Discovering Lime Leaves and Sweet Thai Chilli Paste

Last week I had yet another hospital appointment for yet another CT Scan. As the hospital I attend is on the opposite side of the city from where I live, I decided to take the opportunity to explore a new foraging area. I had picked up a tip from Twitter courtesy of @loafonline and @abundancebrum that the place to go was an area of sports ground that edged onto the North Stratford Canal. A twofer: canals and foraging, hurrah!

I set off clutching my basket, not really expecting to find much as most of what had been mentioned was not likely to be in season. However, I feel that carrying my basket sort of gives me permission to walk about on my own. A bit like owning a dog. People look at you oddly if you walk around entirely without obvious purpose. But with a basket, I suddenly appear to look like I know what I am doing. Either that, or they think I am certifiable and are too terrified to meet my gaze in case I remove the kitchen scissors from the aforementioned basket and plunge them into their necks in a psychotic frenzy.  One can never tell.

Anyway. My tip turned out to be an excellent one and I shall definitely return in a few weeks. I spotted apples, damsons, blackberries, hazelnuts, elder and bird cherries all unripe. However, I did not leave empty-handed. Much to my delight, I found lime trees:

I had been flipping through Ghillie James’ Jams, Jellies & Relishes only the previous evening and spotted a relish I fancied making but it contained lime leaves. I do not know of any lime trees locally so finding them really was a joy. The recipe also contained lots of chillies so I could make good use of my chilli plant. In fact, I had to send out for reinforcements. The end results did not look particularly pleasant but pretty jars and packaging help a lot:

I first made use of it as a glaze for chicken drumsticks – extremely yummy!  And given both the number of chillies and amount of garlic, not overly spicy at all.  With some salad, rice and tomatoes it made the perfect Sunday tea.

Sweet Thai Chilli Paste

2 garlic bulbs, separated into bulbs and peeled

12 long red chillies, halved and de-seeded

3 x 8cm pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 large bunch of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves

4 lemongrass stems, trimmed and finely chopped

9 fresh lime leaves

400g Demerara sugar

6 tbsp rice wine vinegar

4 tbsp soy sauce

4 tbsp fish sauce

juice of 2 limes

Put garlic, chillies, ginger, coriander, lemongrass and lime leaves into a food processor and whizz until you have a fine paste.

Put the sugar and 250ml water into a large, deep frying pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Raise heat and boil for about 5 mins, or until the syrup has the consistency of clear honey (this took 10-15mins for me). Carefully add the paste to the pan and stir-fry for a further 5-7mins, or until the liquid has evaporated. Add the remaining ingredients plus 500mls of water and boil, stirring, for approximately 15-20mins, or until you have a thick but pourable paste. Spoon into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Use as a marinade, a curry base, a dipping sauce, a glaze or a stir-fry paste. To add extra oomph, leave in half the chilli seeds.


Thrilling times hunting bilberries

Growing up in my family meant I regularly heard tales of bilberry picking from my Mother.  As a child during the Second World War her father borrowed a friend’s cottage in the countryside to keep his family away from the bombing the heart of Manchester was experiencing.  Hattersley has now been completely swallowed up by Manchester’s expanding borders but when my Mother was living there, it was a tiny hamlet.  My Grandfather remained in Manchester during the week to be nearer his work while my Grandmother coped for over four years with a teenage daughter and twin girls of four or five at first in a tiny cottage that had no drinking water and no bathroom.  For my Mother, it was heaven on earth.  She loved the wide open spaces, the stream at the bottom of the garden, the woods, the fields, the flowers, the wildlife, the freedom and all that country living brought with it.  Bilberry picking was one of the many things that she indulged in and for years I believed that this allusive fruit was only available around Hattersley.  Something of a problem if you know Hattersley these days.  Not quite the rural idyl it used to be.

Then I realised that this could not possibly be true.  Bilberries were quite clearly available in other places to.  But I have to confess that I had no idea at all, until tipped off on twitter by @loafonline that bilberries grew close to me.  More than twenty years of home-made bilberry jam missed out on.  Bother.  You would think that calling a local landmark Bilberry Hill might have been a clue, wouldn’t you?  Then again, I do not know the Lickey Hills.  Not too bad a I defence I think.  Tis the only one I have and ’twill have to suffice.

