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11 easy wild garlic recipes - blog

11 Easy Wild Garlic Recipes

Spring has sprung and with it comes one of the edible plants for the forager, wild garlic (Allium ursinum). Most people who have dabbled in foraging will know wild garlic (or ramsons) as a great plant to start with as it’s simple to recognise and use in cooking. It’s one of our absolute favourite wild foods. Not only because it tastes great but because it’s so versatile. So, it’s a shame that the main recipe you see online again and again is wild garlic pesto. There’s so much more to it than that, as you’ll see. We’ve done the trial and error, so you don’t have to and in this blog we have made a list of our top 11 recipes for you to try at home. And yes, pesto is included below too.

If you prefer to watch rather than read, you should have a look at our video 11 Easy Wild Garlic Recipes here, where we go into even more detail on ingredients, quantities and methods. We also put together a spicy Indian banquet bursting with wild garlic flavour. Check it out!

Every part of this plant is edible; leaves, stem, flower and bulb. So with that in mind there’s a bunch of ways we can use the plant. As a general rule, if you’re cooking wild garlic you want to treat it like spinach, don’t over cook it but throw it into a dish near the end so it doesn’t wilt too much and lose it’s flavour and goodness. Now, on with the recipes…

 

Recipe 1: Sandwich, Toastie or Wrap

Let’s start with something simple, if you haven’t got the time to make a whole meal why not incorporate the goodness of wild garlic into something as easy as a cheese sandwich, toastie or wrap. This way you get all of the benefits without any of the faff. Why not use it as a replacement for lettuce or spinach for a fresh garlicky addition. Don’t use too much – it’s pokey stuff!

wild garlic recipe - toastie

Recipe 2: Wild Green Mayonnaise

This is a super easy way to incorporate all your essential greens into your diet by adding them to a spread. Mayonnaise is a favourite, and I can then add it to sandwiches or use it as a healthy dip. Just shred the wild garlic and stir it into your dip of choice. If you want to push the boat out why not add a few more wild greens; garlic mustard, hairy bittercress, chickweed, nettle (blanch the leaves first) and cleavers are all in season now and are just as good for you! 

 

Recipe 3: Wild Spring Salad

This is another easy recipe to incorporate wild garlic into. If you’re a fan of salads and making them interesting and delicious, why not add some shredded wild garlic? I’ve found that all parts of the plant can be used in the salad to add some interesting flavours and textures. The stems have a real crunch to them and make a substitute for beansprouts. You could substitute lettuce with wild garlic leaves, but you might find you want to bulk it out a little with some shop-bought leaves, or later in the season why not use the wild garlic seeds (lightly toasted) to add a sharp pep of garlic to your salads. 

This is another great recipe to experiment with your wild greens, why not add some cleavers, nettle, ground elder or ground ivy. You could also add some fresh edible wildflowers like primrose, gorse or dog violet to give your salad a pop of colour. 

wild garlic recipe - mayonnaise & salad

 

Recipe 4: Wild Garlic Bread

This is a great way to get some wild food into your kids. Most children love garlic bread and this is a classic recipe that is just so moreish it could quickly become your favourite wild garlic recipe. It’s also unbelievably easy; chop up the leaves fine and mix with butter. Next, simply cut some horizontal slices into a bake-at-home baguette and add a dollop of the garlic butter to each gap. Stick it in the oven as per the pack instructions and you’re done. This of course goes great with Italian food.

wild garlic recipe - garlic bread

Recipe 5: Wild Garlic Pesto

This recipe needs the least description or introduction as you’ll find recipes for this all over the web. It’s such a classic and one of the easiest recipe there is. In a nutshell you replace the basil in your standard pesto recipe with wild garlic to make a subtle garlicky pesto that can be used in a range of ways. Mixed into pasta is the most obvious use but you could spread a little onto a cheese toastie, mix it into a rice dish or as a filling in a pastry. We’ve made our own pestos that bit more wild by replacing the pine nuts for chopped hazelnuts.

wild garlic recipe - pesto

 

Recipe 6: Wild Garlic Kimchi

We think this beats pesto hands down any day. This recipe is one of our favourites of the year, so much so that we even have a whole separate video on how to make this. You can check out that video below and also learn about the fantastic health benefits of eating kimchi. Kimchi is a Korean side dish, traditionally of fermented vegetables with ginger and chilli and is incredibly good for gut health. We’ve substituted the radish and cabbage for wild garlic leaves. 

Fermenting is a fantastic way of preserving and extending the season for wild foods into the whole year. Not only this but the process of preserving our foods is something our ancestors would have practised regularly in order to have the food they would’ve needed to survive winter, it’s an essential skill and connects us with our predecessors and their way of life. It’s often the case that we can put little thought into what we eat, but fermenting foods helps us foster a deeper connection with the earth and importantly, our food. I would highly recommend trying this if you want to enjoy wild garlic beyond spring. A jar of this stuff doesn’t last long in our household.

The reason kimchi is so good for us is that it creates live, healthy bacteria which goes into our gut and aids in digestion, boosting the immune system and overall health of the body. The bacteria encourages everything to function as it should. In order to ensure there is no harmful bacteria fermenting in the kimchi it’s important to sterilise your equipment before you start, this can be done in a hot wash in the dishwasher, but you’ll need a more thorough sterilisation of the jar you’ll be fermenting in.

For this dish you will need a generous helping of wild garlic as it will reduce down quite a lot. If you want the full recipe and step-by-step instructions on how to make this fantastic dish check out our video tutorial here.

 

Recipe 7: Pasta Sauce

This is another really easy way to incorporate healthy greens into your diet with minimal prep time. We’ve made a tomato based sauce, but you can incorporate wild garlic into any pasta dish you want, and with any combination of vegetables, there’s a lot of creative freedom with this recipe. We’ve also chosen to make a batch of this sauce and jar it for later use, which means we pre-cooked the vegetables we added, but you can make enough just for one portion of pasta and simply add it all to a pan. Once left in the fridge this sauce should last for a week or so.

We added fried onions, chopped basil and sun dried tomatoes alongside the garlic to a base of chopped tomatoes, stirred all together and jarred. Alternatively, you could make a pea pesto and stir in your garlic leaves, broccoli, peas and fennel for a vibrant green sauce, or mushroom and garlic leaves with a splash of cream for a warming mushroom sauce. Bear in mind that any dairy products used will mean the sauce won’t keep as long. 

If you pre-make your sauce and add it to the pasta once it has cooked, stir it in for only a couple of minutes, if the wild garlic leaves are cooked for too long they will lose all their structure and goodness. Similarly, if you’re cooking a sauce from scratch, add the garlic leaves last thing so they’ve just wilted.

Recipe 8: Baked Hummus

Just like regular shop bought hummus, this dip goes really well on toast or with some vegetable sticks, but this recipe adds the beautiful taste of wild garlic too. We bake this hummus to soften the sharpness of the raw wild garlic but if you don’t mind strong garlic flavours with your hummus why not give it a go without cooking it. Again, this recipe is very simple, just add some shredded wild garlic leaves into your favourite hummus recipe and bake. 

Baking it also gives the top layer a really lovely crust that adds some lovely texture. As well as adding wild garlic we’ve made this really unique by drizzling a little oil and adding some hazelnuts before baking to really make a showstopper of a dip. If you’re extremely organised you might have foraged and stored your own hazelnuts last autumn but if not (which is most of us) the shop bought ones will do instead. 

 

Recipe 9: Wild Garlic & Elf Cup Stuffed Pepper

These stuffed peppers can be eaten as a side but really they take centre stage, they’re visually very vibrant and beautiful. We use couscous as the main filling and as well as wild garlic we take advantage of another seasonal delight; the scarlet elf cap mushroom (Sarcoscypha austriaca). 

We pre-cooked the couscous and made a batch of the filling so we can make as many stuffed peppers as we want. Just remember when you’re cutting your pepper you want to remove a circle around the stalk and scrape out the seeds without damaging the structure, then simply add your filling and roast in a pan. 

You can switch the filling up as well, why not use rice instead of couscous, or add a little wild garlic pesto and mozzarella for a lovely cheesy filling. 

wild garlic recipe - stuffed pepper & saag aloo

 

Recipe 10: Wild Saag Aloo

This is one of our favourite additions to the Indian feast we prepared, its delicious and the wild garlic really enhances the flavour of all the spices. We swap out the spinach you would typically put in this dish for the wild garlic, so you do need quite a lot as it will reduce as it cooks. Equally this would work very well using nettle instead of spinach. You can get the full recipe and method by watching the video.

As a side dish this goes really well with our other Indian themed recipes; the chicken tikka parcels, stuffed peppers and pakoras. If you want this as more of a main attraction why not have this on some naan bread with mango chutney. Let us know how you get on with this dish.

 

Recipe 11: Chicken Tikka Parcels

This one is a little different, using the wild garlic in a new way. This is a really interesting way to incorporate wild garlic into a meal; wrap garlic leaves around strips of chicken to make a parcel that can be fried in a pan, cooked on a bbq or roasted directly on hot coals over an open fire.

Marinade diced chicken in tikka paste with a little oil. Next pick the largest wild garlic leaves you can find wrap several layers around a few chunks of chicken. The wrapped leaves can be pinned into place with cocktail sticks but if you want to be authentically wild you can whittle a pointed end onto foraged sticks as a makeshift skewer. Once cooked, any burnt outer leaves can be peeled away, leaving a succulent garlicky parcel which surrounds the juicy chicken. If you prefer you can substitute chicken breasts for a vegetarian alternative. 

