Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Ramsons pesto

Woodland lane
 It was a pretty overcast morning here today, drizzling too. We ummed and ahhed about whether to go to the woods to collect a whole load of ramsons for making pesto with but, as we're really pushed for time usually and we had the morning free, we decided to go ahead. I'm really glad we did because most of the drizzle didn't reach through the tree canopy and, as most other people had been put off their dog walking, it was really peaceful.

We headed for the same ramsons patch where we found Spirit. No sign of owls today though but plenty of ramsons.  We set the basket down and gathered handful upon handful. The woods we visit is very ancient, probably at least medieval but maybe even older and this particular patch of ramsons is very well established. I'd love to know how long it's been there for. Hundreds of years maybe? Longer? When I looked back at the ramsons patch as we left, there wasn't an obvious difference to when we arrived which was surprising.
Can you spot the poisonous leaf in amongst the ramsons?

That's the one ... Lords and Ladies. You can tell the difference but it's a warning against blindly picking handfuls at a time

Handful of ramsons

We picked around 5 or 6 times this many and there were many, many times this amount left

Total amount that we gathered
 The scent of garlic all around us was incredibly strong! I wish I had weighed the leaves we had before using them ... so many! On the way back along the path we found hundreds and hundreds of pignuts. They look so beautifully delicate above ground and then, when you dig far enough below there is a "nut" joined to the stem by the thinnest, most fragile thread.
Hundreds of pignuts on the way back
Anyway, back at home, A was in charge of endlessly washing ramsons leaves while I gathered the ingredients and grated the cheese. Neither of us expected to gather so many leaves so we had far too little pine nuts or cheese and only enough olive oil by accident. 
Pesto ingredients
 Wild Pesto

Plenty of freshly picked ramsons leaves, washed and checked over 
Olive oil
Grana padano cheese, grated
Pine nuts
Sea salt

Put a good handful of leaves and some oil in the liquidiser, whizz it up. With each whizz, add more and more leaves and as much oil as needed to make it a good consistency. Add a good amount of pine nuts and salt to taste with a generous amount of cheese. Whizz it up again and store in the fridge. If you want to store it longer, it can be frozen ... easy peasy and very lovely!
Finished pesto to the left, whizzed ramsons with oil and salt to the right (they need cheese and pine nuts adding tomorrow)

Finished pesto
 I just can't express the sheer beauty of the greenness of this pesto. Forget the type in the supermarkets ... this is pure, raw goodness. Wonderful! 
Such a beautiful colour!
Tonight, we had a couple of spoonfuls mixed in with stuffed jacket spuds. I can't say I've ever eaten green potatoes before but they tasted absolutely delicious!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Owl in the woods

Monday: Last week we went foraging in the woods. As we reached the garlic-scented ramsons patch (remember that patch in a post or two below, all lit up by the sun?), a clattering and fluttering nearby drew our attention and we saw a large bird trying desperately to fly away. She couldn't ... she merely flapped and ran ...

Andy carefully caught her, cupped her in his hands and we saw that she was a beautiful tawny owl with eyes huge and black, like scrying pools. Such a magickal presence, even with her obvious injury. She turned her head slowly this way and that, carefully surveying us and just a glance was enough to still us and fill us with awe.

Clearly, this owl wouldn't survive a night in the woods and she would make easy pickings for a hungry fox with a litter of cubs to feed. We took her home. On the way, Andy showed me where the owl's talons had dug deep into his hand, down to the bone. It was bruised and bloody. "That owl's certainly got spirit!" he joked ... and that was it, we knew her name was Spirit.

We wondered aloud about what to do - contact a vet, or an animal sanctuary. One look at this poor bird though and we guessed they wouldn't give her a chance so we chose to try to help her ourselves. I must admit that as we placed her in a cardboard box with a towel for comfort, neither of us really expected her to survive the night. Advised by web pages, we fed her thin strips of liver dipped in water and hoped for the best. Surprisingly, in the morning she was very much alive and a little brighter so we fed her a little more, allowed her to rest and then gently wrapped her in a towel to look at her damaged wing.

Spirit's wing didn't appear to be broken, or even a particularly new wound. It looked like it had been struck against an object, a tree perhaps and it had badly damaged the joint. She felt thin beneath her tawny feathers. We bought frozen mice from the pet shop, put up a large, old dog crate stored away and made her as comfortable as we could with perches from some of the many woodland branches we have stored away. I joked that I'd never had a box of mice in the freezer before ... but then I'd never had an owl living in the dining room either!

This beautiful owl, this wild creature of the woods was so calm and laid back about our presence that we wondered if, perhaps, she was tame and brought up in captivity. Maybe her wing became damaged and her "owner" dumped her? As each day passed though, she became a little stronger and more alert. She chose to feed only if it was Andy who held the mouse out to her and even then, only if they were alone. She perched on his hand and allowed him to treat her wing as best as he could. If she became annoyed, she warned him off by clacking her beak, a distinctive clicking sound.

Over the last few days, Spirit has become slowly stronger. The original wounds that Andy had from handling her were joined by scratches and cuts where she skipped up his arm. We read about owls attacking people and tearing their eyes out with their talons and knew it was true ... we could feel her strength. We fed Spirit and let her rest, let her gain her strength ... as she did, she became more feisty, more aggressive and wilder ... more as she should be rather than docile and placid.

