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I bought this book a couple of years ago. I was very interested because I love foraging, but I felt I needed a pocket guide to check when going to the countryside to pick some wild greens. Possibly it is the best book in the British market teaching about this topic, apart from Richard Mabey’s Food for Free bible.

About the author

John Wright is a regular lecturer and guide at River Cottage HQ, natural from Dorset and passionate about foraging: picking  hedgerow fruits, mushrooms or seashore greens and molluscs. He describes himself lucky by turning a hobby into a job and encouraging people to forage through his writing, guided walks, talks and media appearances.

Wrights’ style is knowledgeable, very entertaining, witty and humorous. Well written, in plain English and avoiding very scientific terms, John is the kind of person you would like to go for a long walk with. He is always reminding little stories, anecdotes and curiosities that make the read even more interesting.

About the book

The book itself is a practical guide to gathering edible greens from the countryside, describing the main plant species in the British Isles and including poisonous species you could mix them up with.

The first part of the book is an introduction by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall followed by a forager’s calendar and a short prologue about conservation and laws. The core of the book is the collection of perfectly illustrated fact sheets about edible plants which the book is all about, featuring after that some poisonous species to avoid. At the end of the book you can find yummy and simple recipes to cook all your pickings.

The best thing about the book is the fact that is portable, so you can pop this book in your rucksack when going out to the countryside. Since I bought this book I have improved my knowledge in foraging and I feel quite confident when going into the woods. I also bought N0.1 Mushrooms and No.5 Seashore and highly recommend these reads and hope you find it as interesting as I did!

 

English asparagus

English asparagus

One of the most celebrated seasonal vegetables in Britain is the asparagus. It’s a gem only available in the UK for a short period of time in spring and it’s worth waiting for the season. Freshly picked, it has a powerful unique flavour that stand-out in your meals.

When is the growing season?

Nowadays, asparagus is available almost all year round in supermarkets but it will only be at their best in season, traditionally starting the 23rd April in St George’s Day and ending the 23rd June in Midsummers Day. Asparagus is very climate dependent, so they depend on the weather that may change the seasons.

The native English asparagus (asparagus officinalis) is the green variety, as it is matured in the sunshine, contrasting with the white variety, which is deprived of light when growing. They take roughly 3 to 4 years to produce from the day the seed is planted and need saline soils because the plant often originated in maritime habitats, what makes an appreciated vegetable difficult to grow.

The only edible part of the vegetable are the young shoots, and in fact, the word comes from the Greek ‘asparagos’, meaning ‘sprout’.

The Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire is renowned for ‘gras’ production, as they call them. The British Asparagus Festival is held in town, where numerous events take place throughout the Vale, making this a good opportunity to show the people the power of this vegetable. Several local pubs and restaurants offer special asparagus menus and all the local farmers’ markets sell them along the county.

Select and storage your asparagus

When you buy asparagus in your local market, go for firm and smooth stalks with an evenly bright green colour and compact and unwrinkled heads, but do not get obsessed for the appearance, as sometimes imperfect vegetables are the tastiest.  The most important thing is to look for freshly cut ends.

Asparagus are recommended to be stored in a vase of water as flowers and they will stay firm for up to a week, but they can also keep well in the fridge for a few days. It is always advised to eat them as freshest as possible to not lose all the flavour.

The vegetable is grown in sandy soil, so always make sure you wash them thoroughly removing any grit before cooking. Cut any tough ends or peel with a vegetable peeler if necessary.

Preparation and cooking

Asparagus is easy and simple to prepare and can be cooked in many ways. In general terms, fine thin asparagus suit for slightly grilling, stir-frying, roasting so you can appreciate their crispness. Thicker spears are good for steaming, as you can appreciate their tender meaty texture with hollandaise sauce, butter or any other dressing. Very fresh asparagus are perfect very lightly steamed with a squirt of lemon or even tossed raw in salads.

When you decide to boil or steam, it is always wise to tie them in bundles of a dozen of even–sized spears for cooking, so they can be removed all at once. Boil for roughly 5 minutes upright with the steams submersed in salted water, so the tender tips get lightly steamed.