The fantastic thing about this dish is that you can use any combination of spices to make it fit with a range of cuisines, the tikka curry powder we use in this recipe makes it a perfect addition to a foraged Indian feast. You could also try making a herb mix of rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil to make a side for an Italian dish or turmeric, cumin and nutmeg as part of a mezze platter.

For anyone who loves simple, outdoor cooking, using the leaves in this way eliminates the need for a pan or grill. The leaves and skewers used are all biodegradable of course and any waste can go back to the woods. This recipe really feels like a connection to our ancestors and how they would’ve cooked, it’s simple and connects us to our roots, so give it a go.

 

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of foraging has your mouth watering then you can find more inspiration from us with more good wild food stuff including; blogs, videos, outdoor courses and online courses too. If you haven’t checked out our YouTube channel already, be sure to do that here.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips, and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and pre-recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access to loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as the price of a cup of dandelion coffee, just £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

 

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

 

James & Lea 

make boozy berry chocolates for christmas

Wild Boozy Berry Chocolates

So, you’ve made your sloe gin and your blackberry brandy back in the autumn and you’re now ready to bottle up the drinks to give as gifts for Christmas. But wait! Don’t throw away those berries. You could make divine festive chocolates that will leave you wanting more.

In this article we will show you two easy-to-make and indulgent recipes for our Wild Boozy Berry Chocolates which make great use of your spirit-soaked hedgerow fruits. This is one of our favourite recipes of the whole year.

These chocolates will be the talk of any Christmas gathering with friends or will make a perfect surprise flourish to round off Christmas dinner. You could even wash them down with a tot of blackberry brandy or elderberry vodka. Just remember, they’re not for kids 😉

make your own christmas chocolates wild food & foraging

Above: The brandy-soaked berries in these chocolates are complimented by the orange zest and cinnamon. We added some edible gold spray for a final flourish.

Making Hedgerow Spirits

As outdoor educators, 2020 saw us locked down, unable to run many of our woodland courses and forced to stay close to home for the majority of the year, consequently we have been exploring our local green spaces and (like so many people) really getting further into the fascinating world of wild food and foraging. We have been preserving wild greens, cooking up foraged meals and discovering so many edible plants all around us like never before.

In the spring we were enjoying wild garlic pesto and nettle soup, in the summer it was dandelion honey and elderflower cordial. Autumn has bought us an abundance of berries and one wild food recipe that most people have heard of is sloe gin. It’s a foragers classic and if you’ve never made it for yourself, do give it a go. It’s so simple. If you want a recommend method for making this yourself, head over to the River Cottage website for a simple how-to.

The possibilities of hedgerow spirits go way beyond simply sloe gin though. We have made all sorts of recipes, using vodka, brandy, gin and whiskey. Any of the autumn berries can be used, and any mix, depending on what you have available or an experiment of different flavours together. All of these autumn foraged fruits work well; sloe, bullace, damson, haws, blackberries, rosehips and elderberries. 

making hedgerow spirits - wild food & foraging

Above: The sloe gin and blackberry brandy is all bottled up, but we have some boozy berries left over. Don’t get rid of them just yet.

Waste Not, Want Not

Many people would chuck the alcohol-soaked fruits away once it’s time to strain out their hedgerow spirits, but this would be a BIG mistake. We used a whole host of hedgerow berries in our chocolates which has been gathered since summer; wild cherries, blackberries, wild raspberries, wild strawberry, sloe, bilberries, redcurrant and bullace. But you can use whatever fruits you have soaked in alcohol already.

Don’t use elderberries in your chocolates as the seeds can give you an upset stomach if eaten without cooking first. Be sure also to remove any large stones from fruits such as sloe, bullace and cherry too.

Any of the spirits will work for this recipe, but we love brandy-soaked fruit the best with chocolate. Rum would also be a good option.

wild food & foraging: autumn fruits

Above: Use any of these autumn fruits in your hedgerow spirits and chocolates. Sloe, elderberry, rosehip, blackberry, hawthorn and bilberry.

Recipe 1: Boozy Berry, Fruit & Nut Chocolates

Boozy fruit – stones removed from the flesh, as needed

Hazelnuts – Roughly chopped

70% Dark Chocolate – use good quality chocolate, you won’t regret it

Icing sugar – for decoration

 

Recipe 2: Boozy Berry, Orange & Cinnamon Chocolates

Boozy fruit – again, remove the stones where you need to

Grated orange zest

Cinnamon powder (to taste)

70% Dark Chocolate – use the good stuff

Edible Gold Glitter Spray – for decoration

 

Method

  1. Cut the flesh from your boozy fruit and discard any stones or inedible pips. Set the fruit aside in a bowl for now.
  2. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and rest another bowl over the pan to create a double-boiler. Break up the chocolate and slowly melt it in the dry pan.
  3. Take a clean ice-cube tray and fill each section halfway with the other ingredients; either fruit, orange zest and cinnamon or fruit and hazelnuts.
  4. Next, gently pour the melted chocolate into each section of the ice tray until the ingredients are well covered.
  5. Place the tray in the fridge for 1-2 hours to allow them to set.
  6. Push chocolates out of the tray and for a little sparkle you can either dust some icing sugar over them or give them a splash of edible gold spray.
  7. Lastly, eat them and be merry!
boozy berry chocolates

Above: These boozy chocolates contain not only brandy-soaked hedgerow berries but also hazelnuts, for an indulgent Christmas treat.

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of wild food and foraging has whetted your appetite then you can take your learning further with us through the range of courses we offer.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

Lea

how to forage sea buckthorn - wild food

How To Forage Sea Buckthorn – Nature’s Superfood

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is one of our littlest known but most beautiful trees. Not only do they give a stunning display of colour, the berries sure do pack a tropical punch. The juice has to be one of the most memorable and refreshing flavours in the wold of UK wild food. When they fruit, the combination of the bright orange berries against the silvery green leaves make them look almost Mediterranean. So, if you want to feel like you’re kicking back on a sunny beach with a tropical drink in the depths of winter, we’ll give you the closest thing with some delicious sea buckthorn recipes. It’s a a wild food that’s well worth getting to know.

Getting these berries off the tree can be a little troublesome. You might have guessed from the name of this tree that there’s thorns to deal with. I’m here to help though and I’ve included a video which shows the easiest ways I’ve found to harvest the berries. You’ll get tips and tricks to filtering out leaf debris, so give it a watch. These are tried and tested methods so you can see how well each works for yourself.

If you’ve watched the video you might be thinking; “that seems like a lot of work for some fruit juice.” But the nutritional benefit of these little gems is unbelievable! They truly are a superfood. They contain high levels of vitamin C, around 5 times more than oranges, high levels of antioxidants as well as omega 3 and 6. Importantly they contain A, B, C and E vitamins including B12. Scientific trials have found that sea buckthorn is effective in treating tumours, lung diseases and gastric distress. They also help reduce inflammation and can treat heart diseases and improve blood vessel function, so get drinking it!

how to identify sea buckthorn

Above: This female sea buckthorn was found in an old sand & gravel quarry, far from the coast.

Where & When Can I Find Sea Buckthorn

Finding one of these amazing trees is not always the easiest thing. They are not nationally common, but could be locally common in your area. Generally, sea buckthorn is restricted to coastal areas or particularly gravelly soil so if you’re near a beach make sure to have a scout around as they have been purposely planted in many areas to help stabilise sand dunes. With that in mind they can also sometimes be found planted up in retail parks and roadside verges where they provide that stabilisation for the ground but also quick ground cover. Keep your eyes peeled.

Sea buckthorn is a deciduous shrub that has silvery-green leaves similar in appearance to rosemary. The leaves also remind us of a smaller version of willow leaves. The shrub also grows thick spines along the branches which is a good indicator of the species into the winter when the leaves fall. 

The dense clusters of bright orange berries are a dead giveaway to positive identification. Look for a silvery sheen close up on the berry skins too. The berries begin to fruit around August and September but it’s best to leave them till they’ve all turned from green to orange. As you’ll see from my video, early to mid autumn is the best time of year to harvest the berries as they are more firm and will get damaged less when picking. The later in the season you go, the more delicate the berries become. You can still harvest them into late autumn/early winter but it will be a messier job as the juice gets everywhere.

This tree is dioecious, which means it has separate male and female trees. Only the females produce the berries. So, don’t be surprised if you come across a specimen in the right season but with no berries. Look around the surrounding area for a female in fruit.

sea buckthorn wild food & foraging recipes

Above: Notice the leaves grow in a whorl around the whole twig. They have a silvery sheen to them.

How do I Process Sea Buckthorn

As the name suggests the sea buckthorn is a spiny shrub so a thick pair of gloves is helpful for one of the methods of collecting the berries. When the berries are ripe they tend to burst very easily, which does make collecting them a little tricky, but we’ve got some proven methods to remove the berries that we’ve tried so you don’t have to.

The first method, which I prefer, involves cutting off the tips of branches which are heavy with berries. Although this can seem quite destructive, this is a tree which grows back fast, so you can cut with confidence. It’s good practise to always take only what you need and leave what you can for wildlife.

