Saturday, 11 June 2016

Urban foraging - How to find your dinner in a park




This post is based on a recent article I wrote for the Yorkshire Post Magazine. The beautiful cheese featured in the photograph above is a soft goat's cheese, hand made by Lisa Cutcliffe of Edulis Wild Food. Lisa wraps the soft cheese curds in muslin lined with the flowers and leaves of herbs - in this case 'Herb Robert' and allows the whey to drain away. The cheese is unwrapped when ready to reveal the  herbs. A link to the original article in the Yorkshire Post can be found here......

The sky threatens rain as dark clouds scud across the sky. I am in Meanwood Park, 72 acres of beautiful woodland, situated a stone’s throw from the centre of Leeds for an afternoon of urban foraging with Lisa Cutcliffe, who has a passion for finding, cooking and eating all things wild and delicious. Her company Edulis runs wild food cooking days and foraging courses for enthusiastic beginners, chefs, community groups, herbalists and adventurous home cooks.


Cities are not the first place I think of foraging for food but Lisa puts me right “There can easily be 40-50 different edible species of plants in a typical park. Foraging isn’t just about nettles and blackberries, there’s so much more! There are edible seeds, leaves, flowers, fungi, roots, shoots and fruits with the most amazing shapes, flavours and textures to be found”. 

Our four hour forage begins with a safety briefing and a gentle stroll, dodging rain showers as we go. There are five others in our group. The youngest is 7 year old Jacob Dent who has come along with his grandfather Neil; Inava Iman, a student studying Arabic and International Relations at the University of Leeds and David and, Barbara Hudson from South Yorkshire who have been given the course as a gift.

We haven’t walked far before I see Lisa pointing to a slim branch of beautiful pink flowers. “Cherry blossom makes a wonderful marzipan-flavoured syrup. The Japanese celebrate cherry blossoms, regarding their brief flowering period as a metaphor for the transience of life.”

I know a few edible wild plants but it is not long before Lisa takes me into unfamiliar territory as she points out a shrub bearing masses of tiny, brilliant orange flowers. “This is one of my favourite plants, Darwin’s barberry. The flowers are surprisingly tangy, and there will soon be bunches of small, blue berries hanging below the spiny stems. They taste tart but make a delicious vinegar.” 

Lisa holds a St George's mushroom on the left and common vetch on the right.

In a patch of earth the simple white flowers of alpine strawberries push up from their leaves. “In a few weeks they will form tiny strawberries tasting like bubblegum” Lisa comments as her eyes comb the area for more edibles. She points out a stand of wild raspberry canes growing nearby.

Lisa’s interest in nature began with her parents and grandparents. She remembers poring over their field guides on wildflowers, butterflies and birds at her family home in Winchester, near the New Forest. She went on to study biology at Leeds University.

I ask Lisa what she cooks at home. “Nearly all my meals contain a foraged ingredient. I even top an ‘emergency’ shop-bought pizza with wild garlic pesto and weeds from the garden when I haven’t got time to cook!”

About 15 years ago Lisa learned the highly-prized porcini mushroom, Boletus edulis, grew in the UK and made it her mission to find one. It took several years but sparked an interest in finding and identifying wild fungi. “Mushrooms are fun because you have to really study them and they’re more elusive and less predictable than plants, meaning finding edible fungi is all the more rewarding.”

Lisa’s enthusiasm is infectious. She spots another plant growing in the grass. Unprompted, young Jacob tells us “it’s a ribwort plantain”. Delighted he knew this, she explains “You can eat the green bud before the halo of tiny white flowers appears, they’re great in a stir-fry. You can also use the mature seeds in breads and seed mixes.”

As we shelter beneath an ash tree from another shower Lisa offers us tiny jars of pickled ash keys and wild garlic flower buds to taste. We crunch the samples and savour the delicately-sweetened pickling mixture. This is a delightful experience. They taste wonderful.

