WILDFOODS OF IRELAND
With the credit crunch making us all more careful with our spending, a good way to save money (and get some fresh air and exercise) is to forage for wild foods. They are everywhere in Ireland and could add a very interesting spin to your dinner table!
Ireland has always been known to be a fertile land, and it would be great if more of us utilised the wild foods that have always been around (and hopefully always will be). Not only are wild foods exciting to use (a change is as good as a holiday, as they say!) but some of them contain vitamins and minerals that are lacking in processed foods we can currently pick up at the supermarket. So here are some suggestions as to what you can find and how to use them.
A small fraction of mushrooms are poisonous, and some are just plain awful tasting. So take a good mushroom guide with you when picking. Your best bet, especially if you live near any Wicklow hill, is chanterelles. They are orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped, and have a fruity smell reminiscent of apricots. They have a mildly peppery taste, and are considered an excellent eating mushroom. They are great fried with olive oil and salt, and also excellent on pizzas.
Anyone who lives near the sea can take home a very nutritious snack, straight from the water! Sea vegetables used to be a staple in Ireland, and it would be great if they could make a return to our tables. They are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, and they are higher in iodine than any plants grown in soil. The Japanese are incredibly keen on seaweed, and they are the longest lived humans on earth, so let’s copy them! Seaweed can be made into soups or incorporated into bread recipes. And also, the seaweed can be roasted and salted and added to salads. Delicious!
Blackthorn or Sloe is a deciduous large shrub or small tree growing to 5 m tall, with blackish bark and dense, stiff, spiny branches. The sloe berry is black with a pale purple-blue waxy bloom, ripening in autumn, and harvested in October or November. While this berry can be considered tart enough to make you pull a face when eating it, it has great uses in products like jams. But the best way to use them is in sloe gin, which is mind-boggling simple to create at home. Just Google for the recipe and away you go! You’ll be sloe-eyed in no time.
This plant is often walked past and not even noticed, it is so commonplace. However, the leaves are an excellent addition to salads. They are best when young and tender, and they should be pulled out by the roots until you are ready to use them. This way they stay fresh for when you are applying the dressing. They are often a little bitter, but in a salad with more delicate leaves, make an excellent mix of tastes.
This is another old-time favourite that went out of fashion. It’s hard to know why. The plant is abundant and full of some amazing trace elements that could make us all models of good health. So it’s time that nettle once again became a feature of our soup bowls. The nettle is considered a superfood and is used to treat a variety of ills. Once cooked the nettle can no longer sting you, and there are so many recipes for variations of nettle soup on the internet that the mind boggles. Another excellent and medicinal way to use nettle is in tea. Delicious, nutritious, and best of all, free!
Rabbit was a traditional wild food in Ireland until very recently. It’s difficult to know why it became unpopular. While it is a bit grisly to kill and skin and rabbit, the end reward is definitely worth it. Especially with wild rabbit – i has a superb gamey taste unlike any other animal. And there are also many ways to cook rabbit, again traditional Irish cookbooks hold vast ideas, as does the internet. Just be sure that the rabbit you catch isn’t the Easter bunny, otherwise every kid in your street will seriously dislike you.
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