Wild Garlic Pesto

I found a sheltered place recently where there is a veritable sea of Ramsons – Wild Garlic. I love the smell and taste of it. I use the leaves steeped in oil for around a week for making flavoured cooking oils, which can then be made into potent unguents, the flowerheads in white wine or cider vinegars give a great hit in stir fries and can be added to honey for a healing anti-cold remedy (oxymel) and my personal favourite – the leaves make a great pesto.

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Above – a sea of Ramsons (Allium ursinum)

A starting point for me was using a recipe from ‘The Foragers Handbook’ by Miles Irving (ISBN 978-0-09-191363-2) which is a great source of inspiration and advice. Of course I tend to modify things a bit…

3/4 cup of good quality Olive oil

75g fresh ramsons leaves

100g nuts toasted lightly – you can use all pine nuts, or  half pine nuts, half walnuts, or  all walnut, or try adding hazelnuts for a slightly different taste again. I like half pine nut, half walnut.

2 tablespoons grated strong cheese. If vegan you can omit this and add more nut – ground this time. Normally Parmesan is the cheese of choice but I like to use a local variety. In Fife we have a wonderfully strong local cheese called Anster, if you’re local, please try it.

Salt and Pepper to tase

Some recipes use lemon juice to cut through the oiliness, however what I like to use is a good handful (around 20 ish ) of Seabuckthorn berries (Hippophae rhamnoides). I collect these in Autumn and freeze them by the branchful. Pop off the frozen berries into the mix, they thaw quickly and it saves you wasting thawing the branchful.Image

I try to use the younger leaves from the Ramsons as they’re not so strong and give a nuttiness to the overall taste. When young the leaves are wonderful added to salads or as a topping to other cooked vegetables.Image

Roughly chop the leaves and mix in the oil. I like Olive but again you can go for other variations – a good Rapeseed oil or Sunflower oil is lighter in colour and taste. Try mixing them.

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Blend in a processor or a stick blender works fine.

Adjust seasoning to suit your taste.

Add some Seabuckthorn berries. Some people find the taste a bit peculiar so ca’canny and put a few in at a time and taste frequently as you add them. The last lot I made had about 20 in it and even HH (Helpful husband) found the taste ‘zingy’ but pleasant. Quite a complement from him as he views any experiments with suspicion. Good grief, it’s not as if he’s even got life insurance! lol.

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This amount doesn’t make up a lot as I find it’s best to freeze the Ramsons and use them a little at a time to keep the pesto fresh.

If the amount of Wild garlic is overpowering for you, you can try to cut back the amount used and substitute young fresh Ground Elder (a good way to try to kill, sorry, use the pernicious blighter – Aegopodium podagraria) or lightly blanched young nettle tops, for a really good spring pesto tonic.

Hope you enjoy trying it out and some the variations. See what you like best and let me know how you get on.

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Birch tree tapping

I tapped a couple of Birch trees last year around the same time as now and got about 8 litres of sap in around 3 days. I tried a few days ago with a couple of friends. I ( and helpful husband) demo’d how we did it. There are lots of different techniques out there, have a look and see if those suit you better, and please, let me know how you get on. Always remember to check if it’s okay to tap the trees from the landowner.Image

Helpful husband earning muchos brownie points.

Anyway, I’ve been up checking to see how the collecting bottles are doing, but so far the most productive tree has yielded a 1/6th to 1/5th of a bottle and the rest just a dribble. Is it too early as the weather is reminiscent of the tundra here at present, or is it more prosaic and the sap is freezing in our irrigation taps?

I plan to keep trying over a period of time as I would like to try a different method of concentrating the sap this year. Last year I boiled (and boiled and boiled) til it was reduced to a 1/10th of its original amount. It gave a wonderfully mapley syrup but it was a lot of time and gas used. This time I’d like to try freezing the sap; the syrup or sugary water stays liquid while the water freezes. I believe this is repeated a few times to drive off the water so concentrating the sugars to get an unheated syrup. The syrup will be lacking in flavour and still need heating to change the colour and taste but it would be interesting to taste and use the raw syrup, or use it as a base for other syrups.

For those that are interested here is how we do it:

We (the royal ‘we’ here, for ‘we’, probably should read HH, the helpful husband) use 8mm irrigation taps and connectors and plastic tubing. We get ours from B & Q hardware stores, but you can probably find it elsewhere.Image

Most of the methods I read up on use open topped containers for the sap to run into, but using the sap for syrups for confections, syrups or chocolates, I wanted as little contamination in the liquid as possible; no beasties, leaves or lichen, or bird crap for that matter wanted, thank you. So we use empty water bottles. The same diameter hole is put in the cap to put the tubing into. An extra hole is drilled into the cap to prevent air pressure building up in the bottle. We found that this happened last year in the sun (no chance of that so far this year!). A word to the wise – do this before going out and so wasting time with gloves off in Arctic worthy blasts of wind.Image

The irrigation connector fitted at the top and the unit put into the drilled whole in the bark of the tree – about 2-3 feet up the tree works well. The whole only needs to be in a little – we’ve found even a centimetre or 2 is sufficient – drill slowly until you see the sap coming out. Fit the connector tightly into the hole to prevent sap loss for both you and the tree.

It’s really important to remember that the sap only keeps for a maximum of 3-4 days in the fridge. And not to damage the trees; choose trees about 9″ -1 foot in diameter and close the whole up when you’ve finished. We use dowels of a slightly larger diameter so they can be shaped to fit. Cut the dowel or stick, some people favour using a bit of birch stick if it’s nearby, make sure it is flush with the tree bark and rub a bit of wax on the end to stop the sap coming out of the fresh wood. Job done, now you only have to find a use for it…

Rose and Cardamom Truffles

Rose and Cardamom Truffles

This was my first venture into the exciting and tasty world of herbal chocolates. The rose and cardamom flavours complement each other well and have ( I think) complementary herbal actions. This is what is really exciting for me – to have something that is tasty and, I hesitate to use the word ‘healthy’ here as with the double cream in the ganache, it’s not great in large amounts, however the herbal content may offer some health benefits, and certainly gives unusual and a wide variety flavours.