  • Pop the cut branches in a bag.
  • When you’re home, put the branches on a tea towel outdoors, in a place where creepy crawlies can escape.
  • Later, place the berry-heavy bunches in a double layered bin bag and leaving in the freezer for a couple of days.
  • Once the berries have fully frozen remove the bin bag and beat it with a stick, this will separate them from the branch without bursting them.
  • Lastly you’ll need to separate the whole berries from any other debris that has been loosened in the bag. Watch the video for tips on how to do this effectively.

The second method is a little messier but is a quick way of collecting the juice of the berries. This method is best done later in the season when the berries are at their ripest. 

  • Put a clean food bucket under the branch you want to collect the juice from.
  • Wearing a thick pair of rubber gloves, squeeze along the branch in a downward motion, toward the tip. This squishes the berries as you go and avoids you getting spiked. The juice runs into the bucket below.
  • When you get home, the juice will need straining as lots of leaf and branch debris will probably fall into the bucket during the collection process. 

With either of these methods, make sure you’re not wearing anything you would mind getting berry juice on or even wear an apron.

foraging for sea buckthorn

Above: Using the “bag & freezer” method to separate the berries.

how to process sea buckthorn berries

Above: Processing the juice from the berries. I used a potato ricer.

What Can I Make with Sea Buckthorn

Sea buckthorn has a notoriously tart taste so I would recommend sweetening it before eating, unless you like an intense sharp and sour hit – I dare you to give it a try raw. If you want to get an idea of the kind of sharp citrusy flavour the processed juice of the berry gives then pick one straight from the tree, it’s very refreshing… if a little tart. The recipe I made was a sweet sea buckthorn juice and it was a very refreshing and very healthy addition to my breakfast. 

For this recipe you can get away with using the squeeze method as mentioned above, as all you really need is the juice. Make sure you strain the juice through a sieve or muslin cloth if you want to be super thorough. You will need:

  • Sea buckthorn juice
  • Runny honey to taste
  • A sterilised container with a lid for storage

In a saucepan, heat the juice and honey together on a low heat. Stir well to make sure the honey melts into the juice. When the juice is as sweet as you want, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool before bottling in a sterilised jar. 

As well as complimenting your morning eggs you could try adding the juice to some sparkling white wine to make sea bucks fizz, or with lemonade to make a refreshing cordial. You could also consider using sea buckthorn for jam, or you could reduce the juice by cooking it for longer and adding sugar to make a sea buckthorn syrup. In Northern Europe, it’s popular as an accompaniment to fish as it is similar in sharpness to lemon.

Making a fruit leather would be a good way of preserving the goodness of the berries right through the year. To do this; gently simmer the juice down to a thick syrup, combine it with hawthorn berry pulp which has been similarly boiled down, spread the mixture thinly onto greaseproof paper and then dry it over several hours gently in a dehydrator, on an oven on a low heat with the door slightly ajar to allow airflow. The purpose of the hawthorn berries (called haws) is to provide a binding quality to the leather, as on its own the buckthorn juice may struggle to hold together. The haws also have their own major health benefits. A fruit leather not only preserves the vitamins but hold the taste too.

sea buckthorn wild food & foraging recipes

Above: The juice or berries can be used to make a range of tangy foods like jam, sauce, cordial or fruit leather.

Discover More Wild Food

If all this talk of wild food and foraging has whetted your appetite then you can take your learning further with us through the range of courses we offer.

You can immerse yourself in the world of foraging through our outdoor courses hosted in beautiful National Trust estate woodlands in North-East Wales. Or if that’s too far afield for you we also host regular online workshops, live through Zoom where we focus on wild foods of the season and give you delicious recipe ideas, foraging tips and expertise from special guest speakers. If this all sounds interesting, check out what’s coming up on our Events page right here.

Another way to get instant access to a whole backlog of wild food & foraging videos, recipes and recorded workshops is to join our Tribe over on Patreon. In return for supporting our mission, our patrons get access loads of exclusive resources. You can join the Tribe from as little as £3.60 per month. Find out about all the benefits right here.

Until next time, good luck with your own foraging journey.

James

how to pick wild rosehips - foraging and wildcraft

The Best Way To Eat Rosehips

If you’re not eating rosehips already, you need to start. Not only are they really good for you, but they taste amazing… like a burst of tropical fruit. They are also very common and easy to identify. So, what’s stopping you?

I really look forward to the season for rosehips, they are one of my favourite wild foods. The bright red scattering of rosehips in our hedgerows is one of the biggest indicators that winter is settling in. These vibrant fruits stand out to our eyes and that bright colour could mislead you into thinking that you should stay away from them, but the rosehip can make some delicious winter recipes to keep you going through the colder months.

I made this short video to show you the best way to eat rosehips raw, right off the branch. They make a great ‘pick-me-up’ on a country walk. There’s a couple of essential tips you need to know, so check it out…

Where & When To Find Rosehips

Rosehips grow on wild rose bushes. In the UK there are two species which you can forage from; the dog rose (Rosa canina) and the field rose (Rosa arvensis). Dog rose is found in most parts of the UK, unlike the field rose which is only found in England and Wales. Both species can be eaten so it’s not particularly important to know the difference between the two. These plants are climbers, trailing their way through hedgerows with their stems covered in thorns.

The rosehips themselves are easy to identify as oval fruits which develop behind the summer flower, turning from green to red as they ripen. In the summer the petals for both wild roses are large, being pink to white in colour with a yellow stamen. They have a beautiful fragrance, as you’d expect from a rose.

The best spots for finding rosehips is hedgerows and woodland edges, where the hips can ripen with plenty of sunshine. Scrubland and brownfield sites are also good places to look.

It’s from September that the hips begin to ripen enough to be harvested. They should only be eaten once they are fully red, don’t eat them if they’re still a bit green. There isn’t a particular firmness they are best at; they can be harvested when squishy or hard so don’t worry if you don’t get them right at the beginning of the season. What is important though is that you’re only eating the red flesh. The hairy, yellow seeds in the centre of the hip need to be removed before they can be eaten. These hairs are very fine and can lodge in your throat, being very uncomfortable to digest.

If you haven’t watched our video above already, do check it out so you can learn how to easily remove the flesh from the hairy seeds. Another method can be used back in the kitchen, whilst processing the hips back at home using a muslin cloth (see our method for rosehip syrup below) but if you’re out in the field after a quick hot of that tropical taste then here’s what you need to do:

  • Look for the softer squishy ones with a wrinkled skin. These are found more so at the back end of autumn.
  • To remove the hip cleanly, and avoid being spiked, twist is away from you and toward the stalk. This will usually give a clean break.
  • Hold the rosehip between both thumbs and index fingers equally, with the stalk side facing you.
  • Squeeze the hip with even pressure. A ‘red worm’ of pulp should rise from the hole.
  • Eat the tasty red flesh, discard the squeezed hip.
how to forage rosehips

Above Left: Rosehips looking perfectly ripe on the branch. Above Right: These hips are softer and more wrinkled. Perfect for the squeezing method as explained in the video.

How To Make Rosehip Syrup

A more traditional use for them would be rosehip syrup, which was a common sight in the household during the second world war. Due to the UK’s inability to import fruit from other countries, the public were recommended to collect and make their own rosehip syrup to prevent scurvy; two tablespoons of rosehip syrup would more than provide you with your daily dose of vitamin C.  As well as being very good for you, the syrup is deliciously sweet and goes really well drizzled on top of hot sponges, pancakes, and other desserts or you could try adding a little to some lemonade to make a cordial. Below is a recipe for rosehip syrup so you can make your own.

To make a litre of syrup you need: 

  • 1 kilogram of rosehips
  • 3 litres of water
  • 450g of sugar (or honey)

Method:

  1. Remove any leaves and the green ends of the rosehips, then chop them by hand or in a food processor and add to a saucepan with the water. 
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes before straining with a muslin into a clean bowl. Once the juice has been strained, re-strain in a clean muslin cloth. This ensures that all the hairs inside that cause irritation have been removed. 
  3. In a new saucepan add the sugar and simmer together until it has dissolved and the liquid has thickened. 
  4. Transfer to a sterilised jar and keep in a cool place. 

As well as being delicious on pancakes and packed with vitamin C, rosehips also have a fantastic range of health benefits. Amazingly, rosehips contain 2000mg per 100g, compared with the equivalent weight of orange with just 50mg! This little fruit can boost heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Rosehips also have anti-inflammatory properties and there is some evidence it can reduce pain and stiffness in joints with osteoarthritis, possibly due to the high level of antioxidants they contain. Cold pressed rosehip oil can also help protect against ultraviolet light, pollution, and cigarette smoke as well as increasing skin elasticity. They also contain high levels of fibre, vitamin A, calcium, and potassium.

I’ve also used them to make a cup of rosehip tea. To try this yourself; halve ten hips and scrape out the seeds and hairs. Cover the hips in boiling water and leave to infuse for a few minutes. You could add a little honey or sugar to sweeten your tea, but rosehips contain their own natural sweetness, so adding sugar is not essential, just see how you like it.

You could always try slicing and drying the hips to make a longer-lasting tea ingredient. If you don’t have a dehydrator, put the halved hips on a parchment covered baking tray and cook on a very low heat with the door slightly open for a few hours to remove the moisture. Rosehips can also be used to make a sweet jam to go on toast or on plain yoghurt. We added halved rosehips to a hedgerow crumble for a burst of colour and flavour amongst the apples and blackberries.

how to make rosehip syrup

Above Left: Rosehip syrup. Above Right: Fruit leather with rosehips, crab apple and hawthorn.

Can I Eat My Garden Roses?

