Flushed with success over the Beech Leaf Noyau, I was very keen to try out something else. Foraging by definition has to be seasonal and it was still April and I was no longer aboard Wand’ring Bark at this point so I expected my options to be a little limited. However, when I consulted John Wright’s Hedgerow book it told me that besides beech, I could expect to find broom, chickweed, mallow, sorrel, corn salad, dandelion, ground elder, hairy bittercress, hogweed, hop, wall rocket, pignut, silver birch, nettle and wild garlic all within walking distance of my suburban home. This startled me. I know very little about plants and even less about gardening. You begin to see why the Captain is worried about this new venture, don’t you?
I am very keen to learn. But I am not stupid. Well that may be a moot point. But my stupidity is confined to other matters and generally is not the sort that is keen to kill people through mis-adventure. Dandelions struck me as a safe bet. I know what they are. Everyone knows what dandelions are. Remember being taunted as a child for picking them? Or was that just me? I love the brilliant blooms and used to enjoy picking bunches of them to take home but each night I would lie rigid in bed with ‘Picking dandelions/Break the head/Picking dandelions/wet the bed!’ ringing in my ears. As it happens, dandelions and bedwetting are linked, though you’d have to do considerably more than just break the heads from the stems. You do not get a common name like piss-a-bed for no reason, you know. It has diuretic properties if enough is consumed so perhaps dandelion tea may not be the best thing as a night-time drink.
But dandelion marmalade, well now that must surely be another thing? I lost my marmalade virginity earlier this year when the Seville oranges were in season. I found the chopping of the oranges to be strangely therapeutic. Wielding sharp knives in my visually compromised state made everyone around me a tad nervous but no limbs, digits or even blood ended up in the final product. Therefore I decided dandelion marmalade was the way to go.
The recipe called for 80g of dandelion petals. That is really quite a lot. More than was available in my back garden, certainly. I wasn’t up to yomping through the countryside as one of my facial plates had become chronically infected and at this point I was waiting for surgery to have it removed. So I did a bit of scouting out my local area in my car and the best crop of flowers was on a patch of open greenery at the bottom of my road. John Wright’s book assured me that in these days of lead free fuel, traffic fumes really do not travel far from the road so I decided they would do. Besides, by this time while I was a woman possessed, I was also a woman extremely knackered. I drove to the bottom of the road, staggered out of the car clutching a Tescos bag and a pair of scissors, then proceeded kneel in the middle of this area and snip away for about an hour. I drew a lot of strange looks. But what care I of that?! The resulting marmalade is superlative. If everything I make from wild food turns out to be this good then foraging is going to take up more and more of my time!
Dandelion Jelly Marmalade by John Wright
Makes about 5 jars
1 litre good-quality sharp, fresh apple juice (not from concentrate)
80g Dandelion petals
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
750g jam sugar (with added pectin)
Pour the apple juice into a pan and stir in 60g of the dandelion petals. Bring to simmering point and remove from heat. Cover and leave to infuse overnight.
Next day, strain the juice through a sieve to remove the petals (they will have discoloured slightly). Return the juice to the pan, add the lemon juice and heat slowly to boiling point. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then add the remaining dandelion petals. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 6-7 mins or until setting point is reached.
Remove from the heat and skim the surface with a slotted spoon to remove any scum. Pour into warm sterilised jam jars, cover and seal. If you find the dandelion petals are floating to the surface, leave until the jelly is at room temperature and then give the jar a sharp shake.