Grow, forage, cook: stickyweed salsa verde

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am just absolutely bloody loving this good weather. Oh, the sun! Oh, the warm temperatures! Oh, the chance to potter around the garden, smelling the fabulous springtime smells of new growth out there!

Actually, though, not a huge amount of pottering has been done in the garden as much of the new growth is in the form of weeds. While I turned my back for a week or so, the weeds took over, until our main flower bed was basically one mass of weeds with the odd desultory flower poking through.

Cleavers weed botanical imageSo, rather than potter, I have been weeding at every spare second I get.

I say this in no way as form of complaint. I rather enjoy weeding. There is something quite pleasing about crouching down in the grass, in front of the flower bed, carefully tracing a weed flower back to its roots and plucking them out of the ground, taking care not to disturb all the bulb foliage alongside.

It’s quite therapeutic, weeding away in 15 minute stints, while the sproglets are sleeping, or happily engaged playing with their water table. (That is, a table filled with water, not the water table below ground. I’m not such a lax parent that I let them dig deep holes and leave them to flounder around in the underground water… Though I have no doubt that is exactly the sort of way they would both deeply enjoy spending a sunny afternoon.)

Of all the weeds in the garden, it’s cleavers, or stickyweed, sticky willy, goosegrass (Latin name: Galium aparine) (botanical illustration above) of which we have by far the most. It spreads and spreads and spreads. In fact, in the time it’s taken me to write this, it’s almost certainly taken over a good square metre of garden.

And while I knew that there were certain weeds you could eat (nettles spring to mind as one of the better known), it never occurred to me in a million years that I could actually put cleavers to use by, shock, consuming them.

But, reading a recent post on the wonderful Seeds and Stitches blog, by  Fore Adventure, I discovered you can do exactly that. I know! I nearly fell off my chair too.

This recipe for salsa verde uses whatever green herbs you can get your hands on. Including nettles and cleavers.

So on Sunday, I decided to do a bit of weeding and make myself my own salsa verde.

Stickyweed salsa verde | Wolves in LondonI adjusted the recipe a bit, to use what I had on hand. My greens of choice were a big old bunch of cleavers, fresh from the flower bed, along with some carrot, beetroot and radish thinnings.

Rather than the cornichons in the recipe, I used some pickled cucamelon that I made last year (never blogged, because I wasn’t really convinced that it was a particularly good way of eating cucamelons once I’d made it). I also omitted the anchovies as the hubby has had a recent fish allergy develop, which means he vomits whenever he eats any. Not the response I want to anything I’ve cooked, really…

salsa verde ingredients | Wolves in LondonAlong with a few capers, as in the original recipe, and some olive oil, I roughly chopped the greens and then just blitzed the whole lot in my hand held blender. In fact, the only thing about the recipe that took any time was washing all the greens in the first place.

I have to say, I was rather sceptical about just how tasty cleavers was going to be to eat. It’s so dratted sticky I could imagine it being rather unpleasant to swallow. But I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that the salsa verde I made was actually bloody delicious. I’m not sure you really taste much of anything beyond the vinegar and pickled vegetables, but there is a definite spring freshness to it, provided by the cleavers, though I couldn’t give you any specific identifiable flavour they have.

I only made a small jar, in case it hadn’t turned out too nice, but I will definitely be making it again.

I might even experiment with a few other weeds this time. Now, if only bindweed was truly palatable, my garden would be a place of great productivity at all times.

P.S. On finding the rather lovely botanic illustration above on Wikipedia, I then read the article and discovered that it’s not just the leaves that are edible, but that:

“Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.”

Astonishing, no! And there was I thinking it was just a pesky weed all this time…

Advertisements

Grow, forage, cook: a Christmas hamper

If there’s a better present in the world than a hamper at Christmas, I’ve yet to come across it.

Oh, wait, I do know of a better one: a homemade hamper, stuffed to bursting with delicious goodies made over the previous 12 months. (Note to readers: please do feel free to read this as a hint, if you’ve been umming and ahhing about what to get me for Christmas, ha ha…)

This year, as you may have seen, I’ve been busy with a new series, Grow, forage, cook, with my lovely friend Laura (of Circle of Pine Trees). We’ve been sharing recipes, ideas and inspiration for homegrown, foraged and seasonal food.

So, for the middle of November, it seemed like a pretty good idea to put together a Christmas hamper using some of our favourite makes.

