Simon King, chef/proprietor at restaurant 1861 near Abergavenny, is a keen forager, here he gives the lowdown on what’s free from the hedgerows
I like to make use of the wild larder, taking freshly picked leaves and flowers to add to salads, risottos and puddings, among a myriad other things.
One of my favourites is wild garlic. Its pungent scent in shady wooded areas is unmistakeable. And its lovely white flowers look like snowfall.
Nettles are another big hitter. Pick the fresh new shoots at the top, and use them like spinach, served on their own, or in an omelette or risotto.
This year I picked my first elderflowers in late April, the first time I have had them that early. Throughout May, however, they will be out in even greater profusion.
Elderflower fritters make a wonderful pudding, the delicate scent of the flowers providing a light perfume. I use a tempura batter, which is very light, then deep fry the fritters quickly.
The elder might not be the most magnificent of trees, not like a mighty oak or a graceful beech, but it is a fabulous wild foodstore.
Throughout the year, it provides us with a fantastic range of different ingredients.
The young shoots of the tree when pale and green, are rather like asparagus. Just peel and trim them, and boil them in lightly salted water and serve with a little butter and a dash of lemon.
The elder tree hosts a mushroom called Tree Ear that actually looks like an ear in shape. It’s best when dried and reconstituted as the texture improves, along with the flavour.
I have had them deep fried, and they take this very well.
These mushrooms pretty much have a year-round season. After a dry spell, they disappear into the bark, but re-emerge like magic once we have a shower of rain.
Another unusual wild offering is the dandelion flower which can be coated in a light batter, deep fried, and served with honey ice cream. Dandelion leaves, when blanched to take away the bitterness, are great in salads. Blanched in this case means covered while still growing, so that the leaves become white.
The trick with wild foraging is only take what you need for that day. Firstly, the pressure on the countryside is immense, so we cannot afford to plunder its offerings, and secondly, wild food is at its best when super fresh.
Goat’s cheese and pickled beetroot with foraged leaf salad
250g goat cheese log
12 baby beetroot cooked and peeled
250mls white wine vinegar
250g caster sugar
1 tsp pickling spices- peppercorns, coriander seeds, dried chilli, mustard seeds, bay leaf, sprig of thyme
100g salad leaves – sorrel, dandelion, wild garlic, or a regular pack from the greengrocer
A little olive oil
Boil the vinegar, stir in the caster sugar and the pickling spices, pour over the cooked beetroot and leave to cool overnight.
The beetroot can be eaten straight away but will improve by storing in a cool dark place for a month.
To serve, slice the goat cheese into 12 even slices . Place three slices on each plate and accompany each slice with a pickled beetroot.
Toss the salad leaves in a little olive oil and the vinegar from the beetroot, season and divide between four plates.
You can use entirely foraged leaves, or add leaves to supplement the salad you have.
Edible hedgerow and garden flowers such as garlic, nasturtium, pansy, cornflower and borage add the finishing touches. You can also use the flowers from courgette and fennel plants.