This is a fair question, so let’s look into it. As far as I have researched, all roses are edible. You might well be familiar with the Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa) which is a common sight in suburban areas and retail centre car parks. The rosehips on this plant are much larger, being more rounded. They also ripen earlier than our native roses. The summer petals on this plant are a beautiful cerise pink colour. Both the petals and hips are edible, as with our wild roses. However I have found that these hips, being larger, are more susceptible to harbouring maggots, especially when they start to soften. So, I would recommend halving them to have a good look inside before using them for any cooking.

Something else you need to be aware of with foraging garden roses, including the Japanese Rose, is that they may have been sprayed with pesticide or plant food, not something you want to add to your diet. So, unless you know the garden or gardener well, it’s best to avoid Mr Jones’ prize roses from across the road. With any foraging it’s important to take a wider view and think about where you’re picking from and what forces those plants are subjected to. As always; if in doubt, leave it out.

foraging for japanese rosehips

Above: Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa) with striking pink flowers in summer and hips as large as cherry tomatoes.

Discover More Wild Foods

Along with my partner, James, I host foraging and wild food walks and courses in North-East Wales at two beautiful National Trust estate grounds. Coming on a course is a great way to learn a variety of commonly growing plants and fungi we can use in our own cooking and also for hedgerow medicine. If you’d like to see what courses we have coming up, then head to our Events page.

 

I hope this blog has inspired you to try foraging rosehips yourself.

Lea

ten trees you can eat - wild food & foraging

Ten Trees You Can Eat

When you’re walking in the woods have you ever wondered which trees you could eat? Of course, I mean the tree’s berries, nuts, leaves and fruit. Chewing on wood is strictly for beavers only. Trees are a great source of wild food and in this article we’re going to take a look at ten of the best native and common British trees which you can forage from as well as giving you some inspiring recipe ideas using these natural ingredients.

Before we get going with the list, if you’re someone who loves trees but struggles to know what you’re looking at on your country walk, you could start building your tree identification skills today by signing up to our free online course, titled Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills. You’d be joining thousands of other students who want to know more about the trees around them. You can enroll for free right here.

Now, on with the top ten list, starting in no particular order with…

 

1. Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Sweet chestnuts are something you typically associate with Christmas (cue Bing Crosby singing here) but in the UK you can forage for your own chestnuts around the middle of October. These really are a top nut and I don’t think we utilise them enough outside of the festive season, there are so many tasty recipes you can use them in. Our home-grown wild nuts tend to be on the smaller side compared to other parts of Europe, as in this country they are at the edge of their natural range. Shop-bought chestnuts tend to be grown in warmer climes such as Italy, Spain, and Croatia.

sweet chestnut tree foraging

Above: Sweet Chestnuts are not just for Christmas. Try roasting them in their shells in the embers of a campfire. Yum!

The casing of the sweet chestnut is easily recognisable by the long, densely packed spikes, and if you’ve ever been curious enough to pick one up you know how delicately they need to be handled to avoid being speared. You can tell when the chestnuts are ripe because the casing will be large and green, heading towards a lighter brown colour. They will also begin to split open as they ripen, and you can often see the shell of the chestnut through the cracks in the casing. The nuts grow in threes inside the spiked case. The shells are, as you would expect, a chestnut brown colour, topped with a white tuft of hairs. When foraging for these nuts make sure you use thick gloves to pry them open.

Taking a step back to look at the whole tree; another indicator you’re looking at sweet chestnut is the trunk itself. On mature trees deep fissures develop that tend to twist and spiral up the trunk. This is a more obvious distinction going into autumn when the tree begins to lose its leaves.

When it comes to cooking with sweet chestnuts the most traditional use is roasting. Firstly, pierce the shell with a knife to prevent them popping and roast them in an oven at 200°c for 30 minutes. My favourite way to cook them is more simple, and connects us with our ancestors; roasting the nut (in their shells) directly in the embers of a campfire. Once cooked, leave to cool for a few minutes then peel the shells off and eat. Other tasty uses for chestnuts are in stuffing, added into brownies or cheesecakes. They add a fantastic sweet nutty taste to anything you add them to, so alternatively you could try pairing them with something salty like a soy sauce glaze, as well as to supplement your sweet dishes.

 

2. Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

Often called the “queen of British trees” Beech are one of our most magnificent trees. They can grow up to, and sometimes exceed 40 meters height. There’s a beech tree in my village that’s so large you can see it from about a mile away, it’s loved by everyone and has such a magnificent canopy, it’s not hard to see why. You often find these trees on very chalky areas, and they can be identified by their grey-brown bark and iconic nuts that grow in October, with spiky basing that splits open to reveal the smooth pyramid shaped nuts. 

beech nuts - tree foraging

Above: Beech nuts are small but worth the effort. A great snack whilst out on a stroll. Inset: Young leaves make a tangy addition to salads in spring.

As well as being beautiful beech trees have two seasons in the year when parts can be harvested for food. Firstly, around May when new leaves emerge they can be eaten straight off the twig or put into salads or sandwiches. They have a tangy, almost acidic flavour. You’re looking for the lighter green slightly hairy leaves, before they darken in colour and develop an unpalatable, waxy surface. 

In October, it’s the beech nuts which drop to the ground and can be collected for our table. The casing (called mast) splits open and will often drop off the tree with the nuts inside meaning it’s relatively easy to collect them, although you may have to rummage around on the ground a little to find the nuts under the leaf litter. Inside the mast can be up to 3 nuts each in their own triangular brown shell.

Beech nuts are a good source of protein, contain lots of healthy oils and taste a little like hazelnuts making them amazing for both sweet and savoury dishes. It’s advised that you don’t eat too many raw as they contains tannins which can cause an upset stomach, although not everyone has a negative reaction to raw beech nuts but it’s best to be cautious. They’re small though, so collecting that many would be quite a feat. Cooking or soaking removes this toxin and makes them safe to eat en masse, so try toasting them to add to salads or using as a cake topping as an alternative to hazelnuts. I like them best as a snack on the go whilst walking.

 

3. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorns are a favourite of many as they give us the fruit used to make sloe gin. Around autumn there’s excitement in the foraging community as everyone rushes to make their annual batch of sloe gin ready to replace the previous years which will inevitably be either drunk or given as a Christmas present. A friend proudly declared that this Christmas he’ll be opening a bottle he made five years ago! 

sloes and blackthorn - tree foraging

Above: Everyone has heard of sloe gin, but did you know you can use the gin soaked sloes to make boozy chocolates. We dare you to try it.

The blackthorn tree can be identified by their almost black branches (hence the name) and large thorns which can cause a nasty infection if spiked so be very careful when harvesting your sloes, some thick gloves are recommended! In March the blackthorn is the first tree to make its presence known as it erupts en masse in our hedgerows with a show of white blossom. The flowers make for an incredibly beautiful contrast to the black spines. Blackthorn is a tough old tree with a habit of spreading quickly into open space, making it an unwelcome guest with landowners who like things tidy. It follows that with this tough, thorny tree, that seems to be telling us to “look but don’t touch” it would bear such sour fruits that when eaten raw don’t exactly endear themselves to us. They are worth collecting though as alcohol transforms their flavour.

The blackthorn is part of the plum family so this gives us a clue that there’s some good stuff to be had from the fruits. From September onward the sloes take on a dark blue colour as they ripen. The classic recipe, sloe gin, is made using fresh sloes, pricked with a fork, packed into a jar with gin and sugar. Shake this every day to help the sugar dissolve and then after at least a month (longer is better) strain off the berries and bottle the liquid, ready for a Christmas gift or to go on the sdhelf and left for a year before drinking. Also, did you know that the leaves can also be infused with alcohol and are at their best around June and July.

Interestingly sloe stones have been found at many archaeological sites which suggests our ancestors valued this fruit highly as well; it’s lovely to think that the blackthorn has connected us to our ancestors for thousands of years. Try boiling your sloes down to turn them into a jam or syrup, they’re naturally a little tart so it’s best to have a sweet aspect to each recipe such as reducing with sugar or treacle to make a delicious tart filling. If making sloe gin or other alcohol infusion is something you want to give a go, remember this top tip; try saving your soaked sloes to coat in chocolate. This makes for a perfect present for friends and family at Christmas time.

 

4. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

I don’t know about you, but I always see the arrival of Hawthorns as the official start of autumn. The iconic red berry a sight you’re likely familiar with as they grow in abundance along roadsides and in hedgerows. Hawthorn trees are one of our most common trees as they can thrive almost anywhere and are popular in hedges as they make a thorny stock-proof barrier which has vigorous regrowth when cut back. Head out to your local green space, you might be surprised by how many hawthorn trees you can find.

hawthorn - tree foraging

Above: They might not taste like much on their own but as a cooking ingredient they work very well. We made spicy hawthorn relish.

Hawthorns in Autumn are easy to identify, with large bunches of deep red oval berries, known as haws. They can be seen from September onward and can persist on the tree right through winter after the leaves have fallen. One of the earliest identifiers for this tree in our calendar year can be seen in early spring when the bright green leaves with between 3-5 jagged lobes, looking somewhat similar to parsley, explode in our hedgerows after the white blossom of blackthorn. In April and May look for a show of beautiful flowers blooming from this tree. They resemble cherry blossom, with a strong scent of almonds, 5 small white petals and pink stamens. 

