Bridget

Archive for the ‘Foraging.’ Category

Seasonal plants, Water and the craziness of Fracking.

In Foraging., sustainable living on April 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Rhubarb season is in full swing now. Jam has been made, chutney recipes are being searched out and crumbles are on the menu. Last night I made a Strawberry, Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely crumble. Delicious! In our haste to eat it I forgot to take a pic to tease you with.

The Daffodils have lasted such a long time this year. They are starting to lose their vibrancy now but they’ve been flowering for about 6 weeks. Usually the Spring brings lots of rain and wind which flattens them pretty quickly, but this year we have actually had a Spring with proper Spring weather.      Huge areas of England are already in drought conditions with hose bans in force in many areas. I find it crazy that in midst of their water shortage the English government have given the go ahead to the resumption of hydraulic fracturing for gas in Lancanshire. This destructive process using millions of gallons of water each day to fracture the rock which then releases the gas.  This water is then poisoned with chemicals and naturally occuring heavy metals and radioactive elements. So poisoned that it is not reusable by man or beast. It does’nt make sense to me. We need to remember that all the water that will ever be is already on the Planet. It is not a renewable resource. 

In the back field the big Sycamore is in full leaf . I really love this tree and how it’s branches have taken the shape of outstretched arms…reaching to the heavens in it’s daily worship of Mother Nature.

Underneath the kitchen window this little Azalea is about to burst into full bloom. It never fails to give a great display year on year.

On the lane Primroses are giving their annual display. All parts of the plant are edible and a few of the flowers look lovely decorating a salad. An infusion of the fresh plant can be used to make a cough remedy and a mildly sedative tea. It is however protected in the wild so unless you have a profusion of them in your own garden it’s best to admire them and leave them to Nature.

A  plant which you can pick to your heart’s content is Sorrel. It gives a lovely lemony kick to a mixed salad and can be cooked as a vegetable. The succulent leaves are pleasant to eat raw and are a great thirst quencher. It grows in abundance here as it likes the damp, acidic soil. Mother Nature provides.

Ireland’s First Mushroom Festival.

In Foraging., Off the beaten track. on September 26, 2011 at 11:28 am

Weatherwise yesterday was a horrible day, however that did’nt put us off attending Ireland’s 1st Mushroom Festival at Killegar Estate, near Carrigallen, Co Leitrim. This event was,  part of the Save Killegar Campaign which the current owner Sue, Lady Kilbracken, organised as a way of raising awareness and hopefully some funds to save this beautiful old house. Completed in 1813, Killegar is in dire need of reburfishment. Sue and her son Sean live in just a couple of downstairs rooms. The rest of the house is not habitable.

A good crowd turned out for the event which was well organised. We went in groups with knowledgeable Mycologists through the grounds of the estate. We walked about 3 miles and found a range of fungi, edible and poisonous. Ireland has about 2,500 different Mushrooms. A fact I found amazing as we tend to concertrate our focus on 3 or 4 varieties. Can’t remember the name of the ones above but they were edible. However about 20% of the population have a severe allergic reaction to them so they are no longer on the edible list. Apparently they are popular in Italy.

 This bracket fungus on a Beech tree drew many people’s attention. It is unfortunately inedible and is a sign that the tree has started to die.

This person had an innovative way of carrying their bounty! Like it!

There were many other attractions too. This man was giving rides on his Donkey and cart. There were also food stalls, craft  demonstrations, art exhibition plus lectures and information stalls.

At the end of the day all the Mushrooms were identified by the experts and displayed. About 70 varieties were found. A great day out despite the weather!

If you wish to find out more info about Killegar or the Save Killegar Campaign go to www.Killegar.net . Sue, Lady Kilbracken describes Killegar as “a jewel in the heart of Leitrim”. You won’t find many disagreeing with her. Hopefully in the coming years Killegar will be restored to its former glory.

Autumn Equinox @ Prospect Cottage.

In Animals, arigna, Foraging., Gardening on September 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

The changing colours of Autumn are upon us, much as we may not like it, changes are afoot. Human beings do not much like change, we like other inhabitants on this Planet are creatures of habit. Although when change is forced upon us we are quick to adapt. At this time the Autumn Equinox is upon us, hard to believe it’s 3 months since Summer Solstice. It’s said time flies when you’re having fun, well time is certainly flying!