Homemade Christmas hamper from Wolves in London
The perfect Christmas present? A homemade hamper, stuffed with homegrown goodness…

Come, take a look and see what’s inside…

Well, marmalade is a staple for any hamper, in my opinion. Laura and I, both being bloggers, are naturally Seville Orange marmalade makers (yes, they actually make you sign a contract when you get a blog: you have to promise to make some marmalade and some elderflower cordial before you’re allowed to publish your first post…)

I usually follow a recipe in my ancient Good Housekeeping cookbook. Laura goes by the Riverford recipe to make her equally delicious looking batches.

Homemade jams in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London
I only have small jars of marmalade to give away, because I’ve already scoffed the rest…

But preserving doesn’t stop there in a hamper, for me. Oh no! I think I am possibly a little addicted to making jams and chutneys, so I’ll be putting in a jar of each of the following:

Spicy plum chutney

Apple and sage jelly (this is my favourite, favourite ever preserve…)

Pumpkin chutney

Blackberry and apple jam

Homemade apple and sage jelly in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London
Apple and sage jelly: the king of all preserves.

Then you’ll need something to eat with all those chutneys and jams. A few homemade biscuits is a good start. I’ve included some absolutely amazing ginger biscuits, following Laura’s recipe for ginger snaps.

These were unbelievably tasty, and I had a hard time keeping these six biscuits out of ravening maws for long enough to photograph them…

Homemade ginger biscuits in a Christmas hamper | Wolves in London
A little parcel of delicious biccies
Homemade ginger biscuits
A few seconds later, there was just a little pile of crumbs…

If ginger’s not your thing, you could also try the even more festive white chocolate and cranberry cookies.

And then on to the cabbage:

Pickled red cabbage
Cabbage haters, look away now

Now, I know what you’re going to say about my inclusion of pickled cabbage. Cabbage? For a present? For Christmas? My sole rejoinder: if you’re friends with someone who wouldn’t, secretly, love to consume a jar of pickled red cabbage on a winter’s evening, then you should probably stop being friends with them.

I haven’t actually posted a recipe for this on the blog (yet!) but I shall get on the case forthwith. ‘Til then, you can find plenty of different versions with a quick Google.

Homemade cherry vodka in a Christmas hamper
I never get over how much I love the colour of this stuff

Then for the booze. I’ve made some morello cherry vodka, this year, which will certainly be going in, along with some of last year’s blackberry and apple vodka.

Sadly, my haul of damsons from my Dad’s garden was left in the footwell of a hot car, but had they survived I would definitely be adding a bottle of Laura’s amazing damson gin.

Food and drink complete, a few little festive touches to adorn the hamper. I’ve followed Laura’s tutorials for some pinecone firelighters and this lovely orange peel garland to adorn the wicker basket.

Pine cone firelighters in a Christmas hamper
I dried these out in the oven and they smelt amazing…
Homemade orange peel star garland in a Christmas hamper
String this across the lid, or just along the front of the hamper for a suitably festive added extra…

Oh; a word on presentation. It is absolutely key in my opinion when giving homemade presents.

I spent a ridiculously long time once making some chocolate truffles, only to give them away in a Tupperware box. In fact, an old Indian takeaway box at that. I don’t think the recipient can have had any idea that I had lovingly concocted them over the course of a few days.

Homemade looks caring and loving if it’s dressed up prettily. Otherwise, it can just look a bit slapdash and unthinking. (“Oh, shucks, I forgot I was seeing so-and-so today and I haven’t got them a present. Let’s just bung them a jar of this year’s marmalade from the larder, still sticky on the sides and with a scrawl of identification on a peeling old label…”)

The labels I’ve used here are downloaded from the World Label website (free, fillable templates designed by Cathe Holden are available here: Apothecary labels). For the text, I’ve used a free font called Jane Austen. (Available from Da Font here: Jane Austen font.) And I’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with the way it all looks!

Actually, I should have really covered all those mismatched lids with a nice circle of pretty fabric but, hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing…

So there you have it! A very first Grow, forage, cook Christmas hamper, full of delectable treats (in my humble opinion).

Will you be making any foodie presents this year? Is there anything I’ve missed out that really deserves a place in its wicker belly? Do leave me a comment and let me know: I’m always on the hunt for lovely new recipes and lovely new ideas!

And, finally, don’t forget to keep tagging your makes with #growforagecook on instagram and twitter. This month will be the last round-up we’re sharing until the Spring time, as Grow, forage, cook goes into hibernation for the winter months, so please do share anything before then! We’ve loved the little glimpse we’ve had so far into your winter / Christmas preparations…

Carrot and rhubarb jam (aka Christmas in a jar)

carrot rhubarb jam

When we moved all our possessions into boxes and suitcases a few weeks ago and decamped to my Mum’s (so the builders could take our house apart and, hopefully, put it back together to be much better) I brought a gigantic box of tins and jars.