So, yesterday the Captain and I went off in search of them.  Although to be frank, very little was required in the way of searching.  We drove to the Lickey Hills Country Park, and within about 400 yards of the car park we wading knee-deep in bilberry bushes.

I have never picked bilberries before.  How can I have got to the grand old age of 45 and this be the case?  Then again, we became something of a spectacle for the many other visitors, absolutely none of whom were interested in bilberry picking.  It was masterful of me not to simply sit down and gorge myself on these divine weeny berries.  They are small, deep purple and sweet with a tart edge to them.  Delicious.

Within minutes our hands were stained purple as the berries were burstingly ripe and the juices ran down our fingers.  I decided it was not a good time to tell the Captain that in years gone by bilberries have been used for dye.  They were not easy to pick.  Partly because the bushes are low down thus much bending is involved and partly because the berries do not grow in clumps.  Just one or two berries hang on each stem.

We picked solidly for two hours.  They are tiny, these berries.  They frequently squished on picking but they are so delicious the effort was very worthwhile.  The Lickey Hills is a lovely area and with good weather it really was a delightful way to spend our anniversary.  The simplicity of gathering wild berries is a pleasure that is hard to beat.









Our two hour’s worth of picking yielded 600g of berries which is not a lot.  But as I said, so worth it.

I spent the whole of the drive home pondering the best way to use our precious crop.  I discounted the various puddings, pies, crumbles and compotes I came up with, settling in the end for jam, as I wanted to make them last as long as possible.  It is possibly unimaginative, but it is very delicious.  It was also the easiest jam I have ever made and filled the house the most amazing aroma imaginable.

Bilberry Jam

600g bilberries

450g granulated sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Pick over the bilberries to remove any stems or leaves and then wash very gently.  Place in preserving pan with the lemon juice and crush lightly with the end of a rolling pin.  Heat slowly until the juices begin to flow then add the sugar.  Stir until dissolved.  Turn up heat and bring to rolling boil.  Boil until setting point achieved – about 10 mins.  Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Foraging Map

I have been compiling a list.  It is the sort of list that is written on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper that litter my mind.  As filing systems go, this one is riddled with flaws.  However, I have been very keen to remember the whereabouts of my foraging discoveries.  I am also quite keen to share this knowledge.  I find it extremely difficult to leave a tree with boughs overladen and weighed down by fruit.  Everything in me wants to use it all and make lovely things but the Captain tells me there are only so many preserves one man can tolerate.  It seems he has his limits.  Therefore, the next best thing is to tell others in the hope that someone will make use of the fruit before it rots.

Amy from nb Lucky Duck posted about a map that Cambridge do detailing the foraging hotspots in her area which struck me as an excellent idea.  She also suggested we compile one for the canals which is an even better one.  In the meantime however, my rummaging on the internet turned up the following:

It is an interactive map that allows anyone to register and post details of their foraging discoveries for the benefit of others.  Fantastic.  There is even an iPhone app so you can use it while out and about.  I have already begun marking up my finds and am looking forward to adding more.  Obviously, the more it is used, the more use it will be so do please, give it a go.


Home again

I have never mastered the art of travelling light and since narrowboating became a holiday way of life, my packing just got even worse.  However, even I marvelled at the amount we brought home this time.  It seemed to have multiplied while we were away.  And then, of course, I remember that it had.

After unpacking the usual washing and other sundries, I took my boxes of preserves to store in the garage.  There I checked in:

6 jars of Red Wild Cherry Plum Jam from Droitwich Basin

9 jars of Yellow Wild Cherry Plum Jam from Droitwich Basin

1×1 litre jar of Blackberry Whisky from Droitwich Basin

2×2 litre jars of Red Cherry Plum Gin from Droitwich Basin

1×1 litre jar of Wild Cherry Brandy from Droitwich Basin

6 bottles of Japanese Rosehip Syrup from Droitwich Basin

6 jars of Yellow Wild Cherry Plum Chutney from Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

2 jars of Yellow Wild Cherry Plum & Chilli Chutney from Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

2×1 litre jars of bottled Yellow Wild Cherry Plums from Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

12 bottles of Yellow Wild Cherry Plumbeena from Worcester on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal

1 jar of dried Rose Petals from the Wolverhampton 21 lock flight.

As well as all this, we also enjoyed the Rosehip Bread, the Wild Cherry Clafoutis and the wild Raspberries.  We also tolerated the Red Clover Rice Salad.

