This month's wild food blog has been written for us by Fiona Bird.
Fiona is a graduate of The University of St Andrews, mother of six and a former BBC Masterchef finalist. She divides her time between Angus and the Outer Hebridean Isle of South Uist, where her husband is the local doctor. Fiona is often seen on her bicycle with a basket full of seaweed or wild edibles and is usually late for church.
Fiona is the author of Kids’ Kitchen (Barefoot Books 2009), The Forager’s Kitchen (Cico Books 2013) and Seaweed in the Kitchen (Prospect Books 2015). She is a wild food blogger for The Huffington Post UK and is currently working on Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside (Cico Books April 2016) and a book about Christian Food Celebrations (Wild Goose Publications 2016).
Folklore has it that "when gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of fashion". An older saying is "when furze (gorse) is in bloom, my love is in tune"; it's a relief then that gorse is always in flower at least somewhere in the UK. Although the best profusion of these yellow flowers are displayed in summer, gorse is a possibility for the November forager.
Late autumn foraging
You may also spy late autumn berries on hedgerows as well as fungi and nuts in woodlands, but as the days draw in and temperatures drop, a forager’s basket is likely to lighten. Bletted sloes and hips are best for a digestif, so worry not about a frost or two. Sorrel and chickweed will provide wild greenery to top up a November salad bowl. However, winter will be the time when the organised forager uses ingredients squirreled away - in the freezer, dehydrated or preserved; but with any foraging the mantra is: pick a little here and there though not enough to feed the neighbourhood. This should mean that your freezer bags are small, as are your store cupboard jars - just a soupcon of wild tastes and scents.
Gorse bush by Fiona Bird
Gorse through history
The Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus, who established the basic taxonomy system we use today, is said to have fallen on his knees and wept for joy at the sight of English gorse bushes. One presumes that he’d spied gorse on Swedish scrubland before; perhaps it was the coconut scent that overwhelmed him. I marvel at a plant that can grow with such scented profusion in poor soil. What’s not to love in a blast of yellow sunshine on a barren hill or cliffside? Before the days of centrally-heated houses, gorse provided fuel for homes, potters and bakers, and was used as thatching and, when milled, animal fodder. So scented and useful, if albeit a tad on the prickly side.
Gorse is an important wildlife habitat, providing perches and nesting material for linnets, stonechats and yellowhammers. It also gives cover for small mammals – its prickles keeping larger ones at bay. It’s an important source of nectar too, frequented by bees, while giving shelter to a multitude of other insects.
Beyond its cheery colour, scent, and the kissing, what you may ask does gorse offer 21st Century families? Its flowers may be eaten in salads or made into wine and the buds pickled or used in syrups and yellow vinegar. The yellow is one of its favourite tricks.
Blossom syrups or vinegars capture scent and taste of the countryside and are easy to make.
To make gorse vinegar (Taste Alert: it doesn't taste of its coconut scent):
Pickle gorse buds and use them like capers (like nasturtiums).
Others may prefer to use gorse flowers to make tea or gorse blossom-steeped water (yellow) to make a floral syrup. I usually add sugar to blossom water in a 2:1 ratio e.g. 100gm sugar to 50ml scented water. Dissolve the sugar over a very low heat. Sometimes it will crystallize and the colour fade, so keep floral syrups to the front of store cupboards, and so keep a watchful eye on sugar crystal gremlins.
Gorse – a natural yellow icing:
If you are into natural dyeing (you should have designated a pot for dye use), gorse flowers are one to experiment with. Practice is the name of the natural dyeing game. Use rainwater and a natural fabric and for plant dyes, sorrel or vinegar as a mordant. My results are so inconsistent that I’m happy to recommend it as child’s play – you could try it out on hard boiled eggs too.
When you forage wild ingredients to use as natural dyes, only pick a small amount and never more than one-sixth of any plant or berry. Wild plants and berries take time to grow. I suggest that you have fun dyeing a handkerchief or two, no more. Enjoy foraging without destroying our beautiful countryside. Parental tip: small children usually walk for longer distances when they’re out on a foraging treasure hunt.
You can find gorse all over the place from golf courses to grassy hills. It grows well in open areas in dry, sandy soils.
Fiona's fascinating blog on seaweed can be found here: seaweednamara.blogspot.co.uk/
You can see her foraging prowess in action here too: theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/video/2014/jun/30/let-the-child-go-wild-foraging-on-the-edge-of-europe-video
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