Thursday, 31 May 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - May - Extras

May is a fantastic time for food and I thought it a shame not to miss some specific tasty treats so I've decided to do a quick round up of a few of my faves, all of which can be eaten raw on the trail. I'll throw in a few leaf morphology terms, just for good measure.

Jack by the Hedge (Garlic Mustard) is a great addition to a cheese sandwich. Believe it or not, it tastes like a cross between garlic and mustard and can be found by hedges, often at the side of roads. Who'd have known!

Distinct in colour, it can be seen from quite a distance and at speed, which is useful if you're playing Fast Food. The leaves themselves grow between kidney shaped (reinform) and heart shaped (cordate) with a crinkly edges (sinuate margins) with crazy paving looking veins (reticulate).

As always, the younger, smaller, lighter green leaves are significantly less bitter to taste, which is the common objection. Like mustard, I use is sparingly and in combination with another strong flavours.

Wood Sorrel looks a little bit like clover, but has more heart shaped (cordate) leaves which are much lighter in colour and lives in the woods rather than in grass; another victory for habitat.

It tastes like a cross between lemon and apple peel and is a good source of vitamin C. It's great in savoury and sweet salads, stuffed in trout and can be made into a cordial, if you're so inclined. Personally, I just munch it when I find it. As with all wild foods which can be found in abundance, pick the best examples available.

Field, Lamb's, Sheep's or Common Sorrel are all much the same thing, look about the same and taste about the same. They all taste like Wood Sorrel, yet look nothing like it. This is because they are not of the same family at all.

To avoid confusion with the rather poisonous Lords and Ladies (or Cuckoo Pint), with the same fields and hedgerows, take special care in learning the distinct shape at the base of the leaves.

Primrose is subtle tasting flower with edible leaves, albeit quite bitter when mature. You can even eat the roots; boiled or roasted, like many other roots.

There are two general confusion species, the Cow Slip, which is just as edible and the Fox Glove, which is deadly. This is why I tend to wait for them to bloom before embarking on consumption since Fox Gloves do not have these creamy coloured flowers.

Dandelions are another plant we know well. Found in fields and gardens, it can be prolific. All of the plant except the stem is edible.

The flowers can be eaten raw or made into fritters, which are nicer than they sound. The roots can be boiled or roasted and can be ground into a drink that some would say is a coffee substitute, but let's face it, it's just not.

The pinnatisect leaves are sweet when young and are a favourite in salads.

There are many many many plants out and about at the moment, but none so distinct and accessible as these the ones we've covered so far this Spring. Keep with us for Summer as we see distinct changes in the plants we know and watch as the fruits start to form for the Autumn.

Happy foraging and keep an eye out for complementarity articles.

REMEMBER: Do no pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal. 

NOTE: This article was written from a UK perspective and identification will almost certainly differ in other places around the world. Seek local advice to confirm positive identification.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Wild Food & Natural Resources Course - May - Set One

Firstly, apologies for the delay. I hope you find this set another delicious addition to your wild food and natural resources knowledge base. Spring is still upon us with flowers blooming and buds bursting. I hope you are continuing to take note of the progress of all other species we have covered to date. So without delay, here we go.

Plant - Three Cornered Leek (Wild Onion)

Another of the Allium (garlic & onion) family, the Three Cornered Leek has a fantastic flavour with complements Wild Garlic both cooked and raw. At this time, it should be in flower and is hence easily identified from a distance. The white flowers and long stems and leaves make them appear like pale bluebells, with which they can often grow. The leaves, though subtly distinct are similar, but the cross section of the stems is the real give away. Now you can see how it gets its name.

Tree - Oak

I'm quite sure you know the leaf of the oak as well as the distinct acorns, however, there are other aspects of trees which are to be noted at this time, in addition to habitat, these are most notably bark and branch structure which as we discussed, are the purest of forms of identification, since they don't rely on leaf, bud or flower. The problem with learning this method is a requirement to have positive identification in the first place. Often, autumn leaves are left scattered at the base of trees, but with wind can take move them around and in crowded woodland, mistakes can be made.

Here is a clue to positive identification, a cluster of leaves forming from nobbly buds which may still be visible and worth noting for future identification. The leaves are curled and pale, but identifiable as those of an oak at closer inspection. 