Asparagus wilts when it is overcooked, so make sure you check the spears are tender enough with the point of a knife and carefully leave the bundle out, lay on to a tea towel to drain. When served, they are ideally eaten slightly warm, not being too hot.

Recipes

The best way to enjoy your fresh asparagus is using it in a salad. Select the youngest and finest spears, chop roughly and combine with fresh peas, sundried tomato, feta cheese and lemon dressing. You can also prepare a warm salad by steaming for a minute or two.

Maybe, the most common way in Britain are grilled or roasted with lemon butter or steamed and covered in hollandaise sauce, but there are plenty of possibilities with this versatile and delicate ingredient: asparagus frittata, risotto, cheese gratins, stir-fries, stews, pickled, wrapped in Serrano ham or smoked salmon or turned into soup or cream.

A good seasonal combo would be tossed with morels, stir fried with wild garlic and lemon butter or taking the advantage of the wide range of spring greens, which certainly, will make your meals more exciting.

 

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Rapeseed

Driving through the British countryside in spring you will notice the burgeoning yellow fields that dominate the British countryside. Rapeseed is growing in popularity to elaborate truly distinctive oil very much appreciated by top chefs.

What is rapeseed?

 The unfortunate name derives from the latin for turnip (rapa) and refers to Brassica napus, a bright yellow flowering member of the cabbage family. Rapeseed is cultivated mainly for its oil-rich seed, but leaves and stems are also edible, eaten in Asian cultures as a substitute of bok choi and spinach.

Taste and use

The popularity of rapeseed oil continues to grow with British top chefs and the oil is marketed as a local answer to extra virgin olive oil. In fact, it’s claimed to be healthier, but seems that not everyone agrees.

Cold pressed rapeseed oil has a distinctive and subtle smell and flavour, nutty for some and cabbagey for others. It is very often infused in different flavours, being commonly found in chilli, lemon, garlic and smoked varieties.

The oil is pretty much used like any other vegetable oil and it is a good dressing for salads, drizzled on bread or combined in sauces. The smoke point of around 220ºC makes it ideal for use in baking, roasting and stir fries.

The process of cold pressing

Cold pressing is the traditional way to produce vegetable oil, gently squeezed out of the seed at temperatures below 40ºC, in order to preserve natural nutrients and flavours. Once settled, the oil is filtered to purify the final product before being bottled.

Good rapeseed oil is neither heated nor refined in the process, resulting in fine and healthy natural oil. This means slight variations in flavour and appearance from season to season.

Be aware there is a huge difference between a nice rapeseed oil and the cheap supermarket counterpart, usually processed with nasty additions and sometimes leaving a bitter aftertaste.

Cultivation and production

Nowadays it is a readily available product in this country and it is increasingly being seen as a gourmet dressing to rival Mediterranean olive oil. Rapeseed oil is the third most important crop grown in Britain after wheat and barley and local production has been doubled in the last 10 years when the boom started.

Previously, rapeseed oil was essentially not available in the UK. The plant has been originally cultivated to make plastics and polymers, feed the cattle and lubricate steam engines in the Industrial Revolution.

Wild crops were extremely bitter and contained high levels of erucic acid, not fit for human consumption and it was developed a commercial bred lowering both erucic acid and glucosinolates to the market standards, known as canola in North America.

British produced rapeseed oil is GM free, opposing the 90 per cent in the USA, where most of the commercial oil is refined using hexane.

Rapeseed is a controversial crop in many ways and its cultivation has been accused to contaminate waterways due to notorious use of fertilizers and being a trigger to hay fever symptoms.

 

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Silver Darlings rollmops

During my visit to Farm Shop & Deli Show this year, I discovered lots of interesting products to be launched onto the market soon. Perhaps, my favourite this year were the rollmops of Silver Darlings: Scandinavian style pickled herrings manufactured in Britain.

Story behind Silver Darlings

Herring has an important historical connection with the north of Scotland in the early 19th century, when whole families relied on this fish for their livelihood. It was an abundant local resource that expanded Scottish fishing villages in the 1950s.

Silver Darlings people became passionate about pickled herrings after their frequent trips to Scandinavia, where rollmops are much appreciated. They decided to spread their interest taking advantage of local production of herring in Scotland and try to make them more widely available in Britain.

