“My old grandmother always used to say, Summer friends will melt away like summer snows, but winter friends are friends forever.” George R.R. Martin
Foraging through winter sounds