Category Archives: Wild food

Chestnuts

chestnutsIf there’s one ingredient I’d love to see more of on our dining plates, it’s chestnuts. Few ingredients celebrate the cold weather and its accompanying comfort food like chestnuts. Just a whiff of roasted chestnuts – even better from a streetside stall – is enough to get anyone’s mouth watering. These earthy, fragrant, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth delights pair equally well with sweet and savoury dishes in Western and Eastern cuisines. 

The late autumn months are when chestnuts are harvested but they’re sold well into the deep winter. You’re probably come across the large, fallen round chestnuts in your local park. These horse-chestnuts aren’t edible – but do look gorgeous as seasonal decoration. The edible varieties look smaller and flatter. While foraging for chestnuts in the park or forest, protective head gear is recommended: the falling spiky pods launched from a height of more than 10 metres are likely to cause some serious damage!

Raw chestnuts are available to buy at the markets, fruit & veg shops and some supermarkets. Look for shiny, hard chestnuts with smooth skin and no sign of any hollowness or softness. Score and either boil or roast them and eat whole immediately. Besides the outer shell, the very thin, astringent inner skin needs to be removed before eating. One down side is that preparing raw chestnuts is quite laborious. Thankfully pre-cooked (and peeled!) chestnuts are available in vacuum packs at your local deli or specialty store or in purée form.

The winter kitchen is the perfect celebration of chestnuts: roast pheasant with chestnut filling, chestnut and parsnip soup, chestnut stuffed mushroom, sprouts and chestnuts,  chestnut risotto or chestnut and chocolate torte. So if one of your new year’s resolutions is to be more adventurous with your cooking, then chestnuts could be a good starting point. Time to start cooking…

Wishing you all a wonderful 2014, full of delicious, beautiful, seasonal food.

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Blackberries

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I am always in two minds about the coming of blackberry season. On one hand, I look forward to picking the plentiful, plump, black berries by the side of the road especially for making jam. On the other hand, blackberries fruit at the very end of summer and that can mean only one thing: that winter is coming.

While picking blackberries, I find it is very handy to bring a tall person with you and luckily, we’re in the right country for that. The biggest, juiciest, and most perfect blackberries tend to hang from the top of the bush, highly out of reach for someone vertically challenged like myself. I love returning to our favourite picking spots or stumbling across blackberry brambles unexpectedly during a walk or cycle somewhere. During these times, we usually pack some containers just in case and expect that our outings will take twice as long as we intended.

Brambles like to grow along the side of the road, path or railway track, on the edges of parks and often in disused places. Watch out for traffic if picking near the road! Don’t wear anything that you’ll be afraid to get stained with blackberry juice or ripped up by the thorns that cover the bush. Your fingers and hands will likely be covered in scratches by the end of your harvest fest but the beautiful, dark-coloured jam will be more than worth it! Other yummy uses for blackberries include blackberry cheesecake, jam tartlets, blackberry wine, and blackberry crumble. They also freeze well – frozen berries are perfect to use in cakes and smoothies. It’s only the beginning of blackberry season so there’s plenty more to come. Happy picking!

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A Forest Full Blueberries

blueberries1There is no other word than PHENOMENAL to describe this year’s wild blueberry season in the Netherlands. Everywhere, the forest floor is literally a sea of blue, each shrub filled with clusters of fat, juicy blueberries dripping off each branch. No kidding (see all the dark blue dots in the photo?).

In my first post on wild blueberries, I wrote that they were notoriously hard to spot. Well I take that back: obviously I was in the wrong forest or I was too early. This second blueberry expedition brought me to blueberry heaven. Now I understood what the blueberry picker was made for (to comb the berries from the plant). If you can, head to the forest this week to pick your own. Blueberry seasons like this don’t come by very often anymore!

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And in case you’re stuck for ideas for what to make with all your blueberries, what about: blueberry jam, blueberry pie, blueberry crumble, blueberry muffins, blueberry cake, blueberry clafoutis, blueberry liquer, blueberry pancakes, blueberry cheesecake, blueberry ice cream…is that enough to get you out there picking?

(PS wash them very very well before eating or cook them)

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Wild Blueberries

The picking of wild blueberries requires two essential skills: sharp eyes and truckloads of patience. The forest is now ripe with these little blue gems that grow on low shrubs. The past few Dutch summers were not the best for wild blueberries but I heard through the grapevine that this is the best season since a couple of decades!

These wild blueberries are smaller and tarter than their tamed supermarket cousins so be in for a little surprise when you take your first bite: a taste explosion! While picking, they are notoriously hard to find in the mass of green: lift up the branches of the shrub or better still squat down to shrub level (who needs the gym?) to spot them. Once you have your blueberry ‘eyes’ on, you’ll see them everywhere. Pick a big handful before stuffing them all into your face and remember to check if your teeth are still stained blue before meeting anyone in public after leaving the forest. Delicious for wild blueberry sauce (over a pie or cheesecake for example) and jam. Oh, and you won’t get anywhere fast: estimate about half a kilo every hour by hand (faster with a berry picker but I prefer it the hard way). Happy picking!
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