Simon King, chef/proprietor at restaurant 1861 near Abergavenny, is a keen forager, here he gives the lowdown on what’s fresh in the hedgerows now.
Sorrel, dandelions and elder make a wonderful wild larder
I like to make use of the wild larder, taking freshly picked leaves and flowers to add to salads, risottos and puddings, among a myriad other things.
One of my favourites is wild garlic. Its pungent scent in shady wooded areas is unmistakeable. And its lovely white flowers look like snowfall.
Wild garlic risotto is a favourite with our customers here at 1861.
Nettles are another big hitter. Pick the fresh new shoots at the top, and use them like spinach, served on their own, or in an omelette or risotto.
I have just picked the first elderflowers, the first time I have ever picked them as early as April, as the warmer days develop in May, they will be out in even greater profusion.
Elderflower fritters make a wonderful pudding, the delicate scent of the flowers providing a light perfume. I use a tempura batter, which is very light, then deep fry the fritters quickly.
The elder might not be the most magnificent of trees, not like a mighty oak or a graceful beech, but it is a fabulous wild foodstore.
Throughout the year, it provides us with a fantastic range of different ingredients.
Apart from the flowers, which can be made into a fresh, summery cordial and used to perfume pannacotta, crème brulee and custard, the young shoots of the tree when pale and green, are rather like asparagus. Just peel and trim them, and boil them in lightly salted water and serve with a little butter and a dash of lemon.
The elder tree hosts a mushroom called Tree Ear that actually looks like an ear in shape. It’s brown in colour and can be a bit rubbery, but is better when dried and reconstituted as the texture improves, along with the flavour.
I have had them deep fried, and they take this very well.
These mushrooms pretty much have a year-round season. After a dry spell, they disappear into the bark, but re-emerge like magic once we have a shower of rain.
Another unusual wild offering is the dandelion flower which can be coated in a light batter, deep fried, and served with honey ice cream. Dandelion leaves, when blanched to take away the bitterness, are great in salads. Blanched in this case means covered while still growing, so that the leaves become white.
Then there’s wood sorrel, its clover-like leaves make a lovely addition to salad.
The trick with wild foraging is only take what you need for that day. Firstly, the pressure on the countryside is immense, so we cannot afford to plunder its offerings, and secondly, wild food is at its best when super fresh.