Nibbling as we go - Inava Iman tries bitter cress and Lisa tempts us with pickled ash keys
We meander in a loose crocodile formation into a thickly-wooded area where we discover patches of wood sorrel with heart-shaped leaves, arranged in threes, and bearing tiny white flowers. We taste the delicate leaves and I am struck by the zingy, citrus flavour. “That’s the oxalic acid you can taste. “To me, wood sorrel tastes of Granny Smith’s apple skin. It’s delicious in salads”, Lisa tells us.

My favourite find was the delicate, winding tendrils and purple flowers of common vetch which tasted of fresh garden peas. We found mint and watercress growing by a stream. “These should always be picked from above the waterline.” Lisa advises.

We spotted bistort, a kind of dock used to make the traditional West Yorkshire dish ‘dock pudding’; coltsfoot flowers used to make cough medicine, and jack-by-the-hedge, a delicious garlic-and mustard-flavoured leaf.

The most curious thing we sampled were slithers of immature stinkhorn known as a witch’s egg - found clustered around the roots of a wind-felled tree.

Lisa holding the witch's egg. It had a strong 'mushroomy' flavour.



I was also fascinated by the tiny, golden disc-shaped seeds of common hogweed, which taste of bitter oranges. Lisa uses them to flavour pannacotta, tagine and spiced cakes.

We ended with a gastronomic finale sitting at a picnic bench in the park. Sipping cups of steaming hot linden-blossom tea, we slathered homemade goat’s cheese, flavoured with five different types of wild garlic, on crisp biscuits with chutneys, tucked into lilac cupcakes, crunched through crystallised douglas fir needles and sampled lilac blossom vodka.

And what was the point of this foraging? I was reminded in our age of ready meals, fast food and obesity how much more there is to food that buying it off the shelf in a supermarket. I learned about the importance of seasons, how food grows, the range of natural flavours in wild plants and how to use common wild foods in my everyday recipes.

I will keep in mind the wise words of Michael Pollan, food activist and author of Food Rules who advises “Eat wild foods when you can.” They are some of the most nutritious, tasty foods around.

Lilac blossom flavoured cupcakes and some really gorgeous infusions made with foraged ingredients.

Tips for safe and sustainable foraging:
  • Know what is edible and what is not. ‘If in doubt, leave it out’ 
  • Use reputable books to help identify edible plants and fungi 
  • Sign up for a course with an experienced tutor 
  • Learn when plants are in season, this can help to identify them 
  • Do not uproot whole plants without permission and never take everything from a colony of any species 
  • Learn about poisonous ‘look-a-likes’. Lily of the valley leaves can look like wild garlic 
  • Check local bye laws to see if foraging is allowed, for example it may be a SSSI 
  • Avoid picking from the edge of busy roads or a path where dogs walk and plants can be gritty. 
A big thank you to Lisa for taking me foraging.

Further details of Lisa’s forging courses can be found at www.eduliswildfood.co.uk

Follow the link here to read the original article published in the Yorkshire Post Magazine June 4th 2016

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Smoking is back on the menu. Behind the scenes at Yorkshire's holy smokery.

Jamie Roberts - Managing partner, Kilnsey Estate

It is a bright, crisp morning and I am in the Yorkshire Dales at the Kilnsey Park Estate to find out more about its plans for The Yorkshire Holy Smokery, an artisan smoke house with links stretching back to the Cistercian monks at Fountains Abbey who lived on the estate from the 12th century.

In the distance a towering, overhanging limestone cliff, known as Kilney Crag looms above the road and towards the River Wharfe. White clouds scud across a wide, blue sky above this ancient landscape sculpted from craggy heather coated hills and rich, grass covered dales. In the distance I can see Mastiles Lane, the Roman road that would have formed part of the historic connection between Fountains Abbey and its lands in the Dales.



Kilnsey Park Estate has been raising trout for many years and its two large fresh water spring fed trout ponds are popular for fly fishing. A less well known gem in the crown of the estate is a small smokery situated by the trout raceways where fingerlings are raised to maturity in crystal clear, limestone filtered water that races down from the surrounding hills. 

