Category Archives: cooking

‘black’ plantain porridge

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Greater or broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is a species of Plantago, family Plantaginaceae. It is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia, but has widely naturalised elsewhere in the world. In north America, the habit of the seeds to lodge in the soles of boots gave its name ‘white man’s footsteps’ by Native Americans because it seemed to sprout up wherever ‘white man’ went.

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Greater Plantain is one of the most abundant medicinal crops in the world. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to encourage healing and prevent infection. The active constituents are a anti-microbial agent, a chemical that stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration and mucilage (which reduces pain and discomfort). Plantain has astringent properties, and a tea made from the leaves can be drunk to treat diarrhea and soothe internal membranes. It is its anti-histamine qualities that makes it great for nettle and wasp/bee stings.

Broadleaf plantain is also a very nutritious wild edible, that is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young leaves can be eaten raw and as they get tougher and stringier when they are older then can be added to a potage.

It is however the seed that it of interest to me today. One of the qualities of the seed is that is develops a mucilage around the outside and looks a bit like dark tapioca pearls when cooked. You can grind the seed (very hard) to make a flour to add as a bulking agent, you can use it as a thickener in soups or stews or you can make it into a nutrious porridge.

It is a very easy process.

Here is a step by step guide.

  • Pick and dry plantain seed heads

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  • When they are dry they are easy to de-husk. You can use the husk as a fibre addition to your diet but it is pretty insoluable.

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  • After winnowing and separating the seed from the chaff – either by tossing in the air, putting through a sieve or swirling in a bowl to separate the heavier grains from the husks

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  • You can lightly grind the seeds which helps release the mucilage when whater is added  – but they are tough to do – or just proceed onto the next step.
  • Add boiling water and/or heat with water in a pot. If you are making a savoury ‘gruel’ then you can use some flavoured, salted stock instead of water.
  • You will see that the water is absorbed and the mucilage forms on the outside of the grains.

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  • You are left with a dark  or ‘black’ porridge.
  • Add some flavour – sugar/syrup, salt, butter/cream.
  • The flavour is immediately a little (very, very slightly) ummmm…seaweedy….but this soon dissappears (or you get used to it!) and what you have is an interesting and nutrious porridge not unlike a flax porridge or something made from polenta but with the texture of slightly crunchy tapioca pearls.

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Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.

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pendulus sedge bread

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Pendulus Sedge (Carex Pendula) is often seen in woodland, scrub and along watercourses. Sometimes you can come across large swathes of them. Which is useful because the seed – or grain – is edible and easily harvested. Our hunter-gather ancestors may have harvested the seeds from this plant in a past when it was damper: ideal conditions for the plant. It is one of the few seeded plants that is very easy to harvest; simply running your hand along the flower head is enough. Another advantage of this grain is that it does not suffer, like many grasses, from the dangerous ergot fungus so it is less risky to harvest.

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Not wanting to just harvest it and make into ‘worthy’ (ie: hair shirt wearing) damper bread I decided to make it into a mini-loaf with the addition of allowing wild yeasts to let it ferment. Easier though I expect is to use some commercial yeast to get it going.

Here is a step-by-step guide to processing this useful and delicious plant.

  • Harvest the grains

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  •       Parch (heat/singe) the grains so the husks loosen

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  • Rub vigourously between your hands using a ‘hand wringing’ motion concentrating on using the ‘heels’ of your palm. This will release the inner ‘nut’

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  • Then separate the ‘wheat’ from the ‘chaff’ by tossing into the air and letting the light kernal blow away in the breeze and the heavier ‘nut’ falling back into your recepticle.

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  • Grind the remaining seed using a pestle and mortar or a grinding stone to make a flour

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  • Add some water and leave (if you want wild yeasts to take hold) – otherwise add some bakers yeast. Add some salt if you have some after the yeast has become active.
  • Mix and kneed for a couple of minutes until the (limited) glutens are released then add some fat (oil, lard, dripping, butter)
  • Kneed for a further 5 minutes.
  • Form into a loaf or bun and cover with something so it does not dry out then bake in dutch oven (like this)
  • Enjoy!

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Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.


hazel milk and hazel cookies

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Cob nuts or hazelnuts are commonplace at this time of year along the leafy lanes of Dartmoor. If the squirrels have not got to them already then the odds are that those are left behind are empty in their shells. However if you strike lucky you will have found an amazing food. This nut would have been a staple food for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Nuts were an extremely important survival food giving huge quantities of the necessary calories and rich in fats, carbs and proteins with a whole range of useful vitamins and minerals – useful for the impending onset of winter.

