Wild food update

Ooh, so now we’re onto the good stuff, the tender nibbles of early spring have given way to more robust vegetables – something you can make a proper meal out of!

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The best spring vegetables! Sea Kale (L), Rock Samphire (R) and Sea Beet (centre)

On tonight’s menu: A coastal veg trio of steamed sea kale flower shoots, rock samphire and sea beet tops.

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From shore to table within an hour, with a juicy mushroom and fried egg of course!

Sea Kale (Crambe maritima) shoots are a dream for someone who loves purple sprouting broccoli as much as I do. The flowering stems are tender and sweet, although as with most wild foods, they do have a stronger, more bitter flavour than their cultivated cousins.

Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) is perfect as a vegetable at this time of year, with the fresh new growth crisp and not at all fibrous. It has a strong aromatic flavour and is another edible member of the carrot family. It is very different from Marsh Samphire which grows in salt marshes and estuarine mudflats.

Sea Beet (Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima) is the wild ancestor of a range of modern beet cultivars (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris) including beetroot, sugar beet, chard and mangelwurzels (great word!) which is an animal fodder crop. It makes a great vegetable when the leaves are treated in the same way as you would spinach or chard.

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All three growing within the same square yard of shingle beach

In other wild food adventures I have pickled some Three-Corner Leek and  Ribwort Plantain flower buds. Pickling is a great way to preserve foraged goodies and also to completely change the way they can be used. I will most likely use these to add to salads for an extra kick of flavour.

Another of my favourite spring vegetables is Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) shoots. Known as warabi in Japanese it is a popular vegetable in East Asian countries. To make it palatable, it needs to be treated by being blanched in boiling water with bicarbonate of soda and then rinsed and soaked in a couple of changes of cold water with bicarbonate which removes the bitterness and toxins.

Although it doesn’t have much flavour, bracken has a great (to the Japanese palate anyway) slimy texture and is a good absorber of flavours from sauces and other ingedients. One of my favourite ways to serve it is simply cooked, sprinkled with katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) with a bit of soy sauce poured over.

Another good Japanese vegetable for this time of year is Burdock (Arctium lappa) root. Known as gobō in Japanese, it has a sweet earthy and mild flavour. The roots should be dug in the first year of growth for this biennial plant as second year roots become very tough and fibrous. The most popular way to prepare gobō is as kinpira gobō, matchstick size pieces of burdock root and carrot are cooked together and flavoured with chilli, soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil.

Finally, a couple of sweet additions to the foraging list. Japanese knotweed shoots are excellent for a very brief period when the young shoots first emerge. They can be cooked and taste very like rhubarb, albeit with a little less acidity. I’ve done crumble, cake and a fool with them this year, no pictures sadly 😦

As an invasive non-native species which spreads very easily and grows from very small vegetative fragments, you do need to be very careful how you pick it and what you do with the trimmings. I tend to thoroughly cook or burn any offcuts before disposing of them. Definitely don’t throw them on the compost!

The last one on the list is a bit of an experiment. I noticed that the pine flowers were laden with pollen and decided to try collecting some. I got quite a lot in a very short time, as you can tell from the videos below! Not sure what I’ll do with it at the moment, I’ve tried adding it to cake batter but the flavour is very delicate so it didn’t really come out. It does look pretty sprinkled on top or on porridge or yoghurt though. Any suggestions welcomed, I have a jarful in the cupboard!

 

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The summer season is approaching!

Ahoy! I have had a busy week and have a nice restful day of bellringing on Guernsey to look forward to tomorrow so it’s time to relax and write an Alderney update.

So, what have I been up to in the last month?!

Pretty much everything really: exploring Alderney, butterfly and bumblebee surveying, reserves jobs including finishing off the new Longis Birdhide and maintaining footpaths, tractor cutting, a few bat and hedgehog walks, beach cleans, more ormer hunting, helping set up for puffin season and for the first time today, leading a cycle tour of the island.

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Sharing the white sands and azure seas of the Mediterranean Channel with visitors on a cycle tour this afternoon.

The weather for the last few weeks has been glorious. It’s been sunny almost every day although often the air and wind have been pretty cold. I’ve had my first sunburn of the year and have got out exploring and being shown new places with fellow AWT staff members 🙂 There are two new secret places which we visited in particular which I loved – The ruined Cachliere pier and Bluestone beach. Bluestone is the islands “nudist” beach as it is hidden from view and again hard to find unless you know how. The blue/grey pebbles get lovely and warm in the sun and there and huge wave smoothed boulders of sandy coloured stone to sunbathe on. It’s a lovely swimming beach and the beach drops off steeply so it gets very deep quickly. I had my first swim on 2017 here a couple of weeks ago – it was very cold! We warmed up in the sun afterwards with a hot cup of tea before heading off to lead a beach clean in the afternoon.

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The ruins of Cachliere pier viewed from the approach above
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It’s great to explore and hard to find unless you know the way down!
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We enjoyed a classy glass of prosecco and enjoyed the warm evening and the different view
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The descent to Bluestone beach.

 

Survey season has well and truly begun, I have two weekly butterfly transects to walk and a monthly bumblebee transect. Ideally these should be done on warm, sunny and calm days, we’ve definitely had the sunny but not necessarily the warm and calm!

Here is one of my survey sites a couple of weeks ago – not may butterflies there!

I also see some other interesting things along my transects like this:

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Mucilago crustacea also charmingly known as Dog’s Vomit slime mould

I do love a slime mould! They are a bizarre single celled organism that most of the time live freely and independently. When conditions are right and they meet mating partners, they grow into a ‘plasmodium stage’ of a mobile slimy mass of interconnecting strands. This mass moves over the food source until it runs out which triggers spores to be produced. The plasmodium stage of many species can be very distinctive but is ephemeral and you will only usually see it for a day or so before if darkens, produces spores and the remains dry up.

I’ve encountered a fair number of different insect species in the last few weeks so I have a separate post coming on those – sorry, like the moths this will be more for my benefit than yours!

In the meantime have some photos of Alderney sunrises and sunsets:

 

The pace is picking up!

Argh! I did it again, a month without a blog.

Well, my only excuse I that I’ve been very busy. Although that’s not quite true, mostly it’s because instead of using Sunday evening as a relaxing time at home to cook, watch TV and write a blog post I’ve been going out and doing more exciting things.

Anyway, just a quick moth update for now since this is something that has definitely just picked up this week.

So since I last wrote I have run the trap another 3 times. On 24th March, I caught nothing. Very disappointing but it was a cool night and I also forgot to switch the trap on before dark which means I may have missed some species which tend to fly at dusk.

On 31st March I had 9 moths of 6 species, pictured and listed below:

2 Early Thorn (1♂, 1 ♀)

2 Early Grey

2 Common Quaker

1 Powdered Quaker

1 Hebrew Character

1 Shuttle-shaped Dart (♂)

Most recently the trap I ran on 8th April had 32 moths of 14 species including the stunning and crowd-pleasing Emperor Moth.

Full list and pics below:

7 Early Grey

5 Engrailed

4 Hebrew Character

3 Common Quaker

3 Waved Umber

2 Shuttle-shaped Dart

1 Muslin Moth (♂)

1 Emperor (♀)

1 Knot Grass

1 Coronet

1 Chinese Character

1 Light Brown Apple Moth

1 Least Black Arches

1 Early Tooth Striped

I’m afraid that’s all you’ll get today. Hopefully I’ll be back with a better update soon!