to follow.

Stone circle ancient sites uk photography

 

After I got there, it was very grounding to spend a minute admiring the stone circle, and wonder at its history. I walked the deep ruts that encapsulate the circle, inside and outside the stones, taking in the colour of the gorse and the peace and silence of the standing stones.

There was a tree with all sorts of offerings and witchy ornaments hanging from its branches just outside the circle.

 
Stone circles witch trees Druid craft moors Cornwall visit

Boscawen-un stone circle witch tree visit Cornwall

On the way back from my walk, I picked the young leaves from the tops of a bunch of nettles.
Foraging nettle tea walking hedgerows Cornwall

These I took home with me and made into tea.

Nettle tea recipe;

Large handful of nettle leaves

1L water
Take off the largest nettle stems. Bring water to boil, add leaves and turn off heat. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Ladle hot liquid into mug and drink. You can let the nettles steep for a few minutes longer, strain them, and eat them with a splash of oil and some salt and pepper.

Brewing nettle leaves for tea

Boiling nettle tips young shoots tea making

Warming and soothing nettle tea, nice to drink on a cold afternoon after a walk in the Cornish moors.

Related: other nettle recipes

Horta vrasta with nettles

Nettle soup

Nettle pesto

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Preparing seaweed

How to prepare foraged seaweeds

After coming in from the beach at Cornwall, Caroline showed me how to prepare the seaweed we had brought in that day. In particular, I needed to wash the laver, sea spaghetti and sea lettuce.

Preparing the laver;

Put the laver in a large dish and fill with cold water. Pick up the laver a handful at a time, keeping it under the water. Still holding the seaweed under water, shake the sand out from the folds in the leaves of the laver. Transfer the handful into another container of cold water. Do this until the bowl is empty – there should be a lot of sand in the bottom of the first bowl. Keep rinsing and repeating until there is no sand in the bottom of your bowl. Drain the laver and either dehydrate or cook as planned.

 
How to prepare wild foraged laver cooking school

Cornwall cookery school seaweed wash helpx travel

Laver seaweed cooking preparation Cornwall Fat Hen

 

Laver takes a really long time to wash clean, but at the end you end up with wet, strong sheets of fine laver seaweed. It is thin as paper, strong, flexible and in its current raw state, very chewy.

Ways to cook with laver:

Caroline recommends dehydrating and crushing the laver into large flakes in a pestle and mortar, and adding them to recipes a tablespoon at a time. The range of recipes these can be added to is very broad, don’t be afraid to experiment! Caroline often makes a seaweed focaccia she sprinkles them over before baking, and I like to add them to chicken soups for the flavour. Here you can find a recipe for cockles, laverbread and Welsh bacon, and another for a slow-cooked pork and laver casserole.

Preparing sea spaghetti;

I washed the sea spaghetti second, and it was so much easier than the laver was! We did pick the sea spaghetti on a rockier beach, so the minimal sand that was clinging onto the sea spaghetti just slid off the slick strands.

Sea spaghetti gets washed off in a similar way to laver. Fill a bowl with cold water and add the spaghetti, shaking sand off in the water to sink to the bottom of the bowl. The sea spaghetti is washed when there is no sand remaining in the bottom of the bowl.

 

Foraged food sea spaghetti travel uk

 Foraging sea spaghetti seaweed Cornwall cookery

Recipes for sea spaghetti;

Sea spaghetti can be cooked like regular greens and added to pasta, or blended and added to tapenade. Here is a recipe for sea spaghetti and kale salad with fresh ginger here, and a carrot and sea spaghetti salad.

Caroline had pre-picked, washed and/or dried some of the other seaweeds including the kelp and pepper dulce for the workshop. After a few hours picking, washing and preparing the foraging workshop seaweeds, we had the following selection:

 

Foraging sea weed cookery school uk Cornwall

Another interesting fact about seaweeds and foraging is that the only seaweeds poisonous to humans grow deep underwater. Anything you find growing, attached to a shoreline is at least non-toxic. It might not taste great though. This is why finding and working with Caroline over the last few weeks has been so valuable in our travels. She has shown us so much!

 

Related:

Foraging for seaweeds in Cornwall.

More seaweed recipes.

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Foraging for seaweed in England

I have washed up on the beaches of Cornwall…

…and found a host near Penzance who knows so much about foraging! I hadn’t been to Cornwall before, and am impressed by the moors, cliffs and seaside landscapes. For about the first half of my visit it was drizzling constantly, wet and cold. Nevertheless, you can really feel the land coming awake underneath the gloomy sky, blooming into spring. The gorse and willow are flowering, and the seaweed foraging season has begun.

Soon after I arrived, we were wandering down the cliff pathways to forage for laver, sea spaghetti, pepper dulce and sea lettuce. Caroline took me to a fairly isolated beach to pick the sea spaghetti and pepper dulce. The coastline is steep, and the gravel-rock-and-wood pathways was slippery with the previous night’s rain, but the walk down the remote coastline to the ocean was wild and beautiful.

We cut the stems of the newer, smooth strands of sea spaghetti from the root of the plant. The pepper dulce is much smaller. Caroline recommends cutting the stems of seaweeds only, always leaving the small root-growth at the base of the plant to regenerate.

Scissors wicker basket seaweed forager travelling

When we went down at high tide, there were many, many anemones in all the rock pools. Some were closed so I didn’t recognise them at first. Although I have spent a lot of my life near the ocean, I had only seen two blooming anemones before this! Closed anemones look gross in comparison.

Rock pool life anemone seaweed picking

After I saw a few blooming (and in different colours!) I put two and two together and saw a lot more anemones.

Rock pools Cornwall flowering anemone

This is the first beach in Cornwall I have had a chance to see, and it is so different from the beaches around where I grew up. Here, there are lots of cliffs, to rock pools, caves, doors  – so unfamiliar! I have only seen this landscape in photographs and on TV in shows like Doc Marten, Midsomer Murders….

Cornish cave exploration foraging traveller UK

Landscape travel photography Cornwall ocean cliffs

After getting back I knocked up a rough sketch of the seascape – the strongest memory.

Cornish beaches drawing sketching journaling

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