Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Christmas Part One

This year I managed to grow enough Blackcurrants to make a batch of jam. Hurrah! These little jars made ideal presents for my Dad and Nan. The alcoholics in my family got Greengage & Victoria Plum Vodka.

I also knitted scarfs (scarves?) but that's another story!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A gardening day

I enjoy winter gardening - finally a chance to catch up with everything! It's quite relaxing compared to the race and constant battle of summer.

I spent this morning on the allotment, generally tidying up and clearing out rubbish. I "pruned" some young trees which border my plot (I'm attempting to use them as living fence posts!) and made a big heap of twigs which I'm hoping will make a nice home for wildlife (especially lizards). I saw a friendly garden toad, which I'd have thought should be hibernating by now, but I'm happy for him to eat a few extra slugs before the really cold weather sets in!

This afternoon I decided to finally take ownership of a strip of land next to the carpark by my flat. It's not loved by anyone, and although I've occasionally pulled out the odd weed, I've always been reluctant to do much more. Today I cleared a big sackful of brambles and nettles, and I've decided it's time to make further plans...

I also removed a few of my neighbour's thistles... hope he doesn't mind!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Another attempt at homebrewing...

Last weekend Matt and I collected 2.7kgs of Haws:

I'm attempting to turn most of them into wine, following the recipe in Roger Phillips' "Wild Food". Stage one was to cover them in boiling water, and leave for a week, stirring daily. Stage two was to strain them, add the liquid to a sugar syrup with oranges and lemons, then introduce the yeast. I did that this evening. Now I have to wait for 24 hours before transferring to a demijohn then fermenting for... however long. I'm not convinced it'll work (as I've already done lots of things wrong!) but I'll keep you posted on my progress :)

Sunday, 5 September 2010


Well perhaps not strictly scrumping, because I think that means stealing from other people's trees. But I do like the word, and if I had a cider press I'd certainly be making scrumpy!

(The cat didn't help - she's just pretending)

Monday, 23 August 2010

An urban forage...

This morning I gathered 3lb elderberries, 2lb plums (greengages and victoria), 8 apples and 1 grape (just testing it!) all within the space of about half an hour.

Then I tried to make elderberry vinegar, but the recipe I followed didn't seem to work out, so it's not really vinegar at all - more like ketchup. Or perhaps syrup with a kick. Sweet and sour. But very yummy all the same and I might just make some more!

I also started some greengage vodka. It's kind of experimental. I imagine it will be quite sweet, and hopefully it'll end up a nice golden colour...

The apples taste nice, although they are a bit grubby so need cutting up rather than blindly shovelling in to the mouth! They are windfalls from an overhanging garden tree. The Victoria plums were also from a garden tree. And so was the grape :)

It sort-of feels like Autumn already.

Friday, 20 August 2010

An experiment in fungus identification

The other day, I found these tasty-looking morsels* growing in great arcs in the grass outside where I work. Although I'm getting pretty good at recognising edible wild plants and flowers, mushrooms confuse and intimidate me! So I decided to have a go at identifying (but not eating) them, just out of curiosity...

They are on a "lawn" I suppose, growing near to a mixture of trees but not under any one inparticular. They look like the kind of button mushrooms you buy in the supermarket, but then I imagine so do a lot of these things! The older ones have dark brown gills and a slight ring on the stem where the cap used to be attached. The younger ones, as you can see from the picture below, have pink gills. The stem is not bulbous, and the mushroom doesn't change colour or do anything weird when sliced.

I made a spore print. This excited me very much! Look! :)

The spores are chocolate brown.

I looked on Roger Phillips mushroom site and filled in the "easy key". It came up with 4 suggestions, but each of these had a "distinct or odd smell (non mushroomy)". My specimen definitely smelled like a mushroom! So I went back to an earlier suggestion which came up before I did the spore print - Agaricus Campestris or Field Mushroom. I noticed that although the short description says the spores are purplish to black, the long description says they are brown! So there's an error there somewhere. I didn't notice the flesh bruising slightly pink, though.

Anyway, this is my amateur nearly-identification result: Agaricus Campestris. I'd be grateful to hear from proper mushroom experts with their opinions. I'm also going to post this blog entry to my favourite online forum to ask the good folks there for some input...