The last of the wild berries can be harvested on nice dry days. All sorts of Fungi are to be found in woodland and pasture. Nature’s abundance is still there for the picking. Still to come are the almost ripe Hazlenuts of which there are lots this year. Sloes, which are best after the first frost has softened them. Elderberries will be fully ripe soon too. They are great for jams, chutneys, cordials and wine. A tincture can be made from them which is said to be a wonderful restorative and immune system enhancer.

The animals also benefit for the abundance of the season. Daphne loves apples, not too many together though as they can cause bloat. Peelings left over from making jams and crumbles are always a welcome treat. Last week I collected a big box of windfalls from our neighbour’s orchard. They will provide treats for a few weeks.

The Goats too are fond of Apples. They also watch for falling leaves at this time of year and really enjoy them. Soon their bodies will be preparing for Winter by growing their Winter coats.

For us at this time when day and night are equal we must also adjust our minds to the coming of Winter. Enjoy the first frosts and the sunny days they will surely bring. Gather the last offerings from Nature. The larder is filled with the abundance of Summer, all is well. Who knows, we may be snowed in again this year! Soon we will head to Tipperary for the day and bring back a trailer load of hay and straw to bed and feed the animals over Winter.

May you all enjoy this time of adjustment. Enjoy the longer nights, make it a time for enjoying each other’s company. The frantic activity of the garden is now winding down. Think of some craft projects to work on over the Winter. Walk in the woods and enjoy the Trees as they too make their seasonal changes. Happy Equinox to All!

Abundance.

In Cooking, Foraging., Gardening, sustainable living on September 15, 2011 at 10:53 am

Every year at this time we have a ritual of going to pick Black Plums at our former neighbour’s place. Don’t know the variety of these Plums but they are a cooking variety which the owners brought from their native Germany. In Germany they are known as a Plum for using in Plum Cake.

As yesterday was a nice dry day it was designated the Plum picking day. Other neighbours came along too so it evolved into a little social event. The recent wind had broken some branches which had to be cut out. As these were from the crown of the tree they were laden with lovely ripe fruit. It made the picking easier and quicker, not that we were in any rush!

This lovely big basket of Plums would grace any harvest celebration table. Some were to be used for a big Plum Crumble last night.

In less than an hour this box was full to the brim with Plums. I will destone them and freeze for use in jams, chutneys and crumbles later in the year when the days are shorter and more time is spent indoors. One kilo will be kept to make jam for immediate use. They are high in pectin, very similar to Damsons, so the jam sets easily. I will include the recipe I use for the jam.

Damson or Black Plum Jam.

1kg Damsons       1kg sugar     three quarter pint of water

Method:  Wash fruit, slit and remove stones. I like to have a kilo of fruit after removing stones so allow a few more grams to allow for weight of stones. Place them in a preserving pan with the water. Simmer until fruit is soft. Add sugar and slowly bring to the boil, boil until a set is reached. Stir frequently to avoid burning.  The set will come fairly quickly as the fruits are high in pectin. Pour into heated sterilised jars and seal immediately.

As today is again dry I’m now off to pick Blackberries!

A Morning walk by the Canal.

In Foraging., Off the beaten track. on August 30, 2011 at 12:24 pm

This morning I left our car into the garage at Drumshanbo (our local town), for a service. I filled in the time while I was waiting by taking a walk by the Lough Allen Canal just outside the town. It was such a calm, still morning, the water was like a mirror, everything reflected in perfectly still water. Under the bridge you can see the lock which brings boats from the lock into the canal and onto the Shannon river.

The canal was built in the 1820s for commercial traffic. It was used continously until 1930 when it fell into disuse. It reopened again in 1970 and is now used extensively by pleasure craft.

The lane alongside the canal is a widlife haven. Lots of birds calling and darting about as I walked quietly, observing the hedgerow crops which are a foragers dream.

Haws are just about ripe now. They can be used to make wine and jelly. They are of course also a valuable Winter food for the birds. The old people always said that lots of berries signify a hard Winter to come, nature or God, depending on your belief, providing for our feathered friends.

The Blackberries too are beginning to ripen. They are high in vitamin C and can be frozen for Winter use. They also make delicious jam, jelly, wine and cordial.