Phew!  Not a bad foraging trip then 🙂

Really quite tired now.  Do not tell the Captain, but I could use a holiday …

Still, not long till we take Wand’ring Bark out again.  Just three weeks and we’re off again – hurrah!

Wild Cherry Clafoutis

Having woken at the ungodly hour of 5:15 I have decided to bear with the rubbish signal and attempt a post. If I wave my phone above my head, it should just work.

We are moored on the Staffs & Worcs above Dimmingsdale Lock, just 4 hours cruising from home. It’s beautiful. All rural peacefulness and quiet. Apart from the rackety birds.

Yesterday we travelled from Woverley and had a gloriously sunny day with locks every mile or so. I was glad to have finally finished with almost all my foraged fruits as I would have struggled to fit any preserving in.

Proving that life sometimes IS a bowl of cherries, I had one last recipe to try. Wild Cherry Clafoutis. I found it in Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s first book A Cook on the Wild Side’. Verdict? I liked it, the Captain loved it, the 18 year old was unconvinced. Having eaten up we proceeded to play Tinker Tailor and discovered the following: the 18 year old is to marry a Rich Man this year wearing a dress of silk so the Captain had better take to highway robbery or something; disconcertingly, I am due to marry a Beggar Man sometime while dressed in cotton; most worryingly of all, the Captain looks set to run off in a cotton dress and marry a Soldier sometime soon. I really would not have picked him out as a GI Bride! Lots of after dinner fun. So a pudding AND a game. A veritable twofer, that’s two for the price of one. Excellent.


Wild Cherry Clafoutis

Serves 8

500g Wild Cherries
85g Caster Sugar
125g Plain Flour
Pinch of Salt
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
300ml milk
30g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180c/gas 4.
Grease 25cm/10″ round tin/dish.
Rinse & destalk the cherries but do not stone them. Toss in 30g of sugar then spread them across the bottom of the dish.
Sift flour, salt and remaining sugar into a mixing bowl. Make a well in centre and stir in eggs. Beat in milk a little at a time till batter formed.
Pour over cherries and bake in oven for 35mins until lightly browned and puffed up like a Yorkshire pudding.
Allow to cool a little then serve lukewarm, dusted with icing sugar.

Boaters’ Foraging Tip

My gifts to you today are twofold. I am all bounteous munificence. It must be because Mother Nature’s generosity is rubbing off on me.

For my first present, I would like to pass on yet another reason why I love foraging while boating. To do this, I must refer you to my first foraging love, John Wright and his wonderful book Hedgerow. On page 15 in his How to Look section John writes, ‘Finally, a little-used hedgerow foraging technique that is my gift to you is the ‘standing on the roof of your car’ method. This is seriously effective – I once picked many kilos of plums from a tree whose lower branches had been stripped bare by less adventurous collectors. A proud moment.’ I have taken this technique to heart but adapted it for the narrowboater and I am delighted to present you with the Standing on the Roof of your Narrowboat method:

This tree was found as we left Worcester behind and headed back towards Droitwich once again. As you can see, I have tested Standing on the Roof of your Narrowboat and I think you’ll agree, it has the edge over the car roof method. For one thing, fewer traffic fumes. For another, the boat hook is to hand to bring even the highest branches within reach. Plus, the average boat roof is considerably sturdier than the average car roof. So hurrah for boaty foraging!

Of course, there’s also no distance to carry your harvest home. Which may be just as well. Within about ten minutes I had filled my basket:

In total I’d gathered over seven kilos! Some frantic recipe searching and adapting was in order. I decided to double the quantity of Cherry Plumbeena, make a batch of chutney, start a Narrowboat Rumtopf and bottle the remainder. The quantities involved have stretched my facilities and so I have had to improvise:

The end results promise to be good. Which brings me on to my second gift: the recipe for Cherry Plumbeena, adapted from Pam Corbin’s in Preserves.

Cherry Plumbeena

Makes about 1.5 litres

2kg cherry plums
600ml water
Granulated Sugar

Place cherry plums in a large saucepan with water. Gradually bring to the boil crushing the cherry plums with the back of a wooden spoon, a potato masher or, as in my case, a pint glass. Cook gently until the fruit is soft and juicy – up to 45mins. Remove from heat.

Scald a muslin or jelly bag and set cherry plum mix to drip overnight.

