Tuesday 8 May 2007

Hogweed and Beech


The sun has come out again after a week of dreary grey skies. It's wonderful, so fine to feel warm again. The swallows are as relieved as I am and are out there, battling against the rather brisk south westerly, and singing their hearts out. The acrobatics are amazing and there are some pictures of them in Paul's flickr stream.

A favourite book for bedtime reading is Roger Phillips' "Wild Food" ISBN 0-330-28069-4 Dipping into it again I discovered that now is just about the right time to try two things I've never tried before; hogweed and beech leaf noyau.

I wasn't expecting any difficulty with finding the hogweed, it's something we used to pick for the pet rabbits when I was a girl so I recognise it easily and there seemed to be plenty of plants about the place but when I went looking yesterday the early spring had brought the plants on so quickly there were hardly any tender young shoots to pick. Eventually, after much cursing of the stinging nettles (they're next for the pot) I managed to collect a small handful and I also gathered a few sticks of rhubarb from the abandoned patch behind the cider house. Then I headed back to the kitchen to taste my booty.

Roger describes hogweed as 'unequivocally one of the best vegetables I have eaten', so I followed his directions with some care and great hopes. Alas, it was a real disappointment. The slightly musky spicy smell of the hogweed disappeared in the cooking but what remained was a terribly bitter taste which no additions of salt or lemon juice could mask. It went in the compost bin unfinished.

Luckily the rhubarb was much nicer and eaten, stewed, well sweetened and with a Speculoos biscuit meant the meal was saved.

So it's with some trepidation I approach the making of Beech Leaf Noyau. There is the sacrifice of a bottle of gin to consider if the experiment proves to be a failure. However, his enthusiasm for the brew is high and I've long dreamed of trying the recipe so here goes.

Young beech leaves, while tender and green, have no perfume or spice and almost no flavour so I'm not sure what they will add to the gin apart from a greenish tint. I went to the woods and gathered my bowl full before coming back to assemble the recipe:

1 Bottle Gin (I've used Gilbey's London Gin - it's cheaper)
225g White sugar
1 glass of brandy

Strip the leaves from the twigs. Half fill a bottle or jar with the leaves and pour on a bottle of gin (70cl). (I spent a bit of time sterilising my bottle after last year's failure with brandied plums.) Seal up the container and keep the leaves in it for three weeks before straining them off.

Boil up the sugar in 300ml water and add this to the gin with a good sized glass of brandy. Put the result back into the bottle(s).

We'll see. The recipe is apparently based on Richard Mabey's Food for Free which is another excellent read. If you'd like to try it yourself then get out there quickly, the beech leaves will be too old in a week or two.

This spider was sitting outside the bedroom window for most of yesterday. Long may it stay outside.

And finally, we're going to get broadband in the next couple of weeks. I am mad with joy, dial-up has made uploading photos and blog entries almost impossible. Of course, this may co-incide with a sudden drop of productivity around the farm but it won't take long to get bored with the webbyverse again, will it?


Nic said...

I'm trying the Noyau for the first time this year as well, having long lingered over the photo in Wild Food.

Made nettle soup this week, for the first time in a couple of years. I used Hugh F-W's recipe from Cook on the Wild Side, which calls for slightly more ingrediants than Phillips', but it's fantastic.

Catofstripes said...

I shall keep my fingers crossed for you too, so far all that has happened is the leaves have gone yellowy and look like they're decaying. Another two weeks to wait!

We like nettle soup but make it very simply with veg. stock as we're vegan. It occurred to me this morning they would be an excellent substitute for spinach in curry so that's my next experiment.

Nic said...

Yup, yellow leaves here too. I'm sure it'll be lovely...