Marinades of Scotland, hand produce a range of pickled herrings for the company, straight from the banks of the river Spey in the Scottish Highlands. The final product is sustainable and kosher-friendly.

Silver Darlings rollmops

Taste and serving

There are two varieties of Silver Darlings rollmops. Regular pickled herrings have a nice sharp flavour meanwhile sweet dill flavour rollmops are more aromatic and extremely sweet. Both of them are a real delight, but it depends on your mood to choose one or another.

You can eat the rollmops straight out of the tub or served on traditional rye bread. They can be nicely presented wrapped around a piece of pickle and speared with a toothpick. Alternatively, toss them in a salad with potatoes and sour cream or mix with leafy greens and beetroot.

Support British fisherman

Silver Darling is currently selling in Billingsgate fish market in London, working with Scottish fishermen side by side. The family behind the brand is lovely and they are really excited about their rollmops, which always help to develop a great product.

I thoroughly recommend trying their rollmops. I’m sure you will fall in love with the Scandinavian cuisine supporting local economy in Britain.

 

*British Local Food received complimentary samples for review and this post reflects the author’s honest opinion of the product.

 

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Food Drink Expo 2014
Food Drink Expo 2014

Food & Drink Expo took place this week at the NEC Birmingham, being the largest British food and drink exhibition this year and catering for food service, manufacturing, grocery and speciality retail, all of them incorporated within the Farm Shop & Deli Show, National Convenience Show and Foodex.

Showcase

International and British suppliers showcased their products and services, providing an attracting platform to discover tasty and innovative products, unveiling new trends and interacting with industry experts joining master classes, interviews and debates.

Farm Shop & Deli Show featured the best in speciality food retail, emphasizing the support to regional British products. I visited last year’s edition and I loved it.

Food & Drink Expo 2014

Interesting producers

All the producers displayed their products with pride and invited the visitors to try them. After a long day sampling lots of gorgeous food, I have struggled to pick my favourites: everything was delicious.

It was surprising the quantity of homemade pies on offer this year, featuring Burbush’s  of Penrith game pies from northern region of Cumbria, the very innovative and creamy award-winning Tom’s pies and more classic Grumpies of Cornwall pies.

It was also a good amount of mushroom growers, which is good news since they are not traditionally very popular in this country, suggesting a possible increasing demand. Smithy Mushrooms displayed a beautiful and inviting stand with all the fungi on offer, meanwhile  Hughes Mushrooms offered meaty and tender samples to taste. Livesey Brothers showed with pride the species they grow on their exotic mushroom farm.

I had the chance to taste lots of cheese in different stands: a peculiar charcoal cheddar, assorted international and regional cheese and gorgeous Cornish blue at Cornish cheese. I also spotted Bodnant Welsh Food, a shop that supports a traditional Welsh cheese revival.

Food & Drink Expo 2014

Other interesting products

There was a wide range of cured meats at the Expo. St Marcus Fine Foods offered prime quality South African dry cured meats and succulent traditional borewors sausages made in Britain and I had the chance to taste one of the best Spanish cured meats I have ever tasted at Cárnicas CRA stand, featuring their traditional chorizo manufactured in Spain. The campaigners Discover the Origin showed the visitors the quality of a sublime Parma ham among other PDO products.

There was not too much fish on the Expo, but Silver Darlings was one of my favourite products this year, offering Scandinavian pickled herring manufactured in Scotland.

Food & Drink Expo 2014

Drinks on offer

There were lots of natural juices: a superb coconut drink at Tiana, Little Miracles refreshing organic teas and  innovative rhubarb juice at Cawston Press.

Beer, cider and other alcoholic drinks were also on offer. MarRon Liqueurs displayed a wide range of exotic and innovative combinations of flavoured liqueurs and Clink liqueurs displayed their traditional liqueurs, featuring their slow gin.

Flora teas surprised the visitors with their gorgeous comforting drinks with beautiful flowers ‘magically growing’ inside the glass.

It was such a nice and enjoyable day and I just can’t wait for the next year!

Food & Drink Expo 2014

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