Further on the ubiquitous pile of silage bales, someones store of Winter food for their animals.

Even further in was this stash of firewood. This will keep someone toasty through the Winter months.

A stand of Beech trees, enticing you to walk through them admiring their gracious beauty.

The Hedgerow in August.

In Cooking, Foraging., sustainable living on August 21, 2011 at 10:02 pm

The Blackberries have started to swell in the hedgerows. Hopefully we will get some sunny days to help them along. The picking of Blackberries is one of my cherished childhood memories. My Mother would turn them into jam to keep us supplied through the Winter. Today it is a tradition I still follow. Foraging is second nature and something I get deep satisfaction from.

Blackberry and Apple jam is delicious and the apples provide the pectin the Blackberries lack.  Mixed with Elderberry, another free fruit, they make a great chutney. Then of course there’s cordial, great for Winter colds or just as a nice drink, full of vitamin C.

The sloe is also filling out, this bitter fruit is the ancestor of all cultivated and wild plums. So bitter is it that one could possibly wonder what use it would have.  It however, has several uses when ripe. Usually picked after first frosts, which softens the by then black skins, sloes make a lovely claret coloured jelly, a very fine wine and added with sugar to gin or vodka make a very nice liquer.

 The Hogweed, alas, has no value to the forager, being inedible. It is however a useful plant for wildlife. The large heads are made up of hundreds of small flowers which attract Bees, Soldier Beetles and Hoverflies. Spiders spin their webs between the stems hoping to trap a Bluebottle or other insect to dine on.

The variety of wild grasses on the lane never ceases to amaze. They are at their best right now having reached their full height and developed seedheads.

This one lit up by the setting sun is gorgeous and to my eyes fit to grace any garden. I’m sure all these grasses have individual names but I don’t know them. I am happy, on my daily walks, to admire their variety and beauty.

Sweet William, Burdock and St. John’s Wort.

In Folklore, Foraging., Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on August 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Sweet William is one of the oldest known garden flowers. I love its range of colours, the fact it is scented and that it is long lasting even when picked. Plants grow between 1 – 2 ft high and are topped with rounded clusters of flowers.

Flowers come in every shade from pink to white, they can be fringed, single or double. I prefer the single flowered ones as they are more suitable for bees.

Plants can be easily grown from seed planted in June or July, they will flower the following Summer. They can be overwintered in a cold frame or polytunnel. They do best in full sun in a well drained soil.

Along the lane wild plants with herbal uses continue to draw my attention. This one is Burdock (Arctium lappa), a biennial herb with a large taproot. It is an excellent blood purifier and promotes healthy kidney function. It expels uric acid from the body so it is helpful for gout and rheumatism. The fresh root can be used like carrots in soups and other dishes. In Japan Burdock is considered a premium vegetable, it is know as gobo root. Burdock can be made into a tea and used to bathe wounds, ulcers and ezcema.

St John’s Wort is also a perennial herb which grows wild here. In medieval times it was hung in windows and doorways to keep evil spirits at bay. An oil can be made from the flowers and leaves, 70 percent flowers to 30 percent leaves. Collect from the plant just as the blossoms are opening. Pinch a bud and a squirt of bloodlike oil will squirt out. If ready, the buds will stain your fingers bright red. It is desirable to pick on a dry day. To make the oil place the plant material in a wide mouthed jar. Pour in enough olive oil to come 2-3 inches above the herb. Cover tightly and leave on a sunny windowsill for 4-6 weeks. The oil will slowly turn a deep red colour. Strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer and bottle. Apply to sprains, bruises and burns. Some people can have a skin reaction which is aggravated by exposure to the sun so test it out on a small area first.

Wild Plants that grow on our Lane.

In Cooking, Foraging., Gardening, sustainable living on June 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm

The Wild Rose is spread throughout the hedgerows. I love how the flowers change colour as they get older. Later on there will be vitaminC filled hips which will be used to make jelly and syrup.

Bramble is flowering too. The early Autumn harvest of Blackberries coincides nicely with the first cooking Apples, they marry together beautifully in tarts. I also make Blackberry and Apple Jam which is always a good seller. They can also be used in chutney and cordial.