Spore prints are great. I can feel a new art project coming on! :)

*I don't actually like mushrooms! I'm determined to keep trying though.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Elder (Anthotype), May-Aug 2010

This is my first attempt at making an anthotype. The process is very simple - paper is coated in a vegetable dye, then an object is contact printed by exposure to the sun over a period of months. Here I've used Elderberry juice to make the dye, and an Elder leaf to make the image. The resulting print is not permanent and will fade if left out in daylight. But I think that's part of its charm really :)

Friday, 30 July 2010


The blackberries seem bigger and jucier than ever this year - despite all the dry weather we've had!

My current favourite way to eat them is with homemade yoghurt...

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Small-scale foraging

I just collected at least 956544285878 poppy seeds, and in the process of doing so made a lovely arrangement of seedheads in a vase. During the activity I only found one spider, one caterpillar and one earwig (which is still on the loose somewhere in my flat)! I realised afterwards I should probably have left the seeds in their cases for a few more days to make sure they were properly dried out, but you live and learn.

I now have plans to collect Honesty seeds (more dried flower arrangements - I am turning into my mother! But that's OK) and Himalayan Balsam. I want to get experimental with my biscuit and bread making! :)

Monday, 12 July 2010

Linden tea

These are the flowers of the Lime tree, gathered a few weeks ago when they first came into bloom. I'm not referring to the citrus Lime, but the unrelated Common Lime (Linden) which is frequently planted in parks and public spaces here in the UK.

Coincidentally, my resulting Linden and sticky greenfly tea tasted quite similar to the Gorse flower and small beetle tea that I made back in March! :)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Holiday foraging

Last week I went on a lovely camping holiday to North Norfolk. Whilst exploring the beautiful countryside, seashore and salt marshes I found lots of interesting edible wild plants. The marshes in particular are a fascinating and unique environment. Here are a few photos...

Wild Celery

I didn't eat any, but I did crush the leaf and give it a good sniff to be sure. Unmistakeable!
(This, by the way, isn't celery!)

Fool's Watercress / Pie-cress?

This one I'm less certain of. I don't think it's true watercress, and I can't find anything else that it looks like. Aparently, if my ID is correct, it's also edible (even though the name seems to suggest otherwise!).
[edit] Miles Irving lists this as edible, but according to Ray Mears and Gordon Hillman it's poisonous! I don't think I'll be trying it...

Sea Purslane

The marshes were covered in this! I'd seen it before but never tried it. The leaves are juicy and salty. It's a member of the Goosefoot family (the same as Fat Hen, which I often collect from my allotment to use as Spinach).

Marsh Samphire

Again, I'd seen this before but not tried it. This time I collected a small basketful and cooked it by briefly boiling in (unsalted) water. Apart from the fact that it has "bones" (must be a nightmare to eat with fish!) it's very good indeed. Succulent and not too salty after cooking. The tips are nice and crunchy to nibble raw as well. I noticed it was being sold in local shops - apparently it's a delicacy.

Apart from these I also spotted Bladder Campion, Sea Beet, Sea Holly, Sea Lettuce, Alexanders and various unidentified Apiaceae, including what I think was a mass of angelica (the garden type, not the common wild angelica). There were also some amazing gigantic silvery thistles which looked a little like Artichokes - they may or may not have been edible but I wish I'd taken a photograph!

Allotment update!

Sorry I've not been posting much - really busy!

I recently got back from a 5 day holiday and was expecting to find the allotment either swamped in weeds or completely dried-out and dead. In actual fact, not much has changed. This extremely hot weather must be slowing things down.

Before I left I picked my first few tiny courgettes. When I returned I picked my first huge one! So I'm now making my first loaf of courgette bread :)

Every time I visit the plot I get a little handful of juicy alpine strawberries. I never take any home with me, they're essential for thirst-quenching after a hot bike ride!

Yesterday I picked my first blackcurrants. Last year I only got a handful because the bushes were very young. This year I'm hoping for enough to make a bit of jam...

Apart from strawberries, courgettes and blackcurrants, so far this year I've harvested lettuce/salads, peas, broad beans and various herbs. And lots of weeds (I think I am genuinely more interested in the weeds and the self-seeders than the crops I've actually planted)! Oh and millions of angelica seeds! Does anyone know what I can do with them? I'm hoping they can be used in breads and cakes etc.