The smokery began in the 1980s and has gained a reputation among local food lovers for its small range of exquisite, traditionally smoked food. Earlier this year its reputation became national when its smoked duck achieved three gold stars in the prestigious Guild of Fine Foods, Great Taste Awards and its cold smoked trout received a gold star.




Like its Michelin counterpart, the Guild of Fine Foods, do not give their stars away easily. Of 10,000 products entered for the awards only 130 foods achieved the most coveted three star rating; that’s only one per cent.


I am here to meet Jamie Roberts, the managing partner of the estate who tells me “The inspiration behind the success of the Kinsey smokery is his mother Vanessa who learned how to smoke food from Jurg Bleiker, the founder of Bleiker's smokehouse situated in North Yorkshire. We use fine quality local ingredients raised here on the estate or sourced locally. The recipes used in preparing meat and fish for smoking are rooted in the history of the Kilnsey Estate.” 


Jamie, who takes an active interest in local history says “The sense of history is strong in this part of the Dales. Cistercian monks arrived on the Estate gifted to them in 1155. For almost four hundred years the Craven area supported vast flocks of sheep and generated huge wealth for Fountains Abbey - until Henry VIII seized their lands at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The monks were astute business men and Kilnsey hosted annual sheep gatherings where thousands of sheep were washed, sheared and traded - a tradition that continues at the Kilnsey Show today.

Merchants from across Europe came to Kilnsey to buy the high quality wool and in return the monks were able to purchase luxuries such as salt (which was vital for preserving food for the winter months) and spices which they used in elaborate dishes to impress their guests.

“It is hard to envisage colourful Venetian traders visiting the Yorkshire Dales but they would have been a familiar site here in the 16th century” says Jamie. “The salt and spices they brought with them were highly prized - in fact salt was so valued by the monks it was more expensive than gold.”

Salt was served in elaborate silver or pewter salt cellars, strategically positioned on the table to indicate the status of the visitor. Spices such as mace, cinnamon and nutmeg from the spice Island of Indonesian were also used to flavour food for elaborate feasts which the monks used to host here”

Drawing on Kilnsey’s long history Jamie is working on plans to expand the range of food the smokery produces. A new premium line of free range sausages, chicken and Yorkshire cheese will join the exisitng award winning smoked duck and trout. I was given the chance to sample each of the new products all of which were superb - just great for simple, but impressive meals for family and friends.

Like the monks, the Yorkshire Holy Smokery is sourcing its produce from the surrounding green valleys. The recipes used to prepare the smoked ingredients are being carefully researched with the help of a local food historian to reflect the use of some of the ingredients and methods the monks would have used during the middle ages.


These include fresh herbs such as tarragon, spices including mace and cardamom and wild native fruits such as sloes and juniper. Today the Estate keeps its own bees, which feed on the blooming heather which covers the expansive Wharfedale moorland in late summer - just as they did in monastic times. The smokehouse has been experimenting with using mead (an ancient liqueur brewed from honey) as a flavouring .

“Smoking food is about much more than lighting a fire and sitting back for the smoke to work its magic on the food - for instance the type of wood used to smoke the food creates subtly different flavours” says Jamie. Whereas most commercial smokehouses use oak or beech Jamie is exploring other local woods to see if they work.

“We are exploring the use of Rowan trees which were considered holy and could only be used for religious purposes. They were also associated with Saint Brighid the patron saint of spinning and weaving and used to make spinning wheels.”

Using smoke to preserve meat and fish is an ancient craft and, in the days before fridges, it was a principle method of food preservation. The time honoured smoking process begins now as it always has with salting fish and meat in a solution of brine infused with combinations of natural, aromatics to suit the inherent flavour of the food.

After salting, the food to be smoked is placed on racks in the smokery where wood shavings are set alight. The smoke house here at Kilnsey is a smallish, dark room lit from a picture window to one side. Through it there is a beautiful view of the surrounding Estate. The smoking kiln stretches along the back wall of the room. Woodsmoke billows through the oven, gently infusing the food. Today smoking food is as much about developing different flavours textures as preserving the food.

