How to Dry Mushrooms

Porcini powder is the most fabulous, deep, rich flavouring for stocks, soups, casseroles, in fact almost everything!
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Birch bolete powder comes a good second and most mushrooms produce an intense umami stock powder. You can use an oven or hang up thin slices to dry, but to produce any significant quantity you really need a dehydrator. This stacking one from UK Juicers is perfect.
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Cut the slices the same thickness (about 2 mm) so that they dry evenly.
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If you have a large stack rotate the trays every couple of hours. A full load like this will take about 8 hours on 145•
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Birch bolete powder below in green topped jar and dark orange birch bolete powder in small jar.
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Wild fungi in August

It’s been a good year for fungi already and the combination of a hot, dry summer with a few days soaking from the post-Hurricane Bertha rainfall, has resulted in a phenomenal mushroom crop!

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These were found in a one hour walk to some favourite spots where I know the mycelium is underground. A smattering of chanterelles – they were at their best 5 days ago straight after the rain.

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The first of the porcini. Most still not much bigger than exquisitely flavoured buttons nestling in longish damp grass at the side of an old hedge run. However, there were some of meatier size in prime condition like this one.

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There was also a mass fruiting of brown birch boletes. This is a really reliable mycelium that fruits prolifically every year without fail!! Look at the size of this one – and it’s still the start of the season.

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Lastly, a few days ago I found the first few amethyst deceivers in a patch of damp beech leaves. These are lovely just tossed raw into salads. Eat them quickly as the colour fades from rich velvet purple to a pale grey as they start to dry out.

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Wild mushrooms on toast anyone?

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How to Dry Seaweed

I’ve been doing a lot of seaweed collecting this summer. I always end up running out and don’t often get to the coast in the winter. This is important to me for two reasons:

Firstly, I come from a family with a tendency to underactive thyroid. This is kept at bay by – yep you guessed it – seaweed! All of us (I’m one of five siblings) once we get into our forties, show the classic signs; plummeting energy levels, slow metabolism, weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, forgetfulness… but taking seaweed everyday sorts that out. I tend to go for a mix of seaweed I’ve collected for cooking and I use our Napiers Seagreens Organic Kelp Capsules when I run out. Obviously I’m biassed as I work at Napiers. However, the research that we did with the University of Glasgow was not biassed – it is clinically true that after 3 days just one capsule a day will correct iodine insufficiency and restore thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. It’s just a shame that the 60-70% of the British population who are iodine insufficient – basically suffering from malnutrition! – don’t know how easy it is to correct before its too late.

Secondly, it’s all about taste, taste, taste. Seaweed is the umami of the vegetable world.

How to dry seaweed

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Harvest your seaweed where it is growing. Don’t just pick dead or dying seaweed off a beach. Collect it at low tide from the rocks where it grows. Cut it from the stipe (“root”) with a pair of scissors so that it can grow again. This way you’ll have the freshest seaweed possible.

Ideally you should process it on the same day as harvesting, but certainly no later than the next day if you want decent quality.

Rinse it. This is to remove any grit, snails, small crabs, etc. and for seaweeds used in savoury dishes can be done either in salt water or in fresh water.

Don’t soak it overnight unless you want a slimy, gelatinous crop by morning! Also seaweeds like dulse will give up their colour and you’ll be left with a pail of purple water. The best way is to plunge handfuls of seaweed into big pail of water, give them a good swirl around and take then straight out into a colander while you get on with the next batch.

For seaweeds that you’re planning to use in desserts, like carrageen, wash then thoroughly in fresh water.

Then hang up on a line or use a laundry dryer if it’s a sunny day. If it’s raining use a dehydrator on a low setting so that you don’t scorch all the nutrients out of it.

Once thoroughly dry you can store in sealed containers (any contact with the air will make it prone to absorbing moisture and shorten its shelf life) – either whole, or ground in a coffee grinder as a seasoning.

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Wasps Nest

Three rather beautiful wasps nests. It’s late summer so the wasps have nearly vacated them now and the last few are hanging round the raspberry patch eating the last of the raspberries in their attempts to find sugar.

The oak and pine boards of my wooden house have tiny little marks on them. This is where the queen wasps licked the boards in the Spring. They then use these wood shavings, by chewing them and mixing them with their saliva until they have become a cellulose pulp, to make these amazing paper nests.

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Wild Raspberry Jam

This is a really easy recipe for wild raspberry jam. It takes just 12 minutes to cook and it tastes delicious. Also uses half the sugar of many other regular jams.

Ingredients
1 pint of wild raspberries
1/2 pint of sugar
2 jam jars (sterilised)

Directions
Put a small saucer into the freezer compartment of your fridge. Measure the raspberries into a measuring jug with the sugar. You should have half the amount of sugar to berries assuming the berries are pressed in tightly.

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Put into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, gently mash the berries with a potato masher and leave in a warm place for half an hour. The sugar will have started to dissolve in the juice. Give it a good star to dissolve as much of the sugar as possible.

This ‘cold processing step’ helps the jam to keep as much flavour as possible.

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Put onto the stove and heat on a low-medium heat, stirring to dissolve the last of the sugar.

