Category Archives: Food

Wild garlic bread sticks

These bread sticks are chunky and have more than a hint of wild garlic about them. We love making them and eating them and hope you will too. If you came to the River of Herbs or February Apprenticeship meetings then you tested the recipe with my first Wild Garlic harvest of the year. The plants are getting bigger, bolder and more tasty by the day. Only a few leaves are needed for this recipe. Please remember to pick carefully and to leave the plants in excellent shape, with their bulbs intact in the soil.

Wild Garlic Oil
Firstly, gather three Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum, Ramsons, NL: Daslook) leaves. Give them a quick rinse and pat them dry with a clean tea towel or similar. Finely chop the leaves and place them in a very small glass jam jar. Cover with extra virgin olive oil and poke around a little with a chopstick or cocktail stick, to release trapped air bubbles. Top up if necessary, to keep the leaves covered in oil.

Leave your wild garlic oil to infuse, with the lid on, whilst you make the bread as follows.

NB: The infused oil will be ready to use in as little as an hour but will keep at room temperature for several weeks, provided there was no water on the outside of the leaves when you chopped them. Mine never lasts that long as we eat it in everything at this time of year.

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My basic bread recipe

4 cups of bread flour (I generally use 3 cups spelt flour and 1 cup strong wheat flour)
1 and 2/3 cups luke warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fast action dried yeast
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Gently and gradually mix together all of the above ingredients. When doing this by hand, I place the flour in a big heap on my worktop and make a volcanic crater in the centre. I sprinkle the yeast and salt around that crater but pour the water and oil into the crater. I’m then able to work everything in, bit by bit, avoiding it all spilling onto the kitchen floor…

When everything is well combined you need to knead it! Aim for a good ten minutes of therapeutic kneading, by which time your dough should be silky and springy to the touch. Then place your ball of dough in a glass or ceramic bowl, covered with a damp clean cloth or cling film, in a warm place, “until the dough has doubled in size”. I must say that I find that standard bread making statement of limited use. Dough “proving” is sometimes hard to gauge as the dough will change shape and texture as it rises. Mine generally mutates in a glass bowl, filling it gradually with long bubbles, rather than simply doubling up neatly. Use your judgement and common sense with this, the time needed for the first proving, will depend on your room temperature and specific ingredients. 40 to 90 minutes should do the trick but don’t worry if it doesn’t exactly seem to double in size.

Now give your dough a second kneading. This will make the dough decrease a lot in size and that’s fine. This step is called “knocking back”. After the quick knocking back knead, cover your dough ball again and leave in a warm place to double in size, again.

(Unless I am on holiday I generally use a bread machine for the kneading and proving stages of bread making (machine set to the dough setting). This recipe works equally well for bread machines and for hand working).

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Creating the herby bread sticks:

Turn out your twice risen dough, onto a floured worktop and sprinkle a little flour over the top. Then pour about a tablespoon or two of your wild garlic infused oil (including the leafy bits) and a teaspoon or two of Malden Sea Salt Flakes onto the dough.

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Work this in just a little, so that you feel that the oil and salt are throughout the dough.

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Divide the mixture into about twelve small balls and make each into a long stick shape. Or whatever shape you like.

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Place on an oven tray and bake at 200°C until they turn hard on the outside and light golden brown.

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365 Frankendael day 310

More snow in Amsterdam today so a pleasant but chilly walk in park Frankendael, to collect a few Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) leaves.

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I gathered nine leaves, that’s enough to see my family through the week, with a garlicy meal a day. I preserved them in a tiny jam jar of olive oil, after chopping the leaves finely. Storing them in this way, at room temperature, makes using Ramsons in cooking as simple a possible.

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Wild garlic cheese balls

I’ve been making different types of soft cheese at home and this weekend and wanted to share this incredibly simple recipe. The soft cheese is made from yoghurt and then is infused with wild garlic leaves, fresh from the local park.

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All that you need is:
A cup or two of good quality yoghurt (no added thickners etc, goats or cows is fine),
Cheesecloth, very clean and just scalded (by dunking in boiling hot water for a few seconds),
Olive oil
2 wild garlic leaves, finely chopped (other fresh herbs can be substituted)

To make the yoghurt cheese simply…
1. Pour the yoghurt into the centre of the cheesecloth and pull up the four cloth corners to prevent the yoghurt spilling out.
2. Use a rubber band/clean string etc to tie up the cheesecloth somewhere convenient.
3. Hang it up somewhere clean for about 24 hours, over a bowl so that the drips are collected.
4. After that time you should have a cream cheese consistency, with a milder taste than yoghurt – soft cheese!
5. Scoop out teaspoons of the cheese and form into small balls with your hands.
6. Place in a clean container along  with enough olive oil to cover the balls and of course, the chopped wild garlic.

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7. You can eat it straight away but after a half a day or so, the cheese will become deliciously infused with the wild garlic flavour.
8. If you manage not to use it all up before hand, it should keep well in the fridge for a week.