When I say gigantic, I mean gigantic. It took two grown men to lift the thing into the van.

It seemed crazy to put all our bits and pieces from the larder into storage, so we thought we’d bring them with us, but I knew my Mum was never going to be crazy keen on the idea of finding space in her cupboards for my collection of random tinned foods that I bought two years ago on a whim and have never used.

So I promised myself (and her) that I would use everything up as quickly as possible.

Top of the list were two tins of rhubarb, purchased when I was last pregnant with the idea it might prevent me scarfing down the treacle pudding and never since touched. I love fresh rhubarb, but this tinned stuff just never quite appealed…

Then, in a rather pleasing moment of synchronicity, browsing the local Oxfam bookshop in Marlow yesterday (a veritable treasure trove, well worth a visit if any reader is close enough to make one) I came across a book all about growing vegetables, for the princely sum of £1.99. I purchased it, thinking it would be helpful for my revision for my horticulture exams coming up in February, and it was only once I’d got it home that I discovered the delights of a small recipe section in the very back.

And one of the very first recipes to catch my eye was, wait for it, carrot and rhubarb jam. Yes, you read that right, jam. Not chutney.

Carrot and rhubarb jam
Jam. The kind you spread on bread…

My interest inevitably piqued (carrot jam? Surely not? But then again carrot cake is pretty damn tasty) and the rhubarb tins crying out to be used, I set about attempting a version of my own.

The original recipe had only three ingredients (carrots, rhubarb and sugar) and those in vast quantities, so I tweaked the amounts, added some spices and, a mere hour after commencing the process, had four jars of this rather wonderful concoction.

Rhubarb and carrot jam
Yum, yum, jam

The thing that surprised me the most is that it tastes like the perfect jam for Christmas. It’s got a good spiced flavor, not unlike mincemeat in fact, but with a real freshness of taste at the same time. I had some on bread this morning and it was really delicious, but I think you could also use it as a compote for porridge or yoghurt, or even in the place of a more traditional rhubarb chutney, alongside some cold meat or cheese.

Because the jam has very little pectin in, it hasn’t set, so much as thickened, and it isn’t something you could store for a long time. The original recipe says three weeks in the fridge.

But if you used a jam sugar with added pectin, you’d achieve a more jelly-like consistency and would be able to store it for much longer.

I also used brown sugar, because that’s what I had to hand in the right quantities, but of course that has made my jam turn a rather brown colour. If you used granulated (or jam) sugar you’d maintain the orangey-pink of the rhubarb and carrots, which would look a little more toothsome.

carrot and rhubarb jam
Slightly brown-looking, but it tastes delicious, I promise…

Anyway, alterations aside, here is my recipe. Make up a batch this weekend and I promise you’ll feel Christmassy every breakfast right up until December 25th

Ingredients

  • 500g tinned rhubarb, strained (two large tins)
  • 500g carrots (peeled weight), peeled and roughly chopped
  • 500g sugar (I used soft dark brown, but I think a white sugar would look nicer)
  • 5 cardamom seeds
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled
  • half a nutmeg

What to do:

1. Put the chopped carrots into a large saucepan and add the piece of ginger, the cardamom pods (bruised to release the flavours) and the juice of the orange.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer until the carrots are really soft

3. Strain the carrots, discarding the spices but reserving 125ml of the cooking water.

4. Return carrots to pan and mash them. (You could also blend or liquidise, but I always like the route that involves the least washing up at the end…)

5. Add the reserved cooking juice, the zest of the orange and grate in approximately half a nutmeg.

6. Cook for about 20-30 minutes until the jam starts to thicken. This isn’t a jam that is going to take on a traditional “set” so there’s little science involved, just stop cooking it when you think the consistency looks appealing.

7. Decant into sterilised jars (either run them through the dishwasher or wash in hot soapy water and then leave in the oven at about 100 degrees for ten minutes or so) and add the lids. Voila! Christmas in a jar!

Carrot and rhubarb jam
All my breakfasts look like this. Honest…

And do let me know what you think of it if you have a go at this recipe.

Now, I just need to figure out what I could make with those 25 tins of sliced peaches.

PS What do you think of my photos for this post? I’ve been taking part in a Blogging Your Way course, from decor8, and this week we had to try and take some styled photos. It is not something that comes naturally to me (in fact, I shy away from putting food posts up here on the blog as I find it such an absolute bitch trying to take good photos of food, which always need to have excellent styling to look nice) and I can already see loads of errors in the pictures here, but, hey, it’s not a bad start I think.