Measure juice & pour into clean pan. For every litre of juice add 700g sugar. Heat gently to dissolve then remove from heat. Pour immediately into warm sterilised bottles adding 1-3tbsp brandy (depending on taste & size of bottle) to each bottle. Seal.

Will keep for for several months if sealed when hot & stored in a cool place.

Foraging Heaven or Netherwich (Droitwich) Basin

We arrived in Netherwich Basin, situated in the centre of Droitwich, yesterday soon after lunch.

The Captain had been itching to try out the newly opened Droitwich canal since he first heard about it and was a tad narked that we could not get there for the grand opening at the weekend.  Travelling in the opposite direction were a steady stream of boaters that he recognised from his blog.  The general impression seemed to be positive.  A bit of tweaking required here and there, but basically a wonderful new addition to the waterways.

Well, all this boaty talk was all very well and I was interested to a point.  But I could only muster enthusiasm for a short while before my attention wandered to the hedgerows.  Along the new stretch, there were no hedgerows yet to speak of.  Give it time.  I fully expect them to be abundant with exciting species soon enough.  I am confident because once under the low, make that very low, M5 bridge (actually we had 3″s to spare) we joined old Droitwich Barge Canal there were many exciting things to see.  Most thrilling were the wild plum trees which seem to line this stretch.

However, these were nothing compared to the delights waiting in the Basin.  Having moored on the new pontoons we took a walk into the town for a look around.  I was armed with my foraging basket and the Captain with his camera.  I had already scouted out a Wild Cherry Tree and some more Japanese Rosehips so went prepared.

To my delight and astonishment, we discovered a mini grove of Cherry Plum Trees growing wild!  The fruit was perfectly ripe, with both yellow and red available, and they pretty much fell into my basket.

I was enraptured.  We also found a bank of ripe brambles which seems ridiculously early but to pass them by on that pretext would have been rude.

Carrying my goods back to the boat was not easy (but look how pretty they were!).

Nor was dealing with all the fruit.  But breakfasting this morning on newly baked bread, butter and very fresh wild cherry plum jam was extremely delicious.

It is also very satisfying knowing that I picked enough fruit for eight jars of yellow Cherry Plum Jam, seven jars of Red Cherry Plum Jam, two large jars of Cherry Plum Gin, I large jar of Wild Cherry Brandy and 1 medium jar of Bramble Whisky.

This evening we are moored in Worcester.  Tomorrow, we shall be back in Droitwich and I shall make a return to the Cherry Plum Trees as I have plans to make some Plum ‘beena :o)

Fuel for Tardebigge

After yesterday’s phenomenal catch, I was very glad of the stretch of cruising afforded us this morning. We had moored with friends in Central Birmingham and set off from here heading towards Tardebigge. First though, there were the three tunnels: Wast Hill, Shortwood and Tardebigge, and about four hours of lock free boating.

I took up my usual perch at the pointy end, and set to with a chopping board, sharp knife and two bowls. My Rosehip Bread called for the hips to be de-seeded which turned into a messy, marathon task. It also involved a fair bit of nipping in and out of the boat as when we entered the tunnels I could not see a thing. Given that freezing the hips had turned the softer ones to a mushy state I am not convinced it was such a good idea, as removing the seeds did not prove easy. Next time, I shall make this without freezing the hips first to compare. If it does prove to be as time-consuming and messy for you, all I can say is that the end result is so worthwhile so do persevere.

I had just managed to get the loaf into the oven when we arrived at Tardebigge Top Lock, which was pretty much perfect timing.

The end result gave more of a fruit loaf than a soda bread, but it was absolutely delicious slathered with butter. Thoroughly recommended. Will definitely be making this again.

Rosehip Bread

100ml orange juice

140ml water

100g raisins

100g seeded & chopped wild rosehips

30g melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg, beaten

300g plain flour

200g granulated sugar

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

75g pine nuts or sunflower seeds or some such thing

Preheat oven to 170c/Gas 3. In a large bowl mix together the orange juice, water, raisins, rosehips, butter, vanilla and egg. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Stir in sugar and salt and then fold into wet ingredients. Finally stir through pine nuts. Spoon batter into a well greased 2lb loaf tin. Bake for 50 – 60 mins. Loaf should sound hollow when tapped on bottom when done. Cool on rack. Serve in buttered slices.