Storing the Ginkgo Harvest

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A few days ago, I harvested a small mountain of ginkgo fruit from a street in Amsterdam. Today I finally got around to soaking and cleaning them. Previously I have then dried them to store in a jar or roasted and eaten as many as I fancied. But they do spoil quickly even when cooked so roasted Ginkgo nuts are best eaten swiftly. Also, the ones I have dried to store, often sweat a bit more than I’d like, whilst sat in the glass container, so I’ve been looking for better preservation methods. Tonight I was looking through a book by Steve Brill (of NY Central Park) and he suggests roasting the lot and then freezing them for later use. To bring them back to life, so to speak, the frozen nuts should be roasted again for just a couple of minutes. So after reserving a handful to stratify over winter (as kindly recommended by Fran from Serendipity Farm in Tasmania), the rest have been roasted for 15 minutes and now cooled, reside in my freezer. The Apprentice group can test the results tomorrow morning!

Much as I love the taste of these nuts, I’m done with the pukey smell when I clean the fruit off, so that’s it for my Ginkgo foray this year. I’d also like to thank everyone who joined me to help clean up these smelly fruit and nuts over the past couple of weeks (they don’t smell bad when they are finally cooked by the way). Several of my colleagues have told me that they think the foraging this year has made a difference to the street where we work – less smell and less squishy fruit to avoid on the pavement. So I think it was all well worth it!

Eat Ginkgo Nuts from City Streets

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Today I prepared the Ginkgo nuts which I harvested from Albrecht Durerstraat, in Amsterdam Oud Zuid, yesterday. They taste great and the three of us are showing no ill effects from eating them this evening! To prepare Ginkgo nuts, a few methods may be employed. All involve removing the toxic apricot coloured flesh (sarcotesta) from around the precious nut, without harming yourself. The sarcotesta contains the irritant found in poison ivy so wear rubber gloves and be very very careful and if your skin or eyes do become irritated, seek prompt medical attention.

How to prepare freshly harvested Ginkgo nuts/fruits

1. Soak your gingko fruit harvest in a bowl of cold water, away from animals, children or prying hands. An hour our two is sufficient to fully hydrate the flesh, making it very easy to remove.

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2. Wearing thick rubber gloves, simply rub the flesh off the nuts, into the soak water. Rub them off under the water, to avoid them squirting into eyes or surfaces where the toxic juice may go unnoticed. As each nut is exposed, place it in a small bowl. 3. Strain the water away, compost or bin the flesh. Rinse your sink drain well after this as the flesh starts to stink of apricoty vomit as it rots down. 4. Give the almost clean nuts another rinse in clean cold water, to remove almost all of the flesh (this is very quick and simple). Drain them and leave in the small bowl.

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5. Spread the cleaned, wet nuts on a baking tray and place in an oven, preheated to 80°C (to dry off and store then – remove from oven when the surface is totally dry) or to 180°C (to roast)

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6. To roast at 180°C in an oven (or in a small sturdy frying pan) simply leave them in the heat, toss them around once or twice and remove when the outside of the nut shells looks just toasted in places. Test one. 7. When cracked open and the inner skin peeled off, a ginkgo nut should be like a very firm jelly but not rock solid, the colour should be a beautiful translucent green. Mine took about 15 minutes in the oven to reach this point today.

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Danish Hawthorn recipes and simple Haw Honey Syrup

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Some time ago Amalie and Daniel joined me for a herb walk alongside Park Frankendael. One of the plants which was in bloom at the time was Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Amalie knew the berries from Denmark and kindly sent me some recipes to try and share. Hawthorn is in fruit right now, it is a common hedgerow plant and the berries (well “pomes” actually but they look like berries) are edible raw or cooked. Most of each fruit is seed, these need to be strained out of any recipe unless you’d like blunt teeth.

Here are the two recipes from Amalie, plus one I have been experimenting with, which doesn’t need sugar. I also posted a Hawthorn Elixir recipe a short while ago which may be interesting.

Hawthorn puree and juice
1 liter of hawthorn berries
300 grams of sugar
Water

Mash the berries into a puree.
Add the sugar and heat to about 70°C (hot, steamy but not boiling). Strain out the seeds.

The puree can be used for various things including the making of Hawthorn juice, by diluting in water (1 part puree to 10 parts water).

Hawthorn with apples and prunes
½ liter hawthorn berry juice (see above)
750 grams of apples, peeled, cored and quartered
100 grams of prunes, roughly chopped
Sugar (as much as you like to taste)

Cook apples and prunes in the hawthorn juice until the apples turn to pulp and the prunes are swollen, soft and succulent. Then add the sugar to taste. If you like, you can add a bit of melatin with pectin, to thicken it all up.
This can be stored in sterile canning jars or eaten straight away.

