Winter Solstice 2014

Today, 21 December at 22:03 GMT the North Pole (with the earth’s axis at 23.5 degrees) tilts its furthest away from the sun. This is the shortest solar day of the year and we call it the winter solstice.

For thousands of years, people in the Northern hemisphere have noticed it and celebrated. The pagan festival of Yule marks the rebirth of the sun and start of winter on the solstice. Druids would sacrifice animals under the sacred plant mistletoe as part of their Yule rituals.

The Romans held the week-long Saturnalia at this time and decorated their homes with holly wreaths to ward off evil spirits.

Christmas was established in late December in the fourth century, deliberately to override the attraction of the pagan festivals.

Another curious thing is that although you’d expect the shortest day of the year to have the latest sunrise and the earliest sunset, this isn’t the case. The latest sunrise does not occur until around the 2nd of January and the earliest sunset has already happened – around the 10th of December.

However, after the solstice each day is getting lighter every day. This is because solar days in December last around 24 hours and 30 seconds, while we still measure each day as exactly 24 hours. Because of this, the sun cycle on each day is about 30 seconds later every day, until the solar days shorten again. It’s hard to notice it at first, as to start with it is only by seconds a day but soon a minute, then 2 minutes a day. However, the evenings are getting lighter again as we set the course for summer!

In Edinburgh, today is 10 hours, 39 minutes shorter than on the June summer solstice.

Next year winter solstice will be on 22nd December at 04:38 am.

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Air Fresheners cause Allergic Reactions



From today restaurants now have to declare any allergens in food on their menus. Supermarkets and other places that sell prepackaged food must also declare them. However, although foods and cosmetics must now warn you of potentially harmful and fatal allergens, there is one area that is completely a law to itself and unregulated!

I wrote the following letter to the BBC:

Dear Have Your Say

There is a certain irony in the news that restaurants have to declare allergens of food they serve – very helpful – but when you then use their toilet facilities you are likely to be sprayed with allergy causing chemicals from an automatic ‘air freshener’.

These ‘air fresheners’ produced by companies such as PHS are absolutely everywhere these days. They are known to contain allergy causing chemicals but unlike food and cosmetics are completely unregulated. I had an allergic reaction in a Tesco supermarket recently and the staff showed me the inner canister in our attempt to find information on its contents.

It carried the following advice:
Warning: May cause allergic reaction
And advised that it should only be used outdoors or in well-ventilated areas!

There are numerous reports (I can provide citable sources) of allergic reactions to ‘air fresheners’ that end up causing asthma and heart attacks. The parents of children developing asthma are advised to stop using plug in fragrance dispensers in their homes. Care homes have seen huge rises in respiratory complaints after ‘air freshener’ installations.

Why is it legal to pollute the air in toilets and not declare it, while illegal not to provide allergen declarations on food and cosmetics?

I may have the choice to plan ahead and now avoid ever using a Tesco or Costa Coffee toilet but in a place like Gatwick Airport, having passed through security unable to leave the airport, there is no choice.

Using a public loo for a fundamental need, where a PHS canister lurks on the wall automatically spewing out allergen-causing ‘fragrance’, does not just mean relieving myself, it also means risking an allergic reaction with potential anaphylactic shock and even death.

Kind regards
Monica Wilde

The PHS canister that caused the allergic reaction (apologies for the bad photos but it was hard to tea the at the time).

Here is a link to the Food Standards Agency directive on allergen declarations in food:

Here is a report of heart problems caused by Glade Air Freshener:


This is what an anaphylactic shock looks like.

The Effects of Anaphylaxis on the Body

Courtesy of

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How to make Dandelion Coffee

Dig up your dandelion roots in the Spring or Autumn. Cut off the leaves and any root hairs. Rinse the roots well in running water and use an old toothbrush to get any earth out of the crevices.

Cut any large ones into strips, as similar sized pieces roast more evenly. Pat dry and put on a baking tray. Roast in a hot (180C) oven for 20 minutes. They will be very dark brown (not black), smell nutty and snap crisply when done.

Snap any long pieces with your fingers and put into a pestle and mortar. Or in my case, a Pyrex glass bowl and use the end of a wooden rolling pin! Crush until you have a rough powder resembling coffee. If you’ve picked a lot of roots you might want to use a coffee grinder. I tend to find that it works out as one dandelion per cup of dandelion coffee.

To brew, use twice as much per person as you would regular ground coffee. (Three times as much if you like your coffee strong.) I like a generous heaped teaspoon per mug. Pour very hot water over the grounds in a jug or cafetiere.

Leave to brew for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then pour into a mug, using a strainer.

This is really nice taken black, but I’m a sucker for a drop of milk!

And that’s how to make dandelion coffee!

Although you can tell its not ‘coffee coffee’ it is surprisingly nice, and not at all bitter like chichory. Although Arabica still has the No. 1 spot in my books I would rather drink this than instant coffee any day. I like it in the evening when I feel like a hot coffee but don’t want the caffeine. Dandelion coffee is my decaf of choice!

