On the wild side with Tim Maddams
- Credit: Archant
We may be in the ‘hungry gap’ but fear not as nature will provide says chef Tim Maddams
Here we are again, the year has turned and we are surrounded by new growth in the fields and hedgerows. The birds are nesting and the sap is rising, the garden however is in a state and it will be a while yet before the first greens of spring are ready for the table. We are in what is called the hungry gap, that time of year when the new sowings are yet to be ready and all the overwinter veg has finished. Thankfully for us though, nature provides.
Foraging is gardening for the haphazard of nature, of which I am one. It holds no interest for me - all that weeding and scraping, tending and nurturing.
When it comes to getting my hands on tasty, fresh ingredients I’m impatient and that’s why I love the hungry gap. To me it represents the first flush of nature’s bounty. and so defines what I will be serving until the asparagus and peas are ready to eat.
Hedgerow greens are likely as not to put a lot of people off and this is, I suspect, due to the trouble with the difference between a practical forager and a keen botanist. Now, I have more than a passing interest in botany but when it comes to foraging I couldn’t care less whether a certain plant is technically edible - all I want to know is this: is it tasty and not poisonous? If the answer is yes than I am interested. Which leads to the second question that you must ask: can I collect a worthwhile amount of the plant without it taking all day? If yes again then we are on for some action.
Gathering food from the wild is a dangerous thing, because there are a lot of points that you can fall foul of – wildlife protected areas, angry farmers and land owners and of course the good old “well it looked like parsley to me I didn’t know it was hemlock” that could prove fatal.
Happily, there are two very easy to identify wild plants that are almost impossible to mistake for anything else and which are so prevalent they’re easy to find. They are of course the common stinging nettle and the almost as common Ramsons or wild garlic (to identify the latter, look it up online and then follow your nose). Water mint is another favourite of mine, found near streams and on river banks.
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Try making a soup with wild garlic, just like a leek and potato but don’t add leeks. Just as the potato is cooked add as much wild garlic as you can get in the pot and and blend immediately, season and serve. Nettle soup works just the same way.
Or make a simple but delicious nettle, wild garlic and watermint pesto. Wash all your wild greens and blanch the nettles in boiling water and refresh in icy cold, drain well and squeeze out. Place all your greens roughly chopped in a blender and add your favourite veggie cheese, olive oil and toasted pumpkin seeds, blitz to a paste and use wherever you like.