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Haw & Honey Syrup
1. Spread your Hawthorn berry (Haws) out in your kitchen for a while to give any bug residents time to relocate. (dry Haws can also be used but they’ll need to simmer for much longer in step 4, to soften them up)
2. Clean your Haws in fresh water.
3. Place them in a small saucepan and almost cover them with just boiled water.
4. Bring to the boil and simmer for just a couple of minutes, to soften everything up a little.
5. Remove from the heat and slow to cool enough to handle.
6. Strain and push out the juice/mush through a standard kitchen sieve. Get out as much as possible. Squidge it with your fingers and a widen spoon. Combine the mush with the water that was used to simmer.
7. When the juice had cooled to being warm but not hot, stir in a nice big dollop of good quality runny honey.
8. Give it all a good stir and chance to combine before storing in a pressure safe glass bottle or jar (like an old flip bung Grolsch bottle).

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Use as a tasty winter tonic, straight or mixed. Hawthorn is best known as a gentle heart tonic, for the emotions and the circulatory system.

Mugwort Teabread

Here’s a basic outline of how to make the Mugwort Teabread from the late Maida Silverman’s book, “A City Herbal. Lore, Ledgend, & Uses of Common Weeds.” The book is available from the publishers; Ash Tree Publishing, Woodstock, NY. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in city foraging and herbs.

I posted Information about adding Mugwort to my usual bread recipe previously but I made this Teabread for the Mugwort Workshop today and some of the participants wanted the recipe. I have slightly changed the ingredients to match what I used today and am not reproducing the recipe exactly. To see it in full, have a look at the book from a library or perhaps purchase a copy, it is full of lovely and tasty ideas.

2 cups spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
1 egg beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried or 2 tablespoons fresh chopped Mugwort leaves
1/2 cup grated firm cheese (I used goat cheese)

Preheat oven to 180 C.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and spread evenly in a small or medium, greased bread tin.
Bake for about 30 – 40 minutes, until an inserted sharp knife comes out clean.
Turn out onto a rack and eat warm or cold.

This recipe is extremely easy and I like to make it regularly when Mugwort is plentiful. You could easily adapt the recipe to miss out the egg and or cheese, should you want to.

Mugwort Bread

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is one of my favourite herbs, particularly at this time of year. It grows as a tall, bushy, common weed in cities. It is easy to identify by appearance and scent and I love to add it to cooking, several remedies and household herbal products. After one of my recent Herb Walks, two of the group reported back that they had incorporated some Mugwort into homemade bread. Today I had a go at the same, adding a good heaped tablespoon of fresh, chopped Mugwort leaves to my usual bread recipe. I think it tastes very nice and I’ll use it this way again. Mugwort bread is not as dramatic tasting as using Mugwort as a vegetable but it is pleasantly savory and quite aromatic. It also seems to add to the moistness of the bread. Very agreeable. I have just enjoyed a few slices, loaded up with peanut butter, not a bad combination!

I’ll add my bread recipe another time but there are plenty to find online and in cookbooks. I make mine with half Speltflour and half Wheatflour, 4 cups in all, plus 1 teaspoon dried yeast, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 3/4 cups water. Simply add the chopped herb at the start of the dough making process.

Mugwort used to be a popular culinary herb but has fallen out of fashion. The herb is bitter and aromatic and can be substituted for similar, more familiar herbs such as Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) and Sage (Salvia officinalis). As with all familiar culinary herbs, it should be used in small quantities and introduced gradually into the diet, keeping an eye out for personal reactions. You should also be aware that Mugwort is said to be unsafe for ingestion during pregnancy (although in China it is sometimes recommended to prevent miscarriage).

So if you like making bread and you have properly identified some Mugwort near your home, maybe give Mugwort bread a try. Thank you Daniel and Amalie for the tip!

Elderflower Delight


Not much to say about this other than TRY IT, we loved it! It also made me feel like someone from the pre Victorian age as I stirred the syrup with an enormous bag of Elderflowers immersed in it.

This was required for quite some time, to prevent it sticking or bubbling over, so be prepared to focus solely on this whilst you make it. Well worth the effort though. The cooking and cooling process seem to intensify the flavour of these wonderful flowers ten fold. Make sure you harvest from more pleasantly scented Elders.


I bought the River Cottage Hedgerow Handbook which this recipe is from recently. However it is also posted online by the author, within the River Cottage website. So no need for me to hold back, have a look at the link and get picking and brewing those flowers!

Urban Herb Love


Yesterday was our seventh anniversary, here is what we cooked: Scallops, marinated in the juice of half a lime, a sprig of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped and a small nugget of fresh ginger, squeezed. After cooking in the marinade, the scallops and sauce were laid on wilted spinach and Elderflowers were sprinkled on top.

Next came grilled lamb cutlets served with a caprese salad and most importantly, Mugwort vegetables. The taste of a top of almost flowering Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) infused into mixed vegetables, as they cooked in one of my magical cast iron pots. It was served sprinkled with detached individual Red Clover flowers. Mugwort (Cronewort, Artemisia vulgaris, NL: Bijvoet)  is extremely tasty and aromatic when cooked in this gentle way. Just a splash of olive oil, finely chopped leeks softened then chopped aubergine and courgette added to the pan. Lid on and simmer gently for ten minutes or so.

Umm, now that’s Urban Herb Love!