Ragworth, a poisonous plant for animals, especially if it ends up in hay. They tend not to eat it fresh. It causes irreversible liver damage. We always pull any that grow in the fields as each plant has about 50,000 seeds. However, here on the lane away from grazing animals we leave them as they are the only food source for the Cinnabar Moth larvae.

So many beautiful grasses that would look beautiful in any garden setting.

The verge beside our driveway is left uncut, filled with Orchids, Plantains, Vetches and grasses to name but a few. If only more people would leave a section of their barren green lawns uncut they would be rewarded with gorgeous native plants and a multitude of insect visitors.

In the kitchen another lot of Elderflower Cordial is infusing. This one has Mint and Lemon Verbena added.

Blueberries, Potatoes & Rushes.

In Cooking, Foraging., Gardening, sustainable living on April 11, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Bilberry in flower.

Every Irish garden, including our own, now seems to have a few Blueberry plants. They are of course very popular in the supermarkets where it costs about 3 euros for 100g. Famed for their antioxidant properties they are classed as a healthy food, which of course they are. Many seem to have forgotten about our native Blueberry, the Fraughan, Bilberry, Blaeberry or whatever other local names they carry. They are of course FREE and organic especially if you find some on a quiet road where they won’t be contanimated by car fumes. It can be hard to spot them later on in the season. They are in flower now so when out walking, especially in areas with peaty ground, keep an eye out for the small, pink, urn-shaped flowers. mark the spot in your mind and return there in late July when the berries will be ripe.

Planting Blueberries in tractor tyre filled with ericaous compost.

The day traditionally marked for picking the fruit was the Sunday closest to 1st August. This day had various names all over the country. In Tipperary it was called Rock Sunday as we all climbed Devil’s Bit Mountain and picked berries on the way down. Other names include Fraughan Sunday and Garland Sunday. Of course this day is a remnant  of the ancient Celtic Festival of Lughnasa, Lugh was the Celtic God of the Sun.

Recently I have been hearing and reading up about growing in straw, especially good for potatoes as they don’t have to be dug just pull back the straw to harvest what you want. Always willing to try an experiment I have planted some Colleen potatoes in the big polytunnel using rushes instead of straw. Andy has been strimming the fields so no shortage of rushes.

First lay a layer of newspaper to keep down the weeds.

Place Potatoes on top, about a foot apart, these ones are well sprouted.

Top with a good thick layer of rushes, or straw, water well. The theory is that as the straw rots down it provides nourishment for the growing plants. How will it do? Watch this space, I will keep you updated!

Herbs from hedge and garden.

In Cooking, Foraging., Gardening, Herbs, sustainable living on April 2, 2011 at 8:10 am

Gorse showing first flowers.

It is nice to see the Gorse in flower again, it’s lovely yellow flowers always calling the eye. Gorse (Ulex europaeus) also called Furze or Whin is a plant that was much used in the past. It used to be burned every few years to provide fertility for the soil. The new emerging shoots would be eaten with relish by animals. It also used to be dried and hung in the stable to supplement Winter fodder. It was dried and used as a fuel which was said to give great heat. The flowers yield a yellow dye and also make a very palatable wine. The bark can be used to make a dark green dye. An essence can be made from the flowers which is used for healing the land.

Coltsfoot.

Coltsfoot is plentiful at the moment, it seems to like road verges and the shelter of hedges. It’s best known as a remedy for coughs and asthmatic problems. However, there is a caution that overuse can cause liver damage. It is much used in herbal tobaccos.

French Tarragon.

In the garden all the herbs are now providing fresh pickings. Many gardening books say French Tarragon is a tender plant, however it survived -18 here this past Winter. French Tarragon, with it’s delicious aniseed flavour is great in herb butter and salad dressings. It is a good remedy for indigestion and is said to stimulate the appetite.

Chives.

Chives belong to the Allium species and have a mild onion flavour. We have loads of Chives in the fruit garden as they are a good companion plants particularly for Apples as they keep away aphids, apple scab and mildew. Planted near Peach trees they control leafcurl and are said to enhance the scent of Roses. In the kitchen they have a multitude of uses, salads, herb butters, soups or mixed with cream cheese to mention  just a few. The only limit to uses for culinary herbs is your imagination!