Related articles:

I’m a real fan of making jams, chutneys and cordials. If you share my passion, take a look at some of these other recipes:

Blackberry and apple vodka recipe

…AKA a photo a day: August 19th…

Yesterday was all about jamming and chutneying. But even after making 10 jars of the blackberry and apple jam, we still had plenty left over.

With the rest of the blackberries, I decided to make a couple of bottles of fruit vodka.

Blackberry vodka
Oh this is a sight for sore eyes!

We have some seriously cheap, seriously nasty, seriously eye-watering bottles of vodka that have been sitting in our larder ever since my 30th birthday party nearly five years ago. I massively over-ordered on the booze, and for a while went through a phase of cooking everything in a vodka sauce (which is pretty tasty, actually) but somehow these two bottles had escaped that mania unscathed.

But they are much, much too vile to be drunk alone (I hasten to point out, for my birthday they were made into Moscow Mules, I didn’t just force all my friends to drink cheap and nasty vodka on its own) so the addition of some fruit is the perfect solution.

It’s a very simply recipe, based on sloe gin, but which can be adapted to vodka or pretty much any fruit as well.

Ingredients:

  • A litre bottle of gin or vodka, two thirds full
  • 200g of sugar
  • Approximately 300g of blackberries

What to do:

1. Pour the sugar into the bottle of vodka, using a funnel

2. Shake well (with the lid on, obviously) until the sugar is well dissolved

3. Stuff the fruit into the top until the bottle is completely full up. This was around 300g of blackberries in this case, but just keep on going until the bottle is full. Shake again.

4. Store in cool dark place. Check on it every few days or once a week for the first month or so and give it a good shake.

5. Leave it for at least three months before drinking. Ideally, you could leave it about two years for the flavours to really infuse the vodka. But, I should say, the very best sloe gin I ever drank was 21 years old.

blackberry vodka
It’s tempting to drink this straight away, it looks so utterly delicious, but one whiff of the cheap vodka inside put me off immediately… In a year, though, it’ll be a different story.

Other fruits:

You can use all sorts of other fruits (as well as substituting the vodka with gin, of course…) Keep the sugar / booze / fruit ratios the same, but any of these would work too:

  • Cherry vodka. I made some of this last year with the sparse crop from my new morello cherry tree. (18 cherries, if you’re wondering.) Cut the cherries in half and you can either leave the pip in or remove it. If you leave it in, it tastes a bit like almonds as well, which is actually very delicious. This definitely takes a while for the flavours to infuse though. We tested ours after eight months and it was quite unpleasant. Now, about 14 months later, it’s really good…
  • Sloe gin. This is the classic, of course. Prick the sloes all over before adding.  Sloes are ready to be harvested in Autumn time, so keep an eye out for them soon. The gin you make should be ready for drinking in time for Christmas, so this can be a perfect present.
  • Damson gin. Again, prick the damsons before adding to the gin.
  • Apple vodka. This was a new one for me, but I also made a bottle of it yesterday. I had some slightly unripe windfall apples in the garden, so I decided to try a bottle and see how it goes. If you’re still reading this blog in 18 months, I’ll give you the verdict! This is what they looked like before being mixed together:
apple vodka
I’ve got to say, I don’t think this looks hugely appealing right now. We’ll have to see whether it improves with age…

Tell me, do you have any other great fruit / booze combinations I should try?

Related articles:

A photo a day: August 14th

rhubarb syrup bottle
Gloriously pink

On holiday in Rye two weeks ago, we had supper one night at the Ship Inn.

Because we were on holiday, I treated myself to one of the delicious-sounding but outrageously expensive cocktails.*

After a long, serious study of the cocktail menu and a weighing up on the pros and cons of various appealing options, I settled for the rhubarb martini. And boy was I glad I did.

I absolutely love rhubarb, but had never before come across the genius idea of combining it with alcohol.

In a moment of pleasing synchronicity, a few days later I saw this rhubarb mojito recipe on the ever-wonderfully-written Decorator’s Notebook blog.

So, armed with some of the rhubarb that grows prolifically in my garden, I decided to make up some of the rhubarb syrup, so I could add it to gin, vodka or perhaps just some lemonade.

It’s the most fabulous colour, isn’t it? Here’s another picture of the whole bottle glinting away in the morning sunlight:

rhubarb cordial
The only difficulty will be rationing the bottle…

Joining in with the August Break.

*To be fair to the Ship Inn, it’s not that their cocktails are particularly expensive cocktails, rather that I can never quite get over spending £8 for one single drink, when I would never spend more than that on a whole bottle of wine from the supermarket.

Related articles: