There is such a thing as a free lunch

By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener is not the most organised of people, and forgot to go shopping for Easter Day lunch. What to do with a couple of carrots, celery, an onion and some part-baked baguettes? It’s not quite a roast leg of lamb. Inspiration came while we were walking home through a local wood: the unmistakeable smell of wild garlic rose up from the path. Mmmm ” just the aroma filling the woodland made us feel hungry. We asked permission to forage there so we each gathered a handful of the oniony leaves and took them home:

Wild garlic

I chopped some leaves finely, mixed them with butter and stuffed the mixture into the sliced baguettes, which I baked for 10 minutes in a hot oven.

Wild garlic bread

But family cannot live on wild garlic bread alone. How about some soup to go with it? My cabbage patch has started to overgrow with stinging nettles that I should be digging out, so why not make use of the young nettle tops? The Junior Wildlife Gardeners were keen to help gather the nettles:

Picking nettles

Meanwhile I made a soffrito (soup base of onion, carrot and celery, gently sweated in olive oil and butter). We washed the grit, fox wee and insects off the nettles and added them to the saucepan with a litre of chicken stock, the remaining wild garlic and some black pepper. The nettles and garlic wilted into the soup as rapidly as spinach. The colour was so vibrantly green that I was loathe to simmer the soup for more than 5 minutes for fear of turning it into khaki sludge. I blended it quickly, threw in a small pot of single cream and voilà! lunch was served: nettle soup with wild garlic bread!

Nettle soup

So what was it like? A taste revelation: wild garlic bread has a buttery, allium-y subtlety unmatched by the cloves of the cultivated plant. This same base note carried on into the soup, with the nettles giving it a ferrous, spinach-like robustness. I’ve been lucky enough to eat lots of really great food in my life and it’s not often that a new flavour or taste sensation surprises my palate: foraged food delivered here. Of course, wild food is now the trendy thing in cutting-edge restaurants: nettle soup is available at Launceston Place on its 3 courses for

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12 thoughts on “There is such a thing as a free lunch

  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    I don’t pretend to be any kind of vegetarian. I prefer our meat to be local, properly husbanded, free range or wild if possible. I love nature, but I’m not sentimental about it.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Nice wild garlic baguettes. Shame you have to eat animals, though.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Didn’t realize that the laws there are so different, when it comes to foraging.

    Dandelions – Dandelion jelly, once made a batch that won a blue ribbon at the state fair, gathered in a field of mine. It’s a pain to make, because all of the petals have to be carefully separated at the base, making sure not to get any of the green. Took hours. Looks like honey when it’s done, golden in color. Closely resembled work, though ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Cultivated dandelions? You’re taking the pissenlit…

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Cultivated dandelions?? That’s a lark. Why on earth bother cultivating them? It’s harder not to! Makes lovely coffee though, I hear.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    The Virtual Ranger is right about foraging along rights of way in England and Wales. However, we were passing through some privately-owned woodland and I bump into the owners on a weekly basis, so best to be polite and ask. They were foraging wild garlic too!
    Dana – check out your Beverly Hills hedgerows before you go to the market, you may get your greenies for free.
    Our local farm shop is trying to jump on the foodie bandwagon by stocking ‘cultivated dandelions’. I wonder why they were left, all yellow and wilty, on the shelf…

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    From way over here in the boonies of Beverly Hills, your nettle soup smells divine! I will hunt for the little greenies at our market this weekend. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Well strictly, if she stayed on a right of way and didn’t wander off it, Ruth could have picked those garlic leaves without the express consent of the landowner because she was not intending to sell them. See here.

    However, the one time I know that this right was tested didn’t end up too well for the landowner: see here.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Disorganized, eh? (It has just dawned on me that Mother’s Day is…this Sunday…and that I’m cutting it mighty close in purchasing the obligatory greeting card. Maybe I can salvage it by sending flowers. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Although I had to go look up the word “gammon,” all the food you prepared looks scrumptious. When am I invited for supper?

    I’m so glad you wrote that part about asking permission to forage. This is one of my pet peeves, is people not asking permission. While I’m happy to give permission, I’m unhappy when I find the occasional stranger foraging the wild violets in my front yard – not to mention which, it’s unwise to consume foods that grew in close proximity to car exhaust and related pollutants, hahaha.

    Just the other day, I was reading an article about a “pro” forager in the San Francisco area. He is foraging willy-nilly and then reselling his finds to upscale restaurants and trying to get people to subscribe to a bag of…whatever…for about $40 a month. In the course of the article, he seemed shocked to learn that it was a felony to forage at the Presidio, a piece of federally-owned land.

    Ah, here it is, I found the link for you. Would be curious what you think of this article!

    Happy Spring! ๐Ÿ™‚

    PJ

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Ha! I haven’t yet resorted to going through the bins at the back of Morrison’s yet, but, as they say, you’re only 3 paycheques away from dumpster diving…

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    Looks like you’re becoming a freegan!

    There’s a lot of good scavenging around at this time of the season, especially here by the coast, and it’s a shame that we don’t do more of it. Bon appetit.

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  • 12th May, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    What a great day to celebrate Spring! Spreading the word about wild edibles is vital. Too many people think all food must come from the market!

    Thankyou and great blog!

    Bill@wildramblings.com

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