Back in autumn with the berries; you could eat a single haw and be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about as there’s not much taste to them. But that couldn’t be more wrong, this is such a versatile food source that not enough people know about. Where the haws shine is as an ingredient rather than a food on its own. Haws contain a single stone which needs to be removed before they can be eaten. This can be a time consuming process, but the reward is worth it. These berries can be used to make everything from jam, ketchup, relish and even wine; boiling and straining can be a quicker way of removing the stones than individually de-stoning each fruit. Although they’re fairly plain in flavour they have a similar texture to avocados, making them an eco-friendly substitute to use in guacamole.

As well as making some delicious foods, the haws are incredibly good for you. They can increase the blood flow to the heart, helping prevent heart attacks as well as reducing irregular heartbeats. This isn’t a new discovery either, haws have been used to treat heart conditions as early as the 17th century. If you are on heart medication, seek advice form a professional herbalist before eating them.

 

5. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Sea buckthorn is incredibly beautiful when the tree is fruiting; with gorgeous bunches of bright orange berries surrounded by silvery green leaves that heavily resemble rosemary. The fruit of this tree is citrusy but does require some sweetening as it has a naturally sharp almost bitter flavour, similar to the acidity of a grapefruit. In terms of flavour, this is about as tropical as it gets for native tree foraging. If you don’t mind a bit of work and being spiked by thorns, then you’re in for a treat that packs a mighty punch.

sea buckthorn - tree foraging

Above: If you want a juice that packs a serious punch for both taste and health, try Sea Buckthorn.

Unfortunately, the sea buckthorn isn’t very common and is normally only found near the coastline or in very gravely areas. However, you might find it along roadsides and in retail parks or industrial estates, where it can be planted as cover. If you discover one of these trees locally make a note of it and be sure to give it a visit when it’s fruiting! These beautiful berries come into fruit around September to early October and are best picked after all the berries on the tree turn from green to orange as it’s when they’re at their most ripe. The tricky part of collecting the berries of the sea buckthorn is how prone they are to bursting when picking, meaning you could get juice on your clothes so make sure you’re not wearing your favourite white shirt when collecting these.

There are two main ways you can collect the berries; if you’re not too bothered about the whole berry and are happy with just the juice, which is the best part in my opinion, you can use some very thick rubber gloves to squeeze down a branch to collect the juice into a bucket. This will need straining once you get home to remove any bits of leaf or debris that you’ll also find in your bucket. This is the fastest way to collect the juice, but works best when the berries are a little softer later in the season. Another method is to snip off twigs that have berry clusters. Take them home and leave them outside on a towel or some tissue to allow any creepy crawlies to escape before putting them in a bin liner and bunging them in the freezer overnight. Once the berries are frozen beat the bag to dislodge them from the branch and then pick out the branches and leaves. This is my preferred method.

You can strain the berries to make a nutritious fruit juice, although some sweetening is recommended, try adding honey as a healthier alternative to sugar. To make a cordial, reduce the juice by simmering and add sugar. Dilute with water and serve with ice, or use neat added to sparkling wine to make a sea bucks fizz! As well as being delicious, sea buckthorn hailed as a superfood, being packed with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, B and C and is proven to preventing tumours, ulcers and detoxify the liver.

 

6. Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Whenever I think of summer elderflower cordial always springs to mind. Its subtle sweetness reminds me of hot breezy days. The elder tree has got to be in the top ten wild foods of the UK as it provides two delicacies for us to enjoy. The flowers which bloom in June and the berries which ripen around August to September. If you have a shrub in your garden I would recommend not taking all the flowers as you’ll then be stuck without any berries later on. Leave some to mature and you get to enjoy both harvests.

elderberry - tree foraging

Above: Elderberries are packed full of good things. Our favourite recipe is Elderberry Elixir, made with honey, brandy and warming spices.

Whilst elderberries are easily recognisable, the spray of creamy-white summer flowers are easy to mistake for other similar looking trees. Make sure you’re not accidentally picking flowers from a Rowan or Wayfaring tree as they look similar when in bloom. Get to know the whole tree. The leaves of the elder are jagged around the edge and typically have five large leaflets on each leaf. The flowers themselves are very small and grow in dense bunches that tend to grow upwards in fairly uniform, flat formation. The stems will droop down when the flowers turn into the berries. 

Elderflower cordial is an obvious classic recipe for the elder but there are so many more ways you can use the flowers. Try infusing them into Turkish delight or sorbets for a sweet treat or using them to flavour panna cotta or yoghurt. Don’t feel limited by traditional uses for elderflower cordial either, use the cordial to flavour cakes and tray bakes or add to sparkling wine. 

Come the autumn, the berries are well worth your attention. Not only does their juice taste great but they’re good for our health too, making an excellent immune system booster. Be sure to use any freshly picked berries quickly as they don’t tend to last for very long once they’ve been picked. Try cooking them to make jam, using them to make a coulis for a pudding topping, or mixing with honey and spices to make a warming elderberry elixir – this is our personal favourite. The deep purple syrup is very striking when drizzled on cheesecake. Some more unusual uses for elderberries are to make vinegar and fruit leather.

Do be aware that the seeds in the berries contain a small amount of cyanide, so you don’t want to eat the berries raw, they must be cooked. We remove the seeds and flesh by straining the cooked berries through a muslin cloth.

 

7. Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazel, as you can probably guess, gives us the hazelnut; something so commonly used in modern processed foods you may forget that you can forage for them yourself. How does the idea of making your own hazelnut chocolate spread sound? When identifying a hazel, you’re more likely to find one in shrub form rather than a full tree, with several stems sprouting from the base rather than one single trunk. In summer the leaves are large and round with a serrated edge. At the tips of the yellow-brown branches you’ll also see large green buds. When searching for a hazelnuts the best place to look is hedgerows and woodland edges. The nuts tend not to grow as well in deeper woodland as they get shaded out by taller trees.

hazelnuts - tree foraging

Above: Make your own nutty chocolate spread from hazelnuts, if you can beat the squirrels to them.

The best time of year for hazelnuts is the back end of August and into September. When you find them they might appear fairly green. These are unripe but can still be eaten. They are best when the shells have turned nut brown. They tend to grow in clusters and the nuts will have a frilly green bract around them, almost making them look like they’re wearing hats. Ripe nuts will fall from the tree but make sure you crack open the casing of a few nuts before you collect loads as often  the tree will discard any nuts that haven’t been successful to focus on growing others. Nobody wants to go home to find they’ve actually been carrying empty shells.

The other issue to content with is the Grey Squirrel who will harvest all the nuts from your favourite hazel tree before they ripen. Aside from the obvious solution to this problem (squirrel pie anyone?) you could try netting a small tree (easier said than done) or look for a tree in an urban space where squirrels aren’t present. This is where I’ve had the most success myself.

Hazelnuts give us so many possibilities. They make a nutritious addition to cakes and bakes. They compliment chocolate really nicely so you could try incorporating them into a batch of cookies which are sure to go down a treat. For something more low-key you could always sprinkle chopped hazelnuts onto a bowl of muesli or porridge for a healthy breakfast to kickstart your day with plenty of energy. Possibly a more unusual way of using the nuts would be to blend them into some homemade green pesto for extra crunch and depth of flavour, you could even try toasting them first. 

The good news is that these delicious nuts are really good for you as well, supporting a healthy heart and helping to reduce cholesterol. They’re also full of vitamin E which helps maintain a healthy immune system, so there’s no need to feel bad about snacking on this treat. 

 

8. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) 

Otherwise known as Mountain Ash, this tree grows not only in high places, as it’s name suggests, but can also be found in hedgerows, scrubland and urban spaces. When flowering, rowan is easily mistaken for the elderflower as they have similar sized white flowers sitting on a flat bed, called an umbel. Once these flowers mature to fruit though the difference becomes very obvious. Rowan produces striking red berries instead of the purple-black of elder. The berries are also larger and persist on the tree long after the elderberries have dried up. Another similar feature are the leaves. Rowan has more leaflets per leaf than elder. Anywhere between 11 – 17 leaflets, opposed to elder typical 5-7.

rowan berries - tree foraging

Above: The most famous recipe for these berries is Rowan Jelly, which includes Crab Apple. It goes great with game.

It’s these juicy red berries that we’re looking to forage. You can find them on the tree as early as late July. September onwards is the main season though. Don’t be tempted to eat these berries right off the tree as they need to be cooked before they’re edible, otherwise they can cause severe indigestion due to the ascorbic acid they contain. The most traditional recipe for this unusual berry is rowan berry jelly, often paired here with crab apples as the pectin tends to thicken the jelly and make sure it sets properly.The crabs are also sweetening the jelly.

To make a jelly add equal quantities of chopped apple and rowan to a pan and simmer in water for 20 minutes. Strain in a muslin cloth over a bowl for at least 4 hours, allowing the juice to drip into the bowl, if you squeeze the mix then the jam will be cloudy. Harvest the liquid and for every 600ml of fluid, add 450g sugar and the juice of one lemon and boil again for 10 minutes. You can test when it’s ready by putting a spoonful on a chilled plate; if the jelly wrinkles when you squidge it with your finger its ready to be put into a sterilised jar. This jelly is perfect to accompany meats or even something like cheesecake to add a tart splash of colour to your pate. 

Interestingly, rowan berry flour is used in Russian baking, which gives bread a slight tang and adds a lot of nutrition. Rowan berries can also be added into chutneys, soups, and ketchups to add a depth of flavour, although it is worth adding a source of sweetness to counteract the tartness they naturally have. This is one berry that I’ve not actually gotten round to cooking with myself at the time of writing, but the jelly recipe is one that has persisted through time so it must be worthwhile. Let me know how you get on.