But don’t just shell them and eat them. You can make a delicious nut milk and also make cookies with the leftovers.

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Here is a step-by-step guide:

Shell the nuts and crush them finely with a pestle and mortar. The finer and more granular the better. Although cheating (a bit!) you can more effectively get them to a fine grit by using a blender.

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Add water (a litre/quart per 100g of shelled nuts or less water if you want a richer milk). Mix and macerate. If the grind is quite course then leaving it to soak for several hours in a corked/stoppered bottle that you can vigorously shake occasionally may be your best option. The result will probably be a grey-brown milk liquid.

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Strain through muslin and you will be left with a lovely, slightly off white milk. You can sweeten with honey or a birch/maple syrup if you like.

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Don’t throw away the remaining solid matter. Make sure it is thoroughly squeezed out and not too moist. Then add a knob of hard fat (lard, dripping, butter) and a good dollop of honey, maple syrup or in this instance some home-made birch syrup.

Mix, shape into thin cookies and cook in a dutch oven, over the campfire, or in your kitchen until golden brown.

The result of all that shelling is a delicious bedtime glass of milk and a couple of cookies.

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Disclaimer – This article is NOT telling you to go out and eat wild plants without proper instruction! DO NOT use this article as a guide as to what is safe for you or others to eat. Learn from other sources and know absolutely (110%) what you are picking and consuming and what affect it might have on you and others – before you go off and test your knowledge! The author accepts no responsibility for any errors or omissions in this article. Eating wild plants is entirely at your own risk. Just because I have eaten them and/or they are mentioned in this article does not mean that they are safe for anyone to eat. Do not feed wild plants to other people without taking the necessary precautions.


budleigh forage day

Budleigh Salterton, on the the mouth of the River Otter is quite possibly one of the best places for subsistence hunting and gathering.

The combination of rich sea life (at this time of year the mackerel are fairly hopping out onto the beach and sea bass are easy pickings even with a carefully cast hobo line on the turn of the incoming tide), the seaweed draped rock shelf, the crab and prawn rock pools of the intertidal zone, the salt marsh succulents, and the fruitiful banks of the river otter are all close to hand. In the space of a single mile there is enough to support a small community from foraging alone.

I can really imagine early man settling here then moving upstream to colonise the hinterland.

Today was a very special day. I took two clients out, Penny & Pete, for an afternoon of foraging and cooking. This was our stage. And wasn’t it wonderful! The feedback was excellent:

“We didn’t just enjoy yesterday we had an AMAZING day,  thank you sooo much! We both feel we’ve learnt alot & will certainly put the information you gave us to good use & carry on foraging”

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I served a four course lunch with appetisers:

  • Nettle beer with a selection of seaweed crisps (sugar kelp, dulse and gutweed)
  • Spanakopita of filo, feta, water mint, wild spinach, wild watercress, fat hen, common sorrel, crow garlic and dandelion
  • Wavy and wood bittercress soup
  • Smoked oat and purple laver patties with maple syrup
  • Caragheen and vanilla panna cotta

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Later that day we snacked on sea purslane, samphire and lightly steamed sea beet.

Here is the list of some of the flora and fauna we spotted, picked (or in some cases avoided!). Quite a few species were passed over because we did not have enough time.

  1. Hottentot Fig – buds and leaves
  2. Pineapple Mayweed – leaves
  3. Goji berry or Wolfberry or Duke of Argyll’s Tea Plant – fruit
  4. Burdock – root
  5. Common Mallow – leaves and seed cheeses
  6. Horseradish – root and leaves
  7. Black Mustard – leaves and seeds
  8. Alexanders – roots, leaves, seeds
  9. Blackthorn – fruits (mainly) – but other parts used
  10. Dog Rose – petals and hips
  11. Hawthorn – fruits and young leaves and flowers
  12. Field Madder + Cleavers – ink and also as a member of the coffee family the cleaver burrs can be used to make an apple scented coffee – will send you a link)
  13. Oak Galls  – oak gall ink
  14. Yarrow – leaves
  15. Meadowsweet – roots, leaves, flowers
  16. Comfrey (Knitbone) – avoid internal use now
  17. Great Willowherb – look for Rosebay Willowherb, much more useful
  18. Water Mint – leaves)
  19. Greater Plantain – leaves and seeds
  20. Hogweed (care needed) – young shoots, unfurled heads and and young leaves
  21. Fat Hen – leaves
  22. Black Nightshade (poisonous)
  23. Field Penny Cress – leaves
  24. Marsh Woundwort (not edible)
  25. Hemlock Water Dropwort (v. poisonous)
  26. Wild Carrot – root
  27. Chicory / Endive – root
  28. Sycamore (Sap – which I use to make beer or syrup etc.)
  29. Scots Pine/Coastal Pine (needle tea)
  30. Rock Samphire (great for stuffing into fish – it can be pickled but very strong flavour)
  31. Gutweed (edible seaweed)
  32. Sugar Kelp(edible seaweed)
  33. Purple Laver(edible seaweed)
  34. Sea Lettuce(edible seaweed)
  35. Toothed Wrack (edible but a bit tough)
  36. Winkle (shellfish)
  37. Dog Whelk (shellfish)
  38. Limpet (shellfish)
  39. Carragheen (edible seaweed – to be used as a thickener/gelatine though)
  40. Sea Beet (Wild Spinach) – leaves and root
  41. Sea Purslane – leaves
  42. Glasswort (Samphire) – stem
  43. Annual sea blight – leaves
  44. Sea Aster – leaves