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Wild food winter salads

It’s been so mild this November that there are still lots of wild salad plants around. This salad bowl is made up of chickweed, bittercress and wild brassica flowers with a rapeseed oil and soy sauce dressing.

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Scarletina bolete

Boletus scarletina.

There’s a brown topped mushroom with red pores, an orange stem, and bright yellow flesh than turns dark blue as soon as you cut it. And yeah, it’s edible!
Looks scary, huh?!
Once you start to cook them, the blue starts to vanish.
In fact they start to go quite yellow again, the longer you cook them. I am frying them in butter.
Here I’ve added cream at the end of the cooking. They keep their texture and have a nice bite to them.
20141116-160101.jpg They are also particularly nice well seasoned - salt, pepper and some ground toasted laver seaweed, and some cubed chorizo.
If you find them, just make sure they have a brown cap, not a whitish-grey one. That’s the Devils bolete Boletus satanus and that is most definitely not edible!

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Foraging Proverbs

Just for amusement, here are some proverbs for foragers. A collection of quotes about wild plants, animals and nature – sayings for foraging.

Before eating, always take time to thank your food.
Arapaho Indian

Love this proverb from Japan.
Tade kū mushi mo suki zuki (蓼食う虫も好き好き) Some insects eat water pepper and like it. [There’s no accounting for taste!]

Look for Persicaria hydropiper beside streams and in damp places.

Üres kalász fenn tartja a fejét. An empty husk holds its head up high.
Hungarian proverb

Happamia, sanoi kettu pihlajanmarjoista kun ei niihin yltänyt. Sour, said the fox, to the rowan berries out of reach. [Sour grapes]
Finnish proverb.

Look for the red berries of Sorbus acuparia to make jellies and sauces.

Kuin kaksi marjaa. Like two berries. [Like two peas in a pod]
Finnish proverb

In Finland there are many edible wild berries in the Vacinnium species.

Not every sweet root gives birth to sweet grass.
Native American

Although its often the other way round!

A tree does not move unless there is wind. An Afghan proverb. In Hungarian it goes: Nem zörög a haraszt, ha nem fúj a szél. Dry leaves don’t rustle if no wind blows. [There’s no smoke without a fire]

Even a white flower casts a black shadow.
Hungarian proverb

Painted flowers have no scent.
Unknown, Holland

Nem esik messze az alma a fájától.
An apple never falls far from the tree.
Hungarian proverb

A dead bee makes no honey.

A man who chases two rabbits catches none.
Roman proverb

Bagoly mondja verébnek, hogy nagyfejű. The owl tells the sparrow that her head is big. [The pot calling the kettle black]
Hungarian proverb

One swallow does not a summer make.

Every path has its puddle.
English proverb

A heart in love with beauty never grows old.
Turkish proverb

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
Dakota Indian

And a few sayings:

Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books.
George Washington Carver

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Frank Lloyd Wright

Nature does not hurry, yet everything gets done.
Taoist proverb

Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mold myself.
Henry David Thoreau

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Wild Manhattan

Here’s a Wild Manhattan recipe that uses a guelder rose syrup liqueur I made from the berries of Viburnum opulus. Delicious twist on a classic dry Manhattan.
2 1/2 shots Old Turkey Bourbon
1 shot Martini Extra Dry
1 shot Guelder Rose Syrup Liqueur
2 dashes Napiers Best British Bitters

Mix onto ice in a cocktail shaker and shake until cold. Strain and serve.

Garnish with a single dog rose hip!

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Wild Mushroom Pâté with Hen of the Woods

In late September it seems as if there’s a hen of the woods around every oak tree. I’ve found 8 in the last 4 days. It has a lovely almost Stilton cheese fragrance. Having so many it’s been a job to get through them so made this delicious pâté.
250g hen of the woods or other wild mushrooms
25g butter
250g pack soft cream cheese
25g walnuts (finely chopped)
Salt and pepper

Finely slice your hen and sauté in the butter for about 10 minutes until just starting to brown. Leave to cool.

For a smooth pâté, Put in your blender and blend with the cream cheese, salt and pepper.

For a coarse pâté, chop the cooked mushrooms finely and blend in the cream cheese with a wooden spoon. You can also substitute the cream cheese for drained cottage cheese if you like more texture.

Mix in the finely chopped walnuts. If the flavour needs punching up (not needed with hen but sometimes with field mushrooms) and a spoon of bolete powder at the seasoning stage.

Leave in the fridge overnight for the flavours to fully develop. Return to room temperature before serving.

Eat with warm French or walnut bread, or on oatcakes.

This recipe was inspired by John Wright’s pâté recipe from his book Mushrooms.

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How to Dry Mushrooms

Porcini powder is the most fabulous, deep, rich flavouring for stocks, soups, casseroles, in fact almost everything!
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.
Cut the slices the same thickness (about 2 mm) so that they dry evenly.
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•
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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Wild mushrooms on toast anyone?


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