Jamie’s plan to expand the range of smoked food on sale from the estate is timely. Smoking food is undergoing something of a renaissance, as talented chefs and specialist restaurants realise its almost limitless potential to add flavour and texture to food.

Paul Rawlinson, owner of the acclaimed Nordic, Harrogate based restaurant Norse says “Yorkshire and Nordic countries have a lot in common in terms of how food was smoked and preserved in the past. Smoking food gives chefs the opportunity to be inventive with flavours. Two of our most popular dishes are smoked Jerusalem artichoke puree spread on bread and scattered with puffed buckwheat and a pudding of smoked fudge sauce with coffee cake. People are interested in the revival of traditional techniques, connecting with nature and eating local food. Smoking food is also relatively simple to do at home.”



The link with the Cistercian monks inspired Jamie to come up with a new name - The Yorkshire Holy Smokery - and the latest range of products will be launched early in 2016.

In researching this article I discovered many well known smoke houses are located on industrial estates. Very different from beautiful well sustained environments like this
I asked Jamie how he thought The Yorkshire Smokery differs from other smoke houses. “ We pride ourselves on being a small scale family run smoke house which will produce excellent quality smoked food. Ever since my family came to live here we have had a strong commitment to looking after the Dales which includes taking care of a wildflower nature reserve, breeding red squirrels and generating green energy from water and the sun. And we welcome visitors who can see for themselves the environment in which our food is produced.” 

This is just the place to rear and process food I thought as I took a final glance up at the magnificent Kilnsey Crag and the limestone landscape before leaving for home.

Five key facts about the Kilnsey Estate

  • The Kilnsey Park Estate has been in the Roberts family for four generations. It was bought by Jamie’s great, great, grand father Betram Roberts in 1911. Bertram Roberts was the son of Sir James Roberts who in 1893 took over the running of the famous Salt’s Mill from the family of its founder Sir Titus Salt 
  • The Kilnsey Crag Race, held annually in late August is widely recognised as the most spectacular fell-race in the country. 
  • The Kilnsey Angling Club was established in 1840 and is the second oldest angling club in the UK 
  • Kilnsey is home to the UK’s rarest wild flower - the Lady’s Slipper orchid and hosts the annual Wild About Orchids Festival 
  • The Kilnsey Show is one of the regions largest agricultural shows and has been taking place for almost 120 years. It attracts about 1500 visitors annually. 
For an update on the plans for the Yorkshire Holy Smokery and visitor details www.kilnseypark.co.uk

This article was published in the Yorkshire Post Magazine December 6th 2015

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Cantuccini


These gorgeous cantuccini are made from a recipe I adapted from Jeremy Lee from when he was at the Blue Print cafe. The recipe appeared in the Guardian in 2000. Jeremy credits his pastry chef 'Andeas' with the recipe which works wonderfully.  Cantuccini last for ages in an airtight container and give all of the shop bought ones a run for their money. Traditionally served with vin santo the sweet Italian dessert wine but equally lovely dunked in cappuccino or any dark sweet wine or sherry. 

Makes 36


Just some things to note about making them. 
  • Make sure the butter is soft when the icing sugar is added. Mix the butter and icing sugar together with a wooden spoon before beating with an electric mixer otherwise clouds of icing sugar rise from the bowl.
  • Wash your hands before making the logs. Slightly moist hands make rolling the logs easier. 
  • Allow a couple of centimetres between the logs on the baking tray. They expand and spread a little while they cook.
Other than that just enjoy making them. They are delicious.




Friday, 15 January 2016

New book - Cooking for the Sensitive Gut published by Pavilion



We are delighted to announce the publication of our book Cooking For The Sensitive Gut by Pavilion Books. Written, cooked, styled and photographed by me in collaboaration with my partner Dr Nick Read, a consultant gastroenterologist and psychotherapist and an expert in working with patients with a sensitive gut. It is all about what you can eat, rather than what you can't. It is the perfect guide to how to prepare a whole range of delicious recipes that are fun to cook and delicious to eat without triggering symptoms or risking nutritional deficiency. Brilliant reviews already in from Kevin Wheelan, Professor of Dietetics at Kings College, London and Professor Peter Gibson, Director of Gastroenterology at Monash University, Melbourne Australia (see below).

