Well, after our brief fools spring we have returned to a fairly gloomy March and April so far. The days are still drawing out and here in Oxford, we are not getting much frost. This has meant that the blackthorn and cherries are blooming early creating a good food source for pollinators waking up after winter, and also a visual delight when walking about this city’s many greener spots. Gorse is also in full flower at Shotover and, on a sunny day, its yellow blossoms are one of my favourite sights and smells of spring.
Here is one of my favourite ways of enjoying these blossoms –
Recipe: Wildflower and Lemon Gluten Free Cake
100 grams vitalite
100 grams extra virgin coconut oil
200 grams caster sugar
200 grams ground almonds
100 grams fine polenta
1½ teaspoons baking powder
3 large eggs
zest of 2 lemons
For the Syrup:
100g gorse flower and blackthorn flower mix
Juice of 2 lemons
50ml date syrup or maple syrup
Simply beat together the coconut oil, vitalite and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Mix other dry ingredients all together, add a third at a time, mixing in the eggs in between one at a time. We have some dehydrated gorse flowers which we ground up and added with the lemon zest at the end.
Place into a lined 9-inch cake tin and cook at 160 degrees until you can insert a knife in the top and it comes out clean. Roughly 40 minutes.
Heat up your syrup ingredients and gently simmer for 5 minutes. If it becomes too thick, add a drop or two of water.
Strain off liquid from flowers, gently prick cake all over while still warm with a cocktail stick and pour over. Leave to cool in the tin.
Down at the allotment, things are plodding along slowly, dashing in to dig out old plastic left from old tenants or pulling up all the spinach that self sprouted and moving them to more suitable places. I didn’t plant many brassicas last year and am sorely regretting this now. My one purple sprouting broccoli was putting in the work though and just started producing lots of tiny li’l heads. I got one crop and the wind took my netting with it, next day there had been a massacre from the local pigeon gang.
In between sowing seeds, I am also getting my polytunnel back in shape. I took the top off after a mass of miner bees decided it would be a nice place to live at the end of last season. Watching other tunnels make a break for it and dash about the allotments like kites on the wind has made me rethink things and add quite a lot of structure, it was only £60 off gumtree so quite flimsy.
My partner bought back some Alexanders recently from a trip down Kernow, these are an abundant wild food source around the coast and were first introduced by the Romans from the Mediterranean as a crop similar to celery. They have some very dangerous lookalikes so make sure to go out with a very good person to guide you if picking. My partner’s mother picked mine, she used to teach forest schools and is a keen forager so I had no worries.
If you do collect, these have many uses. The leaves can be used as greens, the young flowers as broccoli substitute or battered up and deep fried, the stems as celery substitute, the seeds dried as a spice and even the tubers can be eaten (please note you cannot dig up plants without permission from landowner). I used some stem in my Winter Spelt Risotto base but most of it I fermented then dried out and blitzed with salt, I am excited to use this in a bloody mary, hopefully quite soon.
While weeding away I have been pulling up lots of nettles and these do not go to waste. They are such an abundant green and packed full of nutrients and while they are young they are super tasty. Picking out the top few leaves is all you need but be careful when collecting, always keep in mind the ‘’dog wee zone’’. These can be made into fine stew, fermented up into traditional beers and wines, bulk out any pasta or risotto dish and a whole host of other recipes. Just be careful to cook them to neutralize them stingers, a quick blanch in boiling water will suffice. I have also started to see some hawthorn budding and rather good looking dandelions, but let’s save that for next time.
Recipe: Vegan Wild Winter Spelt Risotto
1 onion (finely diced)
1 carrot (finely diced)
1 stick of celery (finely diced)
1 parsnip (finely diced)
2 mushrooms (finely diced)
1 red pepper (finely diced)
A handful of flour
A large pinch of nutritional yeast
25ml of raw cider vinegar (a dash)
100ml of white wine (a glug)
200g of pearled spelt
500ml of veg stock (give or take)
For the super green concentrate:
This can be made with any greens you can get your hands on. Take a handful of nettles, parsley, wild garlic, spinach, kale, peas and blanch them in a large pan of salted water on a roiling boil for no more than 4 minutes. Drain then place in blender with some cold vegetable stock and blitz into a fine kind of savoury smoothie. To preserve colour it needs to be passed through a sieve, then cooled as quickly as possible.
In olive oil and a little salt, cook out the onions until soft, then add rest of vegetable and cook until all soft. Add a glug of white wine, a dash of cider vinegar, a sprig of thyme, some oregano and reduce down.
Add a dash more olive oil, a handful of flour and the spelt then stir until all the pearled spelt is covered. Add your nutritional yeast and start adding your stock one big ladle at a time continuing to stir. The spelt takes a while longer than normal risotto rice so patience is key here.
If your using a shop bought stock these tend to be fairly salty but keep tasting as you go and adjust seasoning.
When you’re just about cooked let the mix go a little dryer than a normal risotto would be then just as you come to finish add your super green concentrate. This will add instant vibrancy to the dish. Remove from the heat as any more cooking and you will start to lose the green.
Finish with desired salad garnish and seeds or nuts. I went for a homemade sauerkraut and radish salad.
If you fancy making this into a main you can jazz it up with some chunky roast veg on top and a parsnip crisp or two. Bon appétit.
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