Sunday, 1 June 2014

Snails, 'shrooms, slime and a flower bed

 This dish is seasonal eating at it's purest, using only what the hedgerow larder has to offer. I've been wanting to create something entirely from wild food for a while, and this is what I came up with. (I tell a lie, I did use a few shop-bought ingredients; butter to fry the mushrooms in and salt / pepper to season the 'slime')

I've taken the idea of recreating an edible garden scene quite literally and I'll be the first to admit that the slime (nettle puree) coming out from behind the snails is somewhat disgusting, but hey, it was just a bit of fun!

I collected the snails on a wet evening walk and purged them for four days (see bottom of page for more information). After purging, the snails were boiled for ten minutes, drained, and then simmered slowly in fresh tap water and a pinch of salt for an hour and a half. Using a pin, I removed the snail from the shell, the spiral containing the guts was removed, leaving just the fleshy body behind. The shells were placed back on top of the body to give the impression of a live snail. The Stinging Nettle puree recipe at the bottom of this post also. Apart from frying the mushrooms (St George's and Fairy Ring Champignon), there was really very little 'cooking' done; the rest was just arranging all the flowers and greens on the plate. All the species used are listed below.


Edible flowers / plants:

Top two rows-ish: Orpine, Three-cornered Leek, Green Alkanet, Lady's Smock, Fuchsia, Pink-sorrel, Garlic Mustard
Middle: Greater Stitchwort, Common Vetch, Cow Parsley, Herb Robert
Bottom: Lime leaves, Ground Elder, Ivy-leaved Toadflax

Orpine / Live-forever (Sedum telephium): 

A succulent and crunchy salad plant. Avoid eating large quantities of Sedum spp. with yellow flowers, as they can cause stomach upset.

Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens): 

Take the flowers out of the hairy bud before eating.

Fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.): 

I don't know the exact species name for the one's pictured below, but I do know that all Fuchsias are edible, and if you get them at the right time, really very tasty - they have a lovely sweet taste. 

Herb Robert (Geranium robertanium):

Leaves, roots and flowers are edible, though they all lack flavour. Flowers were used purely for decoration.  

Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis):

One of my favourite edible wild flowers - it's deliciously spicy. Grows abundantly in damp areas, be it by riverbanks, roadside ditches or in low-lying fields, like the picture below.

Pink-sorrel (Oxalis articulata):

A member of the wood sorrel family, this garden escapee grows much larger than the wild Oxalis species found in the UK.

Cow Parsley / Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris):

Flowers have an aniseed-like taste. Beware of Hemlock (Conium maculatum), the very poisonous lookalike.

Jack-by-the-Hedge / Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata):

As the vernacular names suggest, this plant is often found in hedgerows and has a garlic / mustard taste. 

Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea):

Flowers have no distinct flavour, so were purely for show. I find the leaves too tough and grass-like to eat.

Common Vetch (Vicia sativa):

A member of the pea family, this creeping plant is found in abundance in hedgerows. Both the leaves and flowers have a mild pea shoot flavour.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum):

Without a doubt this is one of my favourite wild plants; kind of like a milder Ramson. Flowers have a lovely garlic-y taste and, once flowered, the base of the stem becomes fat, juicy and even more mild - perfect for eating raw. 

Ivy-leaved Toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis):

Found in cracks in stone walls and rocks, this common plant has a mild peppery flavour when young, but becomes bitter with age. Flowers are edible. 

Common Lime (Tilia x europaea):

Leaves are edible when young and a vibrant yellow-green, they have a subtle, sweet flavour.

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria):

A gardener's enemy, but a forager's best friend; the young leaves have a fragrant, parsley-like flavour.


'Snail husbandry': 

Snails need to be purged before consuming, just in case they have ingested any slug/snail poison. Do this by feeding them plant material for 4 days and then starving for 24 hours. (If you feed them carrots, you can see when their system is purged as their droppings turn orange!)


Two types of wild mushroom were used for this dish; St George's Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa) and Fairy Ring Champignon (Marasmius oreades). St George's Mushrooms traditionally appear around the 23rd April, St George's Day, hence the name. Fairy Ring Champignon can be found from spring to autumn and, in my opinion, are one of the tastiest wild mushrooms - they have a lovely nutty flavour.

St George's
Fairy Ring Champignon (top), St George's (bottom)

Stinging Nettle puree ('slime'):

The puree was made by blanching the nettles for a couple of minutes, straining and squeezing to get rid of most of the water. This was then blitzed with salt, pepper. The water the snails were boiled in was added incrementally to get the right consistency. This mixture was then passed through a sieve and piped. 

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