You can buy copies of the book at at AmazonWaterstones and other major bookshops.

Here is a quick look at some of the recipes in the book. We also have another website to accompany the book with all sorts of recipes, tips, ideas and suggestions about how to manage a sensitive gut. Have a look at www.cookingforthesensitivegut.com



Chocolate pots with salted almond butter

Chicken tray bake
Spelt sour dough
Salmon, quinoa and crispy potato salad with blueberry and maple syrup dressing



Banana vanilla and pecan nut cake (gluten free) 
Reviews
Eating is one of the great personal and social pleasures of life. Restricting food choice can severely compromise such enjoyment and nutritional adequacy. Joan Ransley and Nick Read clearly outline the tools needed to effectively and safely control symptoms of IBS [when the gut is sensitive] by choosing food wisely, but show how this can be done without losing the sheer fun and pleasure of eating. For those who think diets for IBS are boring, look no further!

Professor Peter Gibson, Director of Gastroenterology at Alfred Hospital and Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. 

Cooking For The Sensitive Gut is more than just a compendium of recipes for people with irritable bowel syndrome. It contains a detailed review of irritable bowel syndrome, including an explanation of why people develop a sensitive gut, the components in food that might exacerbate symptoms and importantly non-food related causes of symptoms such as stress and mood. Together with the review of the potential for diet to benefit gut symptoms and a series of delicious recipes, the book provides a realistic portrayal of the multifaceted causes of a sensitive gut and the potential harm that can come from overly restricted diets. However, what is unique is that this overview is referenced to scientific research studies, unsurprising given that the authors are themselves experts in nutrition and gut function. Cooking For The Sensitive Gut should empower people to manage symptoms of a sensitive gut whilst still following a varied and tasty diet. 

Kevin Whelan, Professor of Dietetics, King’s College, London.





Saturday, 9 January 2016

Chocolate, pear and almond pots

This lovely, warm mid winter pudding is chocolatey without being too rich and is coupled with the delicate flavour of poached pear and toasted almonds. It is simple to mix up and cook in a warm oven half submerged in a bain marie to stop it curdling. 
I have made the custard with a non dairy milk called @Chocoloat which is made by a company called Provitamil. I write their blog posts and take some of the photographs for the website. These are out takes from this weeks work. I have posted them because the recipe has turned out much better than I had thought it would. And if you fancy giving Oatdrink a try do. The plain and the chocolate flavoured versions are great substitutes for cow's milk.


Chocolate, pear and almond pots


This delicious quick to make, nutritious pudding is suitable for a lactose free diet and will be popular with children. It also contains chopped pear which contributes to your ‘5 A Day’. Pear, chocolate and almond are three flavours that go together particularly well but you could vary the recipe and add cherries when in season. Banana and a sprinkle of toasted coconut would be nice too. 

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 large pear (Comice or similar)
  • 4 tsp good quality cocoa powder
  • 25 g cornflour 
  • 400 ml Chocoloat
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tbsp almond flakes, toasted

To decorate
  • Dried raspberries and a drizzle of dark chocolate (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / Gas mark 4. Place a  deep roasting tin containing 5cm / 2 in of warm water in the oven. This is your bain marie. 

Peel and core the pear and cut it into equal pieces. Arrange these pieces at the bottom of each ramekin. Place the cocoa powder and the cornflour into a bowl and gradually add enough Chocoloat to make a smooth paste. Add the ground almonds and the remaining Chocoloat and stir in the beaten egg and honey.

Place the ramekins in the bain marie and cook the Chocoloat, pear and almond pots in the oven for approximately 20 - 25 minutes or until set. Serve warm, topped with the toasted almonds and drizzled chocolate. Serve with extra poached pears.