 

9. Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)


Crab apples are a bit tricky, as the sourness of these wild fruits tends to catch people off guard. I still remember the shock of biting into one and finding out just how sour they were for the first time! Fortunately, there are still numerous ways you can use the crab apple and sweeten it to make it more digestible.

crab apple - tree foraging

Above: From these humble beginnings, all our cultivated apples came. The crab apple deserves some respect.

Unlike cooking apples, the crab apple is small, often only reaching around 3cm in diameter. This may be why they are so tart, as the flavour is concentrated in a smaller fruit. Crab apple trees are often found in hedgerows, woodland clearings and around farmland. The leaves are ovular with a finely toothed margin. The apples can be stored for several months before they become unusable, keep them somewhere cool and dry and you can always come back to them when your other foraging projects are done.

Like the rowan, crab apple is often used in jellies to offset the sharpness of flavour and I would follow a similar recipe to the rowan berry jelly above. There are many more ways to use them though. They can be sliced and dehydrated in an oven to make dried apple slices, which tend to be a lot sweeter and make a delicious snack on walks or part of a healthy breakfast when mixed with yoghurt and nuts. They can also be used as an ingredient in fruit leather which is always very popular with kids. For grown ups, how about this liqueur? Add layers of sliced crab apples to a jar, sprinkling sugar in between each layer and then covering with vodka. Leave for a year before draining; a long time I know but you should have a bottle ready for the following Christmas.

Other ideas for the crab apple include juicing them, crab apple butter, adding them to pickles or chutneys, or in a mixed fruit pie or crumble. Their tartness adds an unexpected bite to sweet puddings, so give it a go.

 

10. Guelder-Rose (Viburnum opulus)

The guelder-rose  was previously known as swamp elder, which to me is a more appropriate name as it describes this shrubby tree much better. Native to the UK the guelder-rose can be identified in the summer by its serrated three lobed leaves, which are similar looking to maple leaves, and are slightly hairy on the underside. Similar again to the elder and rowan the guelder-rose has umbels of white flowers that bloom around May to July. Look closer and you’ll see that a cluster of larger petalled flowers are surrounded by a ring of smaller flowers. Very striking indeed. In autumn these flowers mature to small shiny red berries, similar in appearance to cranberries which sometimes gives it the nickname European cranberry bush.

guelder rose - tree foraging

Above: A less well known wild food, these berries make a tasty, tangy jam which goes great on toast.

When searching for this berry look in damp places along riversides, scrubland, and hedgerows; it tends to have a habit of spreading if left unattended. When preparing the berries make sure they’re cooked before eating them as they can be slightly toxic if eaten raw, so don’t eat them straight off the tree. The berries need to be prepared in a similar way to rowan, as they are also fairly bitter. They do work well in jellies and jams. Try adding them with rowan berries and crab apples for a tangy addition to toast and porridge or add a dollop to your Sunday roast. Often it’s best to wait for the first frost of the year before collecting the berries as it tends to sweeten them, but you could always pop them in the freezer for the same effect if you can’t wait. I made jam and although when cooking the aroma wasn’t all that appetising, the resulting jam was very good.

As well as being used as a source of food the bark of the tree has been used for hundreds of years to soothe menstrual cramps as the bark has sedative and antispasmodic properties. This is probably due to the chemical viopudial, a compound that lowers blood pressure relaxes smooth muscle, which also means it’s useful in alleviating hiccups and stomach aches. However, it is worth saying that there have been no medical trials to confirm these properties or in what quantities it should be consumed, so I wouldn’t advise just peeling off bits of bark to use, especially if you’re not confident on your identification. Seek the advice of a professional herbalist if you want to take this further.

 

Where Can You Find These Trees?

Now this all sounds good on paper but how you do go about recognising these tree species and finding the right habitats where they grow?

I have created a FREE online Tree Identification course called Kickstart Your Tree ID Skills, which you can enroll on today and start improving your skills so you can find these wild foods for yourself. The course will also show you how to identify trees at other times of the year; winter, spring and summer. Here you will learn about buds, flowers, leaves, bark and other useful identifying signs so you can really get to know our native trees all year round. Sound good to you? Register for free right here.

free tree identification course

Sign up to our free course today and watch videos, download cheat sheets and access photo galleries.

You can also download a copy of my FREE Autumn Tree Guide which you can view on your phone whilst out and about. It features many of the species in this blog with quality pictures of the fruits, berries and nuts. You can grab your copy of that guide right here.

So, there’s my list, not so much a definitive top ten, as there are a couple of omissions here of native trees which produce some fantastic wild foods at times of the year other than autumn. Perhaps I’ll make that absolute top ten list later down the line. Certainly birch sap syrup, wych elm seeds wild cherries are all worth a mention.

I hope you found this article inspiring and I’d love to hear if you make anything with the wild foods featured. If you want more good stuff from us you could subscribe to our YouTube Channel where we post videos about trees, wild food and nature connection.

Happy foraging,

James

forage your own sweet chestnuts

Forage Your Own Sweet Chestnuts

Often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of chestnuts is Christmas. Have you got the words “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” singing in your head? But, did you know you don’t have to buy them in the supermarket? You can forage your own sweet chestnuts, if you know when and where to look. We’ve made a video all about how to do just that, and you can watch it just below.

Autumn is a perfect time to go foraging for a variety of wild nuts, berries, and fungi. In this blog we’re going to focus on how to find and cook sweet chestnuts, one of our favourite wild foods of the season. You will also learn how to identify the tree they grow on and learn the nutritional benefits of this wild food.

In the UK, sweet chestnuts come into season in October, so if you want them for Christmas you have to be looking well in advance and be ready to freeze them. Finding a ripe chestnut on the forest floor ready for roasting is such a treat and this article will give you the best chance of finding some for yourself. Read on to learn about the history of the sweet chestnut, become an identification expert and learn some delicious recipes to cook at home or over the campfire.

The sweet chestnut hails all the way from Western Asia and was thought to have been introduced into Europe by the Greeks or Romans and used by the military to sustain their troops. The Latin name Castanea is actually derived from the name of a Greek town called Castonis where the tree was heavily cultivated for their nuts. The sweet chestnuts that grow in the UK tend to be smaller and less successful than the ones that grow in mainland Europe due to the cooler climate and in fact most of the chestnuts we buy at Christmas are grown in either Portugal or France. The tree is at the edge of its natural range here, though climate change could make them more favourable to the UK.

sweet chestnut and wild mushroom risotto

Above: Sweet Chestnut & Wild Mushroom Risotto. An autumn favourite in our home.

How To Identify Ripe Sweet Chestnuts

The spiny casing goes from a lime green to a light brown as the chestnuts ripen, but the best ones will be more green than brown. Unfortunately, many of the largest ripe nuts will be eaten by squirrels before they can hit the ground so it’s important to go foraging early to give yourself the best chance of finding a good batch. Remember to take a thick pair of gardening gloves with you for cracking the casing open, as the spines can make the casing impenetrable and painful to handle. Don’t be disheartened if the chestnuts aren’t as big as the casing would suggest, it’s a little luck of the draw when foraging.

Sweet chestnuts are easy to identify as they’re covered in a soft white fuzz that tufts into a point at the top of the nut. Be careful not to mix them up with horse chestnuts (conkers to you and me) which looks very similar but have far less spines, a glossy shell and are more rounded. Another difference is that there are up to three sweet chestnuts in each case, whereas there is typically only one horse chestnut in each case. If you find a nut out of its casing and you’re not confident in identifying it, you can always look at other clues from the tree itself. So, let’s take a look at the video where I go foraging for nuts… 

Now we’ve had a good look at the this tasty wild food, let’s go into a bit more detail about the identifying features of the tree, so that you can be really confident you know what you’re looking at.

 

How To Identify a Sweet Chestnut Tree

The sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) is a member of the beech family and can sometimes be confused with the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) due to their similarity to the much-loved conker. However, there are some distinct features that set the sweet chestnut apart and will reliably help you identify the tree correctly.

Leaves

When looking for sweet chestnuts the leaves are the first identifier. They have an elongated ovular shape with a strongly serrated edge. The leaves themselves are one of the largest you will find commonly in the countryside and longer than they are wide, growing up to a huge 28cm long and up to 9cm wide. Another clue that you’re looking at a sweet chestnut are the 20 or so pairs of veins packed closely together running down the central vein.  In the spring and summer, the leaves are a thick and glossy green, fading into a mottled amber in autumn before falling off.

You can, of course, look for these distinctive leaves in the forest floor below the tree throughout winter too.

Nut Casings

Unlike the stumpy spikes of conker casings, sweet chestnuts are significantly more prickly with sharp barbs protecting the nuts from pilfering wildlife, though they don’t seem to put squirrels off. So, a thick pair of gardening gloves is essential when trying to break them open. The technical term for the spiny casing is cupules and this shell goes from a bright vibrant green to a lighter brown as they begin to mature and decay on the ground. You will start spotting the small, young cupules as early as July.

You can tell when the chestnuts are ripe because the casing will be large and green, heading towards a lighter brown colour. They will begin to split open as they ripen, and you can often see parts of the chestnut through the cracks in the casing as they grow. The cupules typically fall over a two week period around the middle of October and you will often see bits of brown casing around the tree showing the squirrels and mice have been hard at work.

