By now you will have felt that change in the air that means warmer weather is on the way. The days are getting longer and you’re finding yourself craving lighter foods and fresher flavours.
From spring, as the first new shoots of wild garlic appear, through the long bright days of summer, our hedgerows, valleys, fields and farms are at their most productive and there are rich pickings for the keen foodie. In this issue, we’re highlighting one of the most versatile harbingers of the English summer and a statuesque Mediterranean native.
The elder is a large deciduous shrub which prefers to grow in untended hedgerows, sheltered from the wind and bathed by the sun. Its masses of frothy white, fragrant flowers are hard to miss in late spring and early summer if you’re walking, riding or driving around the English countryside. By late August their juicy, black-purple berries are ripe, and the birds will happily tuck in.
One of the classic wild foods of late May and early June, the sweetly scented flower heads are best picked on a bright, sunny morning when they first open. Once picked, elderflowers must be used or preserved quickly before they turn brown. Although uncooked elderberries are mildly poisonous, both the flowers and the berries have long been put to use in the kitchen. First and foremost, the flowers have been used for cordial and the berries for wine, but traditional medicine uses extracts of both as a remedy for coughs, colds and fever.
The flower heads are delightful simply dipped in a light batter and fried until crisp. Elderflower’s delicate flavour is perfectly suited to light desserts like fools or jellies, pairing particularly well with tart gooseberries, lemon or rhubarb. It also works well in summery cakes, tarts and trifles. Making your own cordial is easy enough to do, by infusing freshly gathered elderflowers with lemons, sugar, water and citric acid. Ideal for summer entertaining, it makes a sophisticated alternative to alcohol or, indeed, a refreshing addition to cocktails. To really get the party started, you can also infuse spirits like gin or vodka with elderflower.
Get yours from…
Forage for it
Because they have such a short shelf-life once picked, you’ll be hard pressed to find elderflowers for sale anywhere. If you’re happy to follow the countryside code and use your common sense, you can forage for your own on a sunny morning in late May or early June. Elder can often be found thriving alongside canal tow paths and old railway lines, of which there are many across the county. Make sure you get the landowners’ permission if you’re picking from fields or woodland edges and corners and only use foraged ingredients if you’re certain you’ve identified them correctly.
The globe artichoke is one of the largest members of the thistle family and, somewhat confusingly, no relation of the potato-like Jerusalem artichoke. Introduced to England by the Dutch, artichokes were said to have been grown in Henry VIII’s garden at New Hall – also known as Beaulieu – in the 16th century. With one of the highest levels of antioxidant capacity of any vegetable, glboe artichokes are at their best from June all the way through to November.
The part of the plant you can eat is the flower bud before the flower comes into bloom. It’s the tender ends of the leaves and the fleshy base – the ‘heart’ – that are edible, unlike the tough outer leaves and furry choke. In smaller artichokes the leaves are more tender, but larger specimens tend to have bigger hearts. It’s best to choose those with tightly packed leaves showing a slight bloom. Some varieties have beautiful purple leaves, while others are a crisp green.
Eating globe artichoke has to be one of the simple pleasures of summer. All you need to do is boil or steam the whole flower head before pulling off the leaves and dipping them – they’re delicious with vinaigrette, hollandaise, garlic butter, mayonnaise or aioli. Draw the leaf through your teeth to remove the tender flesh and discard anything that’s tough. They can also be barbecued or grilled. Just slice in half lengthways, remove the fluffy choke, brush with olive oil and grill until tender.
Stuffed artichoke recipes are really popular, too. Start by boiling and then pulling out the central leaves and choke. In Italy, its common to stuff them with a mixture of bread crumbs, garlic, oregano, parsley, grated cheese, and prosciutto or sausage. Throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, and Armenia, ground lamb is a favourite filling. Then it’s simply a case of drizzling with olive oil and baking in the oven.
Get yours from…
Gerald Harrison Greengrocer
8 Market Place, Leek, ST13 8HH
A family run greengrocer for the past 45 years and counting, you’ll find Gerald Harrison’s right next door to the Market Place entrance to Leek’s historic Buttermarket. This traditional grocers is open from 7:30 every morning with the exception of Sundays (unless the Totally Locally Sunday Supplement is on), offering a huge range of fresh seasonal fruit and veg from across the UK and Europe. That includes globe artichoke when the timing’s right. Plus using your local greengrocer is one way to avoid all that unnecessary plastic you end up taking home from the supermarket – just make sure you’re prepared with your bag or basket.