Today we made the decision that it was time to pass her on to someone who we hope can take her the next step of the way. We phoned the RSPCA and they told us to take her to our local vet for treatment. I must say, the vet didn't seem at all keen to take her which is worrying ... however, they're apparently planning to x-ray her wing tomorrow and when we left they were contacting the local Hawk Conservancy so we're keeping our fingers crossed.

So, that's the story of Spirit, the owl who blessed us with her company for such a short space of time. I'm lighting a candle tonight to send her healing wishes and to hope that the Hawk conservancy are able to help her.

Update, Tuesday evening: Just a quick owly update though there isn't alot to report. I spoke to the vet a little while ago. He said they x-rayed Spirit's wing this morning and found that there isn't a break, just trauma. He's telephoned an owl centre to ask their advice but they haven't returned his call ... I suggested the best place may be the Hawk Conservancy because they have a specialist bird hospital there and he said he may go to them next. He also added that she's eating well still :~)

I'll phone back towards the end of the week to see if there's any more news. Fingers crossed ..

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Wild Sag Aloo and woodland walks *Pic heavy*

Wild strawberries in flower at the woods
 I love this time of year! It's as if summer's come early at the moment and the wild flowers have come on so well. We've had a few lovely strolls in the last couple of weeks and each time you can see a difference in the plants.
Yellow Archangel 

Dandelion seedhead

Woodland raspberries forming


Wood sorrel
 Wood sorrel is quite a distinctive little plant and the leaves taste just like apple peel. Take a look at the leaves and remember them ... you'll see them again, lower down this post :~)
Woodland lane

Ramsons patch lit up by the sun
 Ramsons are wonderful. You can see the way this patch was lit up by the sun ... it almost seemed to glow and "show" itself to us. As if that wasn't enough, the scent of garlic all around told us where to look.
Ramsons flowers
 The leaves of the ramsons can be shredded and added to food for a delicious garlicky taste which is pleasantly strong. The flowers can be eaten raw in salads and have a much stronger, sharper taste with a hint of honey. 
Ramsons flowers and leaves

Wild queen bee
Crabapples forming ... they'll be headed for my preserving pan in the autumn :~)

Bluebell wood

Albino bluebell

Wood sorrel "weeds" at the allotment
  Oh the irony! Remember the photo I said to look at further up this post? Well, the lovely man who had one of our allotment plots before us said the "weeds" above were some sort of clover and it came in on a load of soil he had delivered. He could never get rid of it and we've been pulling it up for years now ... it finally dawned on A the other day that it's wood sorrel! It has the same distinctive apple peel taste and everything!
Fat hen
 Today I finally gathered fat hen which has been on my "to do" list for several years now. It grows in abundance at the allotment and we know it's organic from there took advantage of it in between hoeing this morning. I'd always stress that, before you gather wild food, you should be completely sure of what you're collecting with the aid of a good identification book. If you can find someone to show you what you're looking for that's even better! 

To help you along the way, I've tried to show fat hen quite clearly in the pictures. Above, you can see the grey-green colouring and the slight silvery sheen that the leaves have.  
Fat hen side view

Fat hen seed head
 The seed head of fat hen, shown above, is quite obvious at this time of year. The plant is related to quinoa (amaranth) and you can see the similarity.
Broad bean rows

Baby slow worm at the allotment

Gooseberries swelling



Allotment raspberries forming


Medlars forming

Fat hen bunch for lunch
 We gathered a bunch of fat hen from the allotment and then scooted up to the woods to gather some fresh ramsons. On the wander through the trees we found an abundance of pignuts and dug just a few, leaving the rest untouched.

Pignut flower

Today's foraging basket: Left - Ramsons, right - fat hen, front - pignuts

Gathered fat hen

Gathered ramsons leaves

Shredded ramsons
 We arrived back home just before lunchtime so washed and shredded the ramsons leaves and fat hen, boiled some spuds, sliced some onions and created wild sag aloo which is probably even better than the original version :~)
Wild sag aloo ingredients (plus onions which were already cooking!)

Wild sag aloo
 Wild Sag Aloo

Floury potatoes, peeled (if you want to) and cut into pieces
Onions, halved and sliced
Fat hen, leaves taken off the stalk and shredded
Ramsons leaves, shredded
Curry powder to taste (I used vindaloo, enough to taste good but not be overpowering)
Black onion seeds (optional)

Bring the potatoes to the boil and simmer until softened but not falling apart. In a separate pan, gently fry the onions. When soft, add the curry powder and black onion seeds. Stir and warm the spices through. Add the ramsons, fat hen, potatoes and a little salt. Stir though, adding a little water if needed until everything is warmed through and coated with green leaves and spices. Serve. 
Wild sag aloo

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Socks :~)

 You can *never* have too many socks! The ones above were crocheted and really quick and easy to do from a pattern kindly sent to me by a member of a friendly little forum I visit.
 The sock above and below is knitted and vastly slower but I love it so far ... So far, I have only ever knitted one other sock in my life and was so relieved to get to the end of it that I couldn't face the second one! This time, I'm just plodding, plodding, plodding on ... I *have* to complete the pair this time!
 After all that, biscuits are in order ... Anzac biscuits. I'll post the recipe when I have a minute to dig it out  :~)