The Urban Forager’s Dream

However unlikely it sounds, I truly believe that the Wolverhampton 21 flight of locks really does represent the urban forager’s dream. Since I began being interested foraging, I have travelled it three times and it has not yet let me down. I just wish my energy levels would keep up with its abundance!

Today must have been the best haul yet. The day dawned brilliantly sunny and the promise of bounty was in the air. I was eager to jump ship as no sooner had we entered Pendeford Narrows than I spotted some teeny tiny Wild Strawberries. But the Captain was a man on a mission and I was refused shore leave. I decided mutiny at this point in our journey was unwise so chose to bow to his authority. This was not easy. Submission is not a natural state for me.

However, my patience was rewarded as we pulled out of the first lock by a bank of Wild Raspberries. They were on the far side of the canal so impossible to reach without a boat. Handily, there was a boat in front of us meaning we had to loiter waiting our turn for the lock anyway. Joy was mine! Within minutes our hands were stained red as the juices ran down our fingers and the air was filled with the occasional yelp as we hit thorns rather than the gorgeously squishy fruit. During all the excitement, we managed to tip my berry picker over the side and discovered that it could not float. I say ‘we’ … Note to self: do not place anything you value on the sloping roof of the boat.

The raspberry haul was largely unaffected by this calamity so undaunted we carried on. By this time, the 18 year old and the Captain were into the lock groove and I was given foraging leave, so off I went. I left at Lock 20 and rejoined them at Lock 8 by which time I had a basket full of Red Clover, Japanese Rose Hips, Wild Raspberries and Rose Petals.

The rose petals were set to dry on a wire rack for use later in the year.

They are currently sitting in the shower tray which is the most out of the way place I could find, and is actually pretty dry. When not in use. Obviously.

The Japanese Rose Hips were definitely ready for picking – they were huge, soft and rapidly being eaten by the birds. There were also loads of them. I took but a mere fraction.

I have put them in the freezer overnight as I know the autumnal variety improve in flavour after the first frosts so it seemed like a good idea. Plus, I cannot deal with them today.

The red clover I have turned into a rice salad and I am not sure my family are going to be convinced. It looks pretty:

But I am bound to say that the flowers themselves are not overflowing with flavour. I think unless there is a very good reason for eating something for its own sake, it really should taste good to make it worth the while. However, I will reserve judgement until after tea tonight and pass on the family’s opinion tomorrow. If they hate it, at least we have the raspberries for pud! In the meantime, this is the recipe I used:

Red Clover Rice Salad

Serves 3

2 large handfuls of Clover leaves and blossoms

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 handful of freshly chopped mint (I used garden mint)

125g rice

4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Cook the rice until tender in boiling salted water. Drain and mix with oil and orange juice while still hot. Wash the clover leaves, split into leaflets. Pick over blossoms and separate half into individual petals keeping the other half whole. Stir leaves and blossoms into rice.

Venturing forth once more

Tomorrow the Captain and I set sail once again.  Does one actually set sail on a narrowboat?  I suspect not.   No matter.  I like this muddling of jargon.  Helps me to retain my identity as No Nothing Narrowboat Numpty.  It is a persona that is shedding almost imperceptibly and certainly without either my knowledge or consent.  However, it is not possible to live in the same household as Captain Ahab and not soak up some of his knowledge.  I suspect osmosis.  Either that or while I am sleeping he trains his thoughts to march across the bed like an invading force of army ants and infiltrate my subconscious through my ears.  My ears are often strangely itchy in the morning so I suspect the latter.

Anyway, anyway, anyway.  Tomorrow we set off on our travels once more.  Having spent the day selling my produce (‘Wand’ring Bark Preserves’ none the less!), we will take our 18 year old, scurry down to Calf Heath and head out into the wide blue yonder of the Staffs & Worcester.

I think we may be heading to Worcester.  We are certainly heading to Droitwich because the Captain is besides himself with excitement at the prospect of being one of the first boats to navigate the newly opened Droitwich Canal.  Wherever it is we are going, I shall be keeping up a running commentary with my dongle fully charged and ready to go.  It doesn’t work on the Captain’s laptop.  Shame.

I am looking forward to some more foraging, though I think July may not be the best month.  I would love to find some Cherry Plums but I suspect so would many people!  I have spotted the enormous hips of the Japanese Rose so am hoping to try my hand at a couple of Rose Hip recipes.  Otherwise, I will just have to see what there is.