How to make sweet cicely seed brittle, a form of boiled sweet, and mukhwas, a foraged wild take on Indian sugar coated fennel seeds.
Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is found growing wild in the parts of the British Isles that have a cold enough winter for the seed to set. This is mainly north Wales and the Midlands and north, being abundant in Scotland. It is easily distinguished from other umbillifers as it has a distinctive aniseed smell, has velvety soft leaves that are marked on the base fronds with faded, whitish patches that, at a casual glance, look like a bird shat on it. It has very juicy stems that, containing anethole which is sweeter than sugar, can be boiled with rhubarb instead of sugar. It makes delicious crumbles, ice cream and an excellent rhubarb, sweet cicely and ginger jam. Alternatively infuse it in vodka to make a wild sambuca!
The seeds, eaten young and raw, are reminiscent of the aniseeds found in the centre of traditional gobstoppers (in the US, jawbreakers). So it was only a matter of time before I experimented with sweet cicely candy!
2 cups of young green sweet cicely seeds
2 cups of granulated sugar
1 cup of water
1 dessertspoon of glucose syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Pick the young sweet cicely seeds when still tender. If you leave it too late in the year they become fibrous. Late May is a good time to harvest in Scotland.
Put the water and sugar into a saucepan over a gentle heat, stirring, to slowly dissolve the sugar. Then bring to the boil. Once it has reached a slow boil, add the sweet cicely seeds. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you can put a drop of the sugar solution onto a cold plate and it keeps its spherical shape without collapsing flat onto the plate.
Now, using a pot holder to hold the pan, hold the pan lid on leaving a small gap, tilt and strain the excess sugar solution off into a silicone flan case leaving the seeds trapped in the pan. (Carefully: Hot sugar burns!) Allow it to spread out thinly in the case by tilting it from side to side while still warm. Leave to cool before scoring and breaking into pieces.
Return the pan to the heat and ensure any remaining sugar solution is mixed evenly through the seeds and fully absorbed. Empty onto a silicone sheet and separate with a fork to make a version of mukhwas – a take on Indian sugar-coated fennel seed mouth fresheners.