Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Bloody wild Bloody Mary

  I set myself a challenge with this one - to replace shop-bought ingredients with those from Nature's larder, creating a wild twist on a classic cocktail - the Bloody Mary.  Tomato juice is of course the base for any Bloody Mary, which, unfortunately for the sake of this challenge, has no wild substitute. Anyway, it wouldn't be a Bloody Mary without tomato juice, so it had to stay.  It also wouldn't be a Bloody Mary without a shot or two of vodka.  As vodka can be made from practically anything capable of fermentation I guess I could have brewed my own using wild fruits or the like, but as I savour my eyesight and simply don't have the time to be brewing and distilling moonshine, it had to stay. For me a slice of lemon is also a must for a Bloody Mary, shop-bought I'm afraid.  The last ingredient that I failed to forage is the Worcestershire Sauce. However, this was more due to the season than the lack of a wild substitute; Miles Irving in The Forager's Handbook gives a recipe for a Walnut ketchup that supposedly tastes very similar to the shop-bought stuff - I'll have to try this come the autumn. Although not a Worcestershire sauce substitute, I did use a shot of homemade Elderberry vodka along with a shot of Sea Radish root vodka in one of the drinks to give it a similar richness and tang.

So, what did I forage to replace the usual ingredients?

Celery salt - Alexanders salt
Stick of celery - Sea Radish leaf spine with a Lady's Smock leaf
Tabasco - Sea Radish root infused vodka as well as grated fresh Horseradish root in the drink
Ice - Silver Birch sap ice cubes
Garnish - selection of wild flowers; Primrose, Gorse and Sweet Violet

Below is some information and pictures on the plants used, as well as how they were processed to create the components of the Bloody Mary.

Alexanders (Symrnium olusatrum):

For Alexanders information, see a previous blog post here

Alexanders leaf structure

Sea Radish (Raphanus maritimus):

The young leaves can be steamed / stir-fried and used as a veg, though they have tiny hairs that persist through the cooking process, so I find them to be rather unpleasant to eat.  The central spine of the leaf structure, once peeled, tastes like radish - hence the name.  The root is extremely fiery and tastes like a strong mustard / wasabi. 

Lady's Smock / Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis):

Nature's wasabi - this innocuous looking plant packs quite a punch.  The taste is somewhere between horseradish, a strong mustard and wasabi - the more you chew, the hotter it gets due to the volatile oils present in the leaf.

Lady's Smock prefers damp conditions, so walking along riverbanks is a good place to start looking for it. It can also be found in damp meadows, woodland and fens.  Flowers are also edible.

Lady's Smock and Lesser Celandine growing on the riverbank.

Persistently damp places are a good place to look for Lady's Smock.

The leaf structure is very similar to that of Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), though Lady's Smock is usually larger - the end leaf is always the largest.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana):

At this time of year you'll only really find Horseradish if you've found it before and marked your spot.  Even though I knew there was a tonne of Horseradish in this patch of ground it still took me a minute or so to find these tiny dark brown shoots emerging. Needless to say, it's bloody spicy stuff and is most commonly used to make a creamy sauce.

New growth Horseradish - almost impossible to find unless you have a 'spot' where you know it'll be

Digging up a newly sprouting plant just for the root may be seem rather brutal, but Horseradish is a mighty resilient plant - so long as you leave a section of the root in the ground it'll grow back. Pick only what you need - I usually take the top 5-10cm and leave the rest in the ground for next years regrowth.

Primrose (Primula vulgaris):

Although these do grow in the wild, I tend not to pick them as they aren't very abundant - these were from my garden.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus):

Gorse flowers have a mild coconut-y aroma and can be used to make syrup, wine, ice cream etc.  Flowers can also be crystallised as you would a Sweet Violet.  When eating raw I find that although you get a slight coconut taste to begin with, the overriding taste is an unpleasant bitter one, so it is preferable to use petals individually. 

Sweet Violet (Viola odorata):

Violet flowers have been used for centuries to flavour food as well as for its sweet perfume.  The scent is like nothing else and the taste of the flowers is really very pleasant - think parma violet sweets but without the washing-up liquid. Flowers are most commonly crystallised or made in to a syrup. This syrup can then be used to flavour cakes, macaroons, icing butter etc.


Alexanders salt:

Celery salt is a vital ingredient for any Bloody Mary and somewhat of a one-trick pony - I've never heard of it being used for anything else?!  As Alexanders were widely cultivated and used in place of celery up until the sixteen century, when celery was developed to produce a milder, thick-staked plant, it makes perfect sense to use them as a wild celery substitute.   

To make the salt, simply dehydrate the Alexanders - I'd used the leaves for a gratin so had only the stems left, but the leaves are fine to use also.  I used a dehydrator here, but if you don't have one then place them in the oven on a low heat until dry and crisp - somewhere between 60 and 80ÂșC.  Once crisp, blend with sea salt in a food processor / coffee blender until a fine powder.

Blitz in a food processor / coffee grinder

Alexanders salt

Sea Radish vodka and edible cocktail stirrer:

For the vodka infusion, the root was finely chopped and left in a bottle of vodka for a week or so to infuse.

For the cocktail stirrer, the leaves were firstly cut off the stem. I then used a vegetable peeler to take off the stringy outer skin. The Lady's Smock leaf was slotted in the top of the stirrer.

Silver Birch sap ice cubes:

I've been tapping this Silver Birch tree in my garden over the past few days and have been boiling huge quantities of it down to produce a syrup (at 100:1 ratio, the amount of syrup I have produced is pitiful!)  As it has a 99%+ water content, it made sense to freeze some and use as ice cubes.  Blog post to follow with information about how to produce a syrup from the sap and its uses. 



I'm sure this bit doesn't need too much explanation, but here are the step-by-step recipes / ingredient lists for the two cocktails anyway. Bloody Mary 1 (single) is in the cocktail glass, Bloody Mary 2 (double) in the straight glass;

Bloody Mary 1:

- Cover glass rim in Alexanders salt (wet and sprinkle over)
- 1 shot Sea Radish vodka
- 2 Silver Birch sap ice cubes
- Tomato juice up to 1cm from the glass top
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce 
- ¼ tsp freshly grated Horseradish root
- Mix gently
- Slice of lemon on glass edge
- Garnish with flowers

Bloody Mary 2:

- 1 shot Sea Radish vodka
- 1 shot Elderberry vodka
- 2-4 Silver Birch sap ice cubes
- Lemon segment, squeezed
- Tomato juice up to 1cm from the glass top
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce 
- ¼ tsp Alexanders salt
- ¼ tsp freshly grated Horseradish root
- Sea Radish / Lady's Smock cocktail stirrer
- Mix and drink

Although the Sea Radish root vodka was spicy, it also had a strange aftertaste to it - something it didn't have when eating raw before being steeped in vodka.  If I were to do this again I would make a Horseradish vodka instead, as I think it would give a cleaner taste. 

Adding the Alexanders salt

Single Bloody Mary