Bark

On younger trees the bark is a smooth brown or deep forest green. However older sweet chestnuts develop deep fissures running lengthways up the tree which have a tendency to twist as they grow creating a spiral of fissures around the trunk which is incredibly beautiful and distinctive. Along with the fallen nut cases, this is the most reliable indicator of a mature sweet chestnut, especially going into winter when the trees lose their leaves.

Flowers

Sweet chestnuts have long light yellow catkins that flower around June, with both the male and female parts growing together on the same tree. A catkin will contain small female flowers at the base, which become the young nut cases once they are pollinated.

how to identify sweet chestnut

Top Left: Early summer flowers. Top Right: Large leaves with a serrated edge. Bottom Left: Mature trees have a twist ini the trunk. Bottom Right: The prickly nut cases of autumn.

If you’d like to know more about how to identify common trees in the British countryside, then you could join the thousands of students already on my FREE online tree identification course, where you can learn through videos, downloadable ID sheets and photo galleries. You can enroll for your free place on the course right here.

 

How To Cook Sweet Chestnuts

One of the uses utilised by the Romans is using ground roasted chestnuts to make polenta, a traditional Italian food. Today polenta is generally made from boiled cornmeal but there is no reason you couldn’t make your own polenta with chestnuts. To make a sweet chestnut flour you need a large quantity of chestnuts, probably more than you would be able to forage but there is no reason you couldn’t try to make it with shop-bought chestnuts. If you’ve never tried polenta before, it has a porridge-like consistency when hot but can be cooled down into a solid block that can be cubed and fried and goes really well with stews. You can also try using the flour to thicken bread and cakes to give it a naturally sweet edge.

Another favourite is the roasted chestnut at Christmas, if this is something you haven’t tried I would strongly recommend incorporating roasted chestnuts into your Christmas traditions. Sweet, toasted chestnuts are such a seasonal delight, but they don’t have to be eaten just at Christmas. In October you can pick them fresh from the tree and cook them there and then in a pan on the campfire or at home in your oven. Another tradition is to substitute the pan for roasting the nuts on a garden spade. They can also be cooked right in their shells in the embers and ash of an open fire. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this ancient method of simple cooking.

campfire cooking sweet chestnuts

Above: The simplest way to cook chestnuts is to roast them right in the embers of your campfire. The nut shells protect the food inside. No need to tin foil.

To roast them in an oven, score a cross on the shells and put them in a conventional oven at 200°c for 30 minutes. Once they are cooked leave them to cool for a minute or two before peeling the shells and eating.

There are so many other ways to incorporate sweet chestnuts into your food. Add roasted chestnut chunks into chocolate brownies for added crunch or into stuffing for Sunday lunch. Try tossing roasted chestnuts in a sweet soy sauce glaze for an afternoon snack. The fantastic thing about them is that chestnuts go so well with both sweet and savoury dishes so really the only limit is your imagination.

 

Marron Glacés; a French Delicacy

Below are instructions on how to make marron glacés, a traditional French recipe for crystallised chestnuts which was popular in the 18th century. They’re a delicious treat that would make for a unique addition to the Christmas table. The chestnuts require soaking over several days so leave plenty of time to prepare them.

You will need:

  • 500g fresh peeled sweet chestnuts
  • 300ml water
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Boil the peeled sweet chestnuts in a pan for 10 minutes then drain the water and with your fingers, or a small clean cloth, peel the thin skin away.
  2. In another pan bring the vanilla extract, caster sugar and water to a boil to make a syrup. Make sure you stir continually to avoid any burning at the bottom of the pan. Simmer on a medium heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the chestnuts and simmer for another 10 minutes. Keep stirring!
  4. Take off the heat and transfer to a clean bowl and leave covered in a cool place overnight. Don’t put it in the fridge or the syrup will set and take longer to boil the next day. Leave them to soak for a minimum of 12 hours.
  5. The next day in a fresh pan, bring to the boil and cook for only 2 minutes before taking off the heat and leaving them to soak again for at least another 18 hours.
  6. Repeat this process three more times (I said you need plenty of time for this one!) until the sugar syrup has been absorbed by the sweet chestnuts.
  7. Transfer the chestnuts to a tray lined with baking paper and cook at 70°c for 1-2 hours with the oven door opened slightly. Check on them regularly; you want the syrup to harden before removing them.
  8. Once cooled they are ready to serve. Enjoy!

 

Good News; Chestnuts Are Good For You Too

Unsurprisingly sweet chestnuts offer a wealth of nutritional benefits, being a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Chestnuts are a source of carbohydrates and proteins; only 100 grams contains a third of your daily required carbohydrate intake and 44% of your daily required vitamin C intake which promotes the production of white blood cells to boost the immune system.

As well as this chestnuts also contain magnesium which helps strengthen enamel on your teeth and calcium and phosphorus which strengthens bones. You can also find your B vitamins in chestnuts which contribute towards keeping your nervous system and skin healthy as well as helping the body break down food, in fact B vitamins 1 through 6 can be found in chestnuts.

You can read a more about the detailed breakdown of the nutritional value of sweet chestnuts in this article by Health Benefits Times.

 Get further information about the benefits of B vitamins on the NHS website, right here.

 

Get More Wild Food Recipes & Foraging Videos

If all this talk of wild food has wetted your appetite for more then I have some good news for you. Here at Woodland Classroom we have created a special community, we call our Tribe, who in return for their support get access to exclusive wild food and foraging videos, recipe ideas, blogs, live hang outs and more. Sound good to you?

From as little as the price of a cup of dandelion coffee per month you could join our Tribe and not only be part of a growing and supportive nature connection community but also get a whole heap of perks available only to our Patrons. You can find out more about this community over on Patreon. When you join you’ll get immediate access to the entire back catalog of wild food, bushcraft and nature connection videos and resources we’ve created for our members. Find out more right here.

get access to exclusive foraging videos

Above: A selection of just some of the wild food videos you could access when you join our Tribe on Patreon.

make wild woodland stuffing foraging

Wild Woodland Christmas Stuffing

Do you want to bring a little WILD to your Christmas table this year? Learn how to make our delicious Wild Woodland Stuffing which includes foraged ingredients; mixed woodland mushrooms, sweet chestnut, wild garlic bulbs and nettle.

Making this stuffing not only gives you a great excuse to get out in the woods in the run up to Christmas to gather some wild ingredients, but it tastes great and it will be the talk of the table.

This stuffing recipe was created by James and Lea Kendall. We are foragers and outdoor activity leaders based in North Wales. We found that using some of the wild foods that we’d been gathering all year in this stuffing was a satisfying way to celebrate our foraging journey over the past year.

The stuffing gives a strong, earthy flavour. This recipe serves 8 – 10 people, or if you’re a smaller group then there’s enough for turkey and stuffing sandwiches on Boxing Day 🙂

wild woodland christmas stuffing recipe - foraging

INGREDIENTS

270g breadcrumbs (wholemeal works best)

30g dried wild mushrooms – we used penny buns (ceps), parasols and brown birch boletes

4 bulbs wild garlic, finely chopped, use fewer if you want a less strong garlic flavour

300g cooked and peeled sweet chestnuts, roughly chopped

2 leeks, finely chopped

25g butter, plus extra for greasing the tray

1 tbsp olive oil

15g of fresh nettle tops or dried nettle leaves, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

make wild food christmas stuffing

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C, gas mark 4.
  2. Soak dried mushrooms in 350ml boiling water for 10 minutes so they soften. Drain, keeping the liquid for later, and chop them into small pieces.
  3. Add a few tablespoons of the mushroom liquid to the breadcrumbs, gently mix and leave to soak for 5 minutes until flavoured.
  4. If using fresh nettle tops, pour boiling water over the leaves to kill the stings and leave for 5 mins before draining then chopping finely.
  5. Heat the butter and oil in a pan, add the leeks and garlic and cook until softened. Tip into a bowl and leave to cool slightly.
  6. Stir in the remaining ingredients to the bowl until well mixed up. Season with salt and pepper then form into balls and place onto a buttered tray or dish.
  7. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes until golden and crispy on the outside.

For the ultimate wild Christmas dinner, you could serve this stuffing with roast wild pheasant or partridge.

 

DISCOVER MORE FORAGING

If you want to get outdoors and learn foraging for yourself then you could come on one of our popular wild food courses.

We host our courses both in the woods in North East Wales and also regularly online through zoom sessions.

Check out our upcoming events to see what wild food courses we’re hosting soon:

VIEW EVENTS & COURSES HERE

wild food & foraging courses north wales

James & Lea host wild food and foraging course in North-East Wales. Get in touch to find out more.

A DEEPER LOOK AT THE FORAGED INGREDIENTS

In our recipe we used the following species of wild mushroom; parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), penny bun (Boletus edulis) & brown birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum). These were selected because it’s what we had available dried already. There’s no doubt that the parasols and penny buns have great flavour, however the birch bolete is more bland and not an essential ingredient for your own recipe.

If you don’t have a supply of dried wild mushrooms that you’d foraged back in autumn then you could always buy a pack from the local deli.

When gathering nettles (Urtica dioca) at this time of year, it’s all about beating the frosts so you don’t get withered leaves. Only pick the top four leaves of the nettle and go for the plants which are in good condition and still young. They can be found in December, especially if you look where land has been grazed or cut, so you get nettle regrowth.

Unless you have had the mystic foresight to roast and then freeze some foraged sweet chestnuts back in the autumn, you’re probably going to have to head to the shops again.

wild garlic bulbs foraging

Notice the shape of the bulb; tapering at either end and bulbous in the middle. Length is around 5-6cm.