Other things I'm growing right now include potatoes (no blight yet!), beetroot, rhubarb (third attempt, this time from seed, last plant just hanging in there!), sunflowers, jerusalem artichokes, globe artichokes (from seed, exciting!), carrots and onions (both doing very badly), runner beans, various trees (the fruit of which amounts to a grand total of 3 plums), and my favourite herbs lavender and mint. I have all sorts of plans for the plot, including a sort-of mini forest garden with a lot more perennials and self-seeders. I like my gardening to be as lazy as possible! ;)

Friday, 11 June 2010


I picked my first handful from a tree by the lake... :)

Monday, 24 May 2010

Camera Obscura

I'm in the process of moving all my artwork/photography over to Flickr in order to keep everything together. I might just post a few old pics on here as I go...

These were made with a "Camera Obscura" which I fashioned from a cardboard box, a magnifying glass and a sheet of tracing paper:

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Allotment friend :)

When I actually get round to digging or weeding my plot, this little guy always pops over to say hi...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

I need help to identify some botanical specimens...

One lunchtime last week I went for a little bikeride by the Thames, hoping to see Adders. Unfortunately there were none but I did discover an interesting plant which I've not seen before. It was growing by a lake (but not right in the water). I thought it looked a bit celeryish, but for some reason I didn't think to scratch'n'sniff. I will go back in a few weeks to see if it's flowering...

The second mystery is a tree (well, shrub I guess) that's growing near to my flat. I always wondered if it was something like a Bay, but now it has these strange red fruits on it. They have a stone or large seed in the middle... any ideas?

In other news - I am BORED BORED BORED of this cold north-easterly wind! What happened to the gulf stream? Brrr!

[edit] The mystery tree is now at least partially identified, thanks to helpful Flickr users!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Nettle beer update...

The nettle beer I made last month is the fizziest brew EVER! It is now mostly all over my kitchen floor and all over my cardigan. Tastes pretty good though! :)

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Nettle beer and broad beans (but not yet)

Oh dear, I'm not doing very well with my weekly wild food foraging. I have been noticing and nibbling things, but it seems I just don't have the time to blog about them!

One thing I have managed though, is to start a batch of nettle beer. My flat currently smells a bit yeasty! I'm bottling it tomorrow.

This picture is a bit old - it was made back in January for a group art project. The nettles are actually much better at this time of year!

Something else interesting to distract you from the fact that I haven't done my homework - yesterday I found wild (or feral) broad beans! They are definitely beans and not sweet peas or anything like that. I'll have to keep an eye on them to see what happens (and whether they get trampled).

Oh yeah - and I discovered a nearby National Cycle Network route that looks like it'll be great for hedgerow foraging later in the year... :)

Sunday, 28 March 2010


Yesterday I walked by my favourite berry-picking hedge. This blossom looks like one from the prunus family, perhaps cherry plum (I know there are some along that route). The Blackthorn is about to burst into bloom too. Spring is finally here!

And to acknowledge British Summertime, I'm going to the allotment *later* :)

Friday, 26 March 2010

Broadening my blogging horizons...*

A selection of work from my "leafminers" series is currently on display at Cornerstone, the funky new arts centre in Didcot (Oxfordshire, UK). It's part of an exhibition called "Flora and Fauna" which runs until 18th April. If you're in the area I recommend a visit - even if only to sample the yummy cakes! ;)

(clicking the link will take you to Flickr where you can view the full set)

*I've decided to include my "artistic endeavours" in this blog, in an attempt to streamline my life! Or something.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Weeks 9, 10 and 11

Week 9: Yarrow

Yarrow tea - it's a bit odd. It doesn't have a particularly strong flavour. Some say it tastes of Rosemary but I'm not sure. Supposedly, it has psychotropic properties and makes you see in "pure colour". I do remember that the first time I tried it, some years ago, I suddely noticed that my friend's top was actually brown and not black as I had previously assumed. That's the best I managed though!

(This is an archive photo from a few years ago)

Week 10: Gorse

I made Gorse flower and small beetle tea! :)

I took a handful of fresh flowers and infused them in boiled water for about 10 minutes. The resulting brew smelled awful, but tasted rather nice! It didn't need sweetening at all (but I rarely sweeten tea anyway). It was similar to the Pine tea I made on week 2, but less sickly. Best one so far (apart from the beetles)!