Once noted, start taking paces back and widening you view to that of the branch and tree structure which you will note as distinct and familiar. The branches are gnarled and twisted. The tree is sometimes wider than it is tall and has an air strength and age about it.

As a climax forest tree, when mature, it often stands in its own ground with little around it. It can also be found alone in field or meadow, being much older than the grassland which surrounds it. You should be able to spot oaks at a distance and also when young, since the leaves at this stage are of a quite distinct colour. Once this identification has been established, start taking note of the bark.

Oak is an excellent firewood, but heavy and the calorie expenditure of carrying over large distances should be take into consideration. Though a strong building material, the branches are seldom straight and if others are available, it's better served as firewood for heating and cooking. 

The acorns are nutritious, but riddled with tannins, and are thus inedible unless treated. Boiling with multiple changes of water until it stays clear is one method, and boiling is another. Personally, I think acorns taste a bit rubbish, but make a worthy addition to a stew if crushed or powdered and provide fats and protein. 

Fungus - Fairy Ring Champignon

We've previously covered quite distinct fungi, but now that summer is drawing closer, things start to get a bit more interesting, with more and more species available there are more to be confused with and so more care has to be taken. It is now that we have to start learning some of the characteristics of fungi and with the an ability to distinguish between the good guys and the bad which to the untrained eye can look rather similar. 

Let us take the delicious Fairy Ring Champignon and rather deadly Fool's Funnel. They are both the same size and grow in the same habitat (grass) at similar times of year. Although champignon tend to grow in rings, this can be invaded by funnels and so one might lead to another. Both have similar (well, not really) caps and both have a rather long, thin, bare stem (or stipe). Both have thin flesh and similar looking gills and both spore white (more on this in another article). So what are the distinguishing characteristics? 

The Fool's Funnel is slightly depressed in the centre making it a little funnel shaped (no, really?) as compared to the Champignon which is flat to convex and when mature, has a raised spot (umbo) in the centre. The funnel is a dirty white and and the champignon is more of a tawny cream or ochre. The gills of the champignon are pronouncedly wide and the funnel gills can be slightly decurrent, that is to say that they draw down to stem a little, though the champignon gills do touch the stem.Now here is the challenge. From the above descriptions can you picture the two mushrooms, and importantly, mentally highlight the differences. Read back a couple of times before clicking on the following links to take a look.

Fairy Ring Champignon
Fool's Funnel

How did you do? Do you think you can identify both of these with 100% confidence? If not, then like any other edible, do not eat them and clearly don't eat the inedible ones. It is imperative that you are without doubt before consumption. Take some time to identify, photograph and double check the mushrooms you find and with time you will gain confidence.

One final note on Fairy Ring Champignon; they absolutely MUST BE COOKED as like Morels, they are poisonous otherwise. The stems are tough; to be discarded and the caps can be wind dried if you have an excess.

Happy foraging and keep an eye out for complementarity articles.

REMEMBER: Do no pick or eat anything you can't positively identify as safe and legal. 

NOTE: This article was written from a UK perspective and identification will almost certainly differ in other places around the world. Seek local advice to confirm positive identification.

Get updates via Facebook on the Survival's Cool Blog Page.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Fast Food

"Once you learn what wild onions look like, you'll be able to spot them at 120mph", asserted a foraging friend of mine. So, inspired by this statement, I decided to see what could be spotted at speed, albeit somewhat slower and was rather pleased with the results.

Jack by the Hedge - 3 points
So here's a game you can play in the car. It'll test your knowledge and your eye. It's really simple: taking turns (or play solo), spot a wild plant or tree with no repeats. Set up any scoring system you like. I go for ...

3 points for a wild food
2 points for a plant or tree
1 points for just the family - eg. Umbelifers or Cabbage, say

What you may find is that you keep seeing something you don't know, and it'll annoy you. The solution is to stop (safely), get the mobile out and take a piccy, then look it up later. By doing so, you'll build up knowledge of the more prolific and prominent plants, which are exactly the ones you should be learning.

You'll also start to notice those which are most confusing, and so need further study. Play this a few times and you'll get better. Play it through the seasons and it's a fantastic way of seeing things pop in and out.

All in all, this repetitive game is an excellent knowledge reinforcer.

First and foremost, this game has to be played safely, so keeping an eye on the road is paramount. Don't crash your car, just to win.

Have fun!

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