DIGGING UP WILD GARLIC BULBS – GOOD PRACTISE

If you’re thinking of digging up wild garlic (Allium ursinum) bulbs then bear in mind that you’re are actually removing the wild plant from it’s habitats, not just harvesting the leaves which renew each year. So there’s a coupe of things we need to think about here so we’re exercising good practise as foragers:

  1. It is the law in the UK that you need the landowner’s permission to uproot any wild plant.
  2. You should only dig up bulbs from a spot where you know there to be an abundance of wild garlic in the spring, that way we’re only taking a very small amount of what’s in the ground.
  3. If you dig up any other bulbs that are not wild garlic then they must go back where and as you found them.
wild bluebell bulbs

You can see here that bluebell bulbs are a different shape to wild garlic bulbs too.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning english bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) which also grow from bulbs and can often by found in amongst wild garlic at ancient woodland sites. We don’t want to be digging these up and eating them, they are poisonous.

If the bulbs you’re digging up don’t smell strongly of garlic then they’re not what you’re looking for. So, give the bulb a sniff before putting it in your basket. Bear in mind that when handling a lot of garlic your fingers will start smelling of it too so make sure you’re smelling the bulbs and not your fingers 😉

toffee apple slices - campfire cooking

Tired of Marshmallows Over the Campfire? Try This!

Are you looking for a simple but tasty treat that could go head-to-head with marshmallows as the number one campfire snack with kids? Well look no further…

We cook A LOT of marshmallows over the campfire with kids when we host our Forest School sessions and Woodland Birthday Parties. We know children love them, but they are not exactly a nutritionists best friend. They also contain gelatine made from pork or beef and we’re getting a lot more requests from parents who want vegetarian or vegan friendly campfire snacks for their kids when they come out to the woods with us. Last but not least, they’re sticky residue is a nightmare to get out of your clothes. Luckily, we have the solution.

Toffee Apple Slices are our alternative to marshmallows and kids love them! Granted they’re still coated in sugar but kids are getting some fruit down them and this recipe is vegan too. Our favourite sugar to use is coconut blossom sugar, as it less refined and less processed than regular sugar but any soft brown sugar will do the trick. They make a great hot campfire snack anytime of the year, especially in the autumn when you can walk out to an apple tree and pick the fruit straight from the branch.

Ingredients

  • Apples
  • Light or Dark Brown Soft Sugar
  • Cinnamon and Nutmeg – add to taste

Cooking Method

  1. To get a fire that really makes the most mouth-watering toffee apple slices it’s best to let your flames die down and roast your apples over the hot coals – just like you would with a bbq. This will save them from burning.
  2. First gently roast your apple slice over the fire until it begins to go soft and the pulp starts to bubble up.
  3. Next, dip your hot apple slice in a tray of soft brown sugar until it is well coated. Be careful it doesn’t fall off the stick.
  4. Roast your coated apple slice over the fire again until the sugar starts to melt.
  5. Now for the final touch… let your apple slice cool for a minute and the sugar will harden up and give your apple a crispy toffee coating – simply delicious.
  6.  Eat and repeat!
  7. For a slightly spiced variant on this snack then try sprinkling some cinnamon and/or nutmeg into the sugar. Ginger would work well too.

cooking toffee apple slices outdoors

Which Wood Should You Use?

For your roasting stick we would recommend using either a hazel, willow or sycamore stick. At Forest School this can be a whole activity in itself, identifying the tree in the woods, cutting a suitable branch responsibly and reducing the damage to the tree, then practising some basic whittling skills by slicing away the bark near the tip and making a sharp point.

We would recommend using green (fresh) sticks from a tree as they are more resistant to the fire than dead twigs, so will last longer.

sycamore tree - leaf and bud

Sycamore – the winter twig and full leaf.

FUN FACT: Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) actually contains it’s own natural antibacterial and antiviral properties, which is one reason why it is very sought after for use in kitchenware. This makes it a really safe wood to use for roasting sticks when out in the woods with kids.

Full disclosure, I personally can’t stand marshmallows, even though I cook so many, so I was very glad to discover this tasty alternative. Thanks to the Forest School Leader who shared this cooking idea with us at a skill share training day in Derbyshire last year, I can’t remember your name but we’re forever grateful 🙂

Happy cooking everyone.

James

 

James and Lea Kendall from Woodland Classroom

James & Lea Kendall are the creators of Woodland Classroom. “Through our passion, enthusiasm and experience we help people connect with nature, feel healthier and have meaningful experiences through positive activity and creative play.”

“We are experienced outdoor educators with a background in bushcraft, forest school and nature therapy, who love what we do.”

tasty bread from a dutch oven

My Bushcraft Journal: Part #2 Baking in a Dutch Oven

Baking bread out in the woods has always been one of those mystic arts to me. Something that, like tool sharpening, seems shrouded in mystery. With my ongoing Bushcraft Instructor training I thought it was high time that I made an effort to try it for myself. What’s the worst that could happen?

I also had a 4 litre dutch oven sitting in my shed, which was a Christmas present 2 years ago. I always felt a bit guilty when I came across it. So it was time to do it justice.

I’ve seen it done before but couldn’t for the life of me remember the exact method the teacher used at the time. So when it came to our next bushcraft training sessions I told everyone that I would bake them a loaf for the evening. The challenge was on.

The trick to using a dutch oven, as far as I understood it, was to get an even heat around the whole pot so that your bread would bake all round. So what was needed was a campfire that had been burning for a while to produce a good amount of hot coals, more like what you’d get in a barbecue. It’s this bed of coals and ember that makes an effective cooking fire, rather than roaring flames. I actually brought along some Welsh charcoal for the bake as I wasn’t sure what state the communal fire would be in by the time I came to experiment. This worked really well but I imagine if you use hardwood firewood and burn it down to coals it would be just as good.

cooking bread in a dutch oven for bushcraft

Above: This is not the same loaf as I cooked as it was dark by the time I was baking. You can see though how the coals have been placed on top of the oven lid it help it bake with an even heat.

The good news is that the loaf was a success! In fact it was one of the best loaves I’ve ever tasted, and even better that it was fresh out of the oven. Everyone complimented my on it and the mystery of using a dutch oven is firmly behind me, though I imagine there’s a lot to learn yet. For anyone who wants to give it a go for themselves I’m going to share that tasty recipe with you now….

STOUT & FRUIT SODA BREAD

This recipe fed 6 adults with a very generous slice of bread. They all loved it. Any left over stout can be generously gifted to a camping buddy that likes that sort of thing. I prefer cider myself. Having enjoyed this loaf myself I can say that it was delicious straight out the oven and didn’t even need any butter to improve it though you can try that if you like. It tasted more like a cake than bread 🙂

WHAT YOU NEED

4 litre dutch oven • large mixing bowl • mixing spoon (whittled by yourself preferably) • a metal dish that will sit in the bottom of your oven • 4 small stones (trust me)

INGREDIENTS

2 big overflowing handfuls of strong wholemeal flour

2 big overflowing handfuls of strong plain flour

A half handful of sugar (caster sugar is best as it’s finer)

1 heaped tablespoon of baking powder

1 good pinch of salt

1 big overflowing handful of mixed dry fruit

1 egg

1 can of stout

Keep some extra spare flour left aside for dusting the metal dish

METHOD

Mix up all the dry ingredients together. I did this in advance before the trip and put them in a plastic tub so it would save doing it around the campfire at night.

In your mixing bowl make a well in the middle of the dry mix and add crack the egg in. Then mix with your wooden spoon.

Slowly add the stout until all the dry ingredients are mixed in and you have a ball of dough that holds it shape.

Coat your metal dish in a light layer of your spare flour. This will stop the bread from sticking to the dish.

Place your dough onto the floured dish and sprinkle a little sugar on top.

Now it’s time to use those 4 mysterious small stones. These are placed evenly spaced at the bottom of the dutch oven. The metal dish is then placed on top of these so it sits comfortably. What this does is elevate the dish from the bottom of the dutch oven to allow the air to circulate. This all helps prevent the lower crust from burning.

Place the lid onto the oven and pop it into your campfire.

We surrounded the oven with a ring of charcoal and placed some hot coals evenly on top. This is the part of the process that inly experience can teach you and I’m looking forward to trying this recipe again and seeing if the cooking time changes. I imagine it depends on how hot your fire is and how even the coals are around your oven.

I checked the loaf after 15 minutes and we all agreed it needed longer.

I cooked my loaf for 25-30 minutes but I think i could have got away with taking it out a bit sooner. You will see some burn on the left hand side of the close up picture. This is where there was a flaming log placed right up against the dutch oven so I think it caused that side of the oven to be hotter.

The last tip I was given was to use a clean knife to push into the middle of the loaf. If it comes out clean then the bread is ready.

tasty bread from a dutch oven

Above: The complete loaf. Not bad at all for a first effort. In fact it was one of the best breads I’ve ever tasted.

By the way, did you know that the phrase “the upper crust” comes from a time when those who could afford it would get the more valuable upper section of the loaf rather than the often burnt bottom. So the rich were referred to at the “upper crust.”

I hope this has inspired you to try dutch oven baking for yourself. I’ve definitely got the hook and have made a promise to myself to try a different recipe each time I go camping now. Suddenly the world of outdoor baking has completely open up to me. It’s a real sense of achievement.

Thanks for reading.

James K

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