Week 11: Garlic mustard

I'm going to be lazy with this one and point you to an old entry :)

Monday, 22 February 2010

Weeks 6, 7 and 8

Week 6: Hairy Bittercress grows all over the place and at most times of the year. It tastes cress-like (surprise!) but if anything a bit stronger and hotter than the type I grow on my windowsill. It'd be great in egg sandwiches!

Week 7: Alexanders.
This photo was taken in October. The plants are much more grown-up now. I gathered a handful of the thick fleshy leaf stems and steamed them in a tinfoil parcel with a lovely fresh Pollack fillet. Both foods were from Worthing seaside :)

Week 8: Wild Chives are surprisingly common. These are growing in a cemetery in the centre of Reading. I'm sure you already know what they taste like and what to do with them...

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Week 4 and week 5!

On week 4 I chose lovely lemony tangy Common Sorrel - one of my favourite wild greens. You can eat it raw in salads or cook it as a vegetable. It goes well with fish, and makes a particularly yummy soup. I decided to try something new for the purpose of this blog. These are Sorrel tarts, a la Ray Mears:

The recipe (from the TV series "Wild Food") is fairly vague, but basically you cook the sorrel in a pan until it turns to a sort-of sludge, then add sour cream and sugar to taste, and dollop the mixture into pre-cooked pastry cases. I think I used too much cream, but they were still nice!

On week 5 I opted to try Cleavers. I've known this plant for ever (when I was little we called it Goosegrass) but never eaten it before. The taste is quite pleasant but I found that the rough texture didn't disappear on cooking so it was difficult to eat. Beggars can't be choosers though - there really isn't much else around after all the snow and ice we've had! Next week is gonna be tricky... ideas appreciated!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Week 3 - Chickweed

Once again I struggled this week due to snow and ice covering the ground. But I did manage to find a few patches of chickweed growing along the top of a wall.

(This is an old photo by the way!)

Chickweed is one of the better known and well-liked wild greens, but I personally find it a bit strong. It reminds me of rocket, which is just not my thing. Actually I think it tastes a bit soapy!

I've been nibbling at it in salads this week anyway though, purely for blogging purposes. If you decide to try it too let me know what you think...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Week 2 - Pine

I was really struggling to find anything edible this week as we've had a thick covering of snow which has left all the little green leaves completely hidden. I was ready to give up and forage something from my freezer, but a short walk this morning revealed a new pleasure. I've never tried it before, but I'm currently drinking a nice hot cup of pine needle tea! It's quite a revelation actually; I don't usually enjoy anything but "normalitea".

When I got home I thought I'd better double-check my reference books. I think I used Scots Pine or something very similar. It had those proper pine cones on it (the ones you hang outside to measure the humidity in the air). Apparently the only poisonous species of conifer is Yew (that's the one with red berries and flat, short needles), which I know well, so I wasn't too scared to give it a go.

The method I used was to chop and bruise the needles, and then steep them in just-boiled water for about 10 minutes. The resulting brew looks slightly oily (the sap is quite sticky), and smells quite aromatic. The taste is naturally quite sweet, you don't need to add sugar or honey (in my opinion). I didn't make it very strong, and it's perhaps not the best time of year (new spring growth required?), but it's very nice anyway and I would definitely recommend it. Pine needles contain high levels of vitamin C - ideal for fighting those winter colds and flu!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


I *was* planning to experiment with goosegrass/cleavers during week 2 of my 52 week wild food study... but 24cm of snow (and counting) might put paid to that idea! We shall have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, here's a link to the fab birthday card my brother made for me. It's a drawing of me on the allotment with my cat! :)

Friday, 1 January 2010

A new project - 52 weeks of wild food!

I'm going to try to write about (and illustrate) a different wild food plant/fungi/seaweed/thing each week for a year.

Week 1 - Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris)

Also known as Pennywort. According to Roger Phillips it's commonly found growing on old walls in the Westcountry - which is exactly where I discovered it! I recognised it straight away (because I'm a geek and I have lots of wild food books).
The penny-sized leaves are succulent and juicy and make a good addition to salads. The flavour is of.. erm.. green. Quite pleasant, not exciting in a culinary sense but I was very happy to try something new :)