Various dishes have been made from the produce of this foraging environment – just demonstrating the breadth of what it has to offer. These are listed here:

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seaweed, elderflower and rose panna cotta

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Don’t be put off by the seaweed in this queen of desserts. There is no taste of carragheen (irish moss). In fact it is widely used as a thickener (E407) in ice-cream and jelly desserts. Its very natural and very effective.

Use Carragheen (Irish Moss), often found in rock pools along with False Irish Moss – both are equally good to use for this. The former is wiry and slimy to the touch the latter is wiry and pimply to the touch.

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Boil up (600ml water) 80g of carragheen and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir now and again to help release the sticky polysaccharides.

In a separate pan gently heat some milk (200ml) and caster sugar (50 g) with a muslin bag of flavourings – in this case I used elderflowers and rose petals. As soon as it has nearly come to the boil stir, take off the heat, squeeze the bag out and remove from the milk.

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Take the boiled sea-weed and strain through a double layer of dishcloth or muslin. You will need washing up gloves because of the heat of the mixture, squeeze and twist the cloth with the bundle of seaweed over the milk – whisk/stir in frequently. Once this is done, immediately add 200ml of double cream and gently whisk it together. Then pour quickly into some darioles, cups or whatever you think you can put them in (silicon cup cake baking trays are good). Place in fridge and leave to set for a few hours. This recipe was inspired by John Wright’s Edible Seashore

Serve with a fruit compote or jus.


sea-beet spanakopita

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Sea-beet is the grandfather of all our land-based beets – and this includes spinach. In fact another name for sea-beet is wild spinach. It looks like it, tastes like it, but its a spinach on steroids. It is more fleshy (it does not disintegrate like spinach when cooked) and tastes like the stuff Popeye must have surely consumed. Its bigger, bolder and altogether stronger. Why we bother with the other stuff I do not know!

In this Greek-inspired dish spanakopita  is made with sea-beet, feta and wild mint. A dip of greek yoghurt with crow-garlic and lemon juice was also made to accompany it.

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Steam sea-beet for 5-minutes and then squeeze out any excess water. Add this to some feta and some a small sprig of finely chopped mint. Crumble it all together. Have thin strips of filo pastry (about 18 inches long and 7 cms wide), place a dollop of feta-beet-mint mixture at one end and make your first fold diagonally. Then simply follow the leading edge as it zig-zags down the filo as you fold it over. Seal the loose end with melted butter and brush the top of the parcel with melted butter too. Continue until you have a baking tray full. Place on baking parchment and pop into oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with some yoghurt, lemon juice and chopped garlic (or crow garlic if you can – it often grows on the coast).

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spider crab, laver and oat patties

This is a very versatile dish. This version is a dinner version made with the addition of spider crab, lemon zest and coriander. But my preference is probably as a breakfast pattie, fried and topped with a poached egg and maybe some smoked haddock. Laver is such an excellent seaweed. We should use it more. This link here is how to prepare the laver.

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Laver was picked, cooked for hours and then used (or frozen), the spider crab was found wandering the shallows of a sandy beach nearby.

Add the ingredients together (40% laver, 60% oats), cooked crab, zest and juice of a lemon, coriander and season with salt or pepper. Form into patties – they stick together really well because of the glutinous nature of the laver and the starch of the oats. No other binder is necessary. Either shallow fry or brush with a bit of oil and oven cook. Serve with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.

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