Do I resemble this woman?

I mean, really?  Do I?!  The other day, the Captain confessed that ever since I started dabbling with foraging, he greets my cries of ‘Taste this!’ with some trepidation.  The cheek of it!  My name is not Letitia Cropley and I am not the Queen of Cordon Bleurgh!

While I may not have been tempted to replicate Ms Cropley’s Chocolate Spread & Taramosalata Sandwiches, it is true that some of the combinations coming from my kitchen have been on the more unusual side lately.  Trouble is, I have not yet been forgiven for causing the Captain some breakfast discomfort while boating the other week.

I had promised him an English Forager’s Breakfast, which I had discovered in my new Miles Irving book, The Forager Handbook that the lovely Book Barge gave me.  Poached eggs, chopped fried bacon, a little wine and a handful of dandelion leaves.  It all started out so wonderfully.  I hopped off the boat in the early morning sunlight, squatted down by a promising patch of leaves and snipped away while greeting a passing cyclist who was looking at my pjs somewhat quizzically.  Doesn’t everyone saunter about the towpath in the pjs on a sunny midweek morn?!  Apparently not.  This done, I scurried about the kitchen, rustling up coffee, pouring orange juice, buttering bread, even taking photos:

which I now discover I have deleted … *sigh*  Well, take my word for it, it looked very promising.  Very promising indeed.  In fact, I positively enjoyed it.  Ok, so I forgot to add the wine which would have finished it off nicely, and would probably have gone some way to making the dandelion leaves that little bit less chewy.  But how was I supposed to know what the Captain was going to do next?  After all, most normal people chew their food before swallowing.  Chewing afterwards would be tricky.  The Captain, is many things, but normal is not part of his lexicon.  Part way through this sumptuous feast, that I had just lovingly prepared, he starts to cough.  Then he splutters.  He even turns a shade bluish.  I watch in vague fascination as he starts to reach into his mouth with hand.  The whole of his forearm seems to disappear before re-emerging with a straggling dandelion leaf.  The colour rushes back to his face as he places it gingerly on the edge of his plates and declares himself too full to manage another morsel.  This does not surprise me.  He is probably too full of essence of arm to manage anything else for quite sometime.

It may be a while before I can tempt him with another English Forager’s Breakfast.  Which is a pity because I am pretty sure I know what I got wrong last time.  I just need to tweak it a bit here and there …

But anyway, this still does not make me heir to the Dibley Poisoner!

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Wild Food in Suburbia – Dandelion Marmalade

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

100ml

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.