Bring to a gentle boil. As soon as bubbles appear all over the surface, quickly skim off any froth, then boil for 12 minutes. (If you have increased the quantities you will need longer.)

After 12 minutes remove from the heat, and drop a blob onto your cold saucer (from the freezer). As it cools it should be perfect jam consistency. If not, put back on the heat, boil for a further 2 minutes. Remove from heat and test again.

As soon as it’s ready pour or spoon it into sterilised jam jars. Seal with a sterilised lid. The jam is ready to eat as soon as cooled but will keep, unopened in a cupboard, for six month.

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Rose petal vodka

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Roses are in full bloom at the moment and are an essential ingredient in wild cocktails. Wild rose vodka infusion can be added to crushed raspberries to make forager John Wright’s Pink Pint, but I love to mix it with the deep, sweet berry gins. Added to sloe gin, it elevates it to an other-worldly level. A hint of wild fennel seed or sweet cicely seed vodka can also be added.

You can use any roses but one abundant wild rosé that gives a great taste and colour is this one, Rosa rugosa.
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Very simply, you take any wide necked bottle or jar, insert your rosé petals and cover with vodka. Give it a gentle shake every day or so and leave to infuse for a week or two.
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The colour will leave the petals, leaving them a pale grey. Your infusion will start to turn a deep reddish-brown. After 2 weeks strain off the wild rose vodka, discard the petals and keep it in a brown bottle or dark cupboard as over time, light can change the colour and flavour. Enjoy!

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A mixture of 75% sloe gin and 25% rose vodka with a capful of wild fennel seed vodka makes a lovely twist on a traditional drink.

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Wildflowers of Mallorca

This gallery contains 29 photos.

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Daisy Soup for Dinner Parties

This is a neat ‘magic’ trick to impress your friends at dinner parties. Well… It really is the sort if thing that only a forager would do!

Ingredients
Any soup
Garden daisies

Directions
Pick your daisies in the afternoon after their heads have closed. Toss them in cold water if you feel they really need washing. You’ll need about 5 per guest.

Heat your soup to quite hot, and pour into individual bowls. As your serving the guest, scatter the closed daisy heads into the surface of the soup.

Smile as your guests gasp in amazement as the flower heads open up again before their very eyes!

I’ve always loved playing with my food!

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Grasping the Nettle

You can get a cheery mood and energy boost from nettle leaf and particularly from raw dried nettle seed (technically fruits and seeds), rubbed through a sieve to remove the irritating hairs.

Nettle seedThe ‘feel-good’ factor from eating raw dried nettle fruits/seeds is caused by the neurotransmitters acetylcholine nd serotonin, with choline and histamine also found in uncooked nettle venom. In herbal medicine they are used as an adrenal tonic for people who are burnt-out, run down, fatigued and low in energy, zest for life and libido.

Acetylcholine is the most abundant neurotransmitter in our brains. It stimulates the nervous system (ANS), improving mood and heightening sensory perception, attention span, vigilance and intuition. Acetylcholine disruption may be a primary cause of depression and possibly Alzheimer’s and muscle degeneration.

Serotonin is mainly found in the gut and it also acts on the nervous system (CNS). Its main functions include regulation of mood, appetite, and sleep, and it influences memory and learning. Serotonin in nettle spines causes pain when you pick them! Its abundance in many seeds and fruits may be to stimulate the gut to expel the seeds, and it can cause diarrhoea in quantity.

Nettle seed is used therapeutically both as freshly picked seed and as fresh nettle seed tincture.

Chew 5-20 grams of fresh green nettle seed well, as a refreshing stimulant. You can take 1 to 2 tablespoons a day. Some people experiment with nettle seed for recreation but we advise not exceeding this amount.

Be careful too, if you boil fresh nettle fruit/seed in a ratio of 1:12 (eg 50 grams fruit/seed to 600 ml of water), a large wineglassful (250ml) may keep you wide awake for 12-36 hours!

Nettle seed also tastes delicious toasted and can be used instead of poppy seed in crackers, bread and sprinkled with chopped nuts into salads.

Urtification

Incidentally, the prescence of acetylcholine in nettle venom may well explain why the ancient practice of urtification (whipping with nettles for pain relief) works! Anything which increases the presence of acetylcholine in the synaptic space is found to produce analgesia. Benzodiazepines for example act as analgesics through their action of enhancing acetylcholine release.

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How to pickle Ash Keys

Make a pickling vinegar by heating – in a Bain Marie – all your favourite spices with one spoon of soft brown sugar and a pinch of salt per cup of cider vinegar. Infuse for 5 minutes then leave to cool. Strain it before using it.

Ideas for spices include: peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon, chillies, cloves, bay leaf, coriander seed… Or use wild spices like hogweed seed, ground elder seed, wild leek seed… See my wild spice chart here.

Pick the ash keys when they are really, really young and green. As early as possible or they get stringy.

Put the ash keys into boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and change water. Simmer in new water for 5 minutes. Strain. Cool a little.

Pack the cooled keys into preserving jars leaving a 3 cm (an inch) of space at the top. Fill with your spiced vinegar right to the top.

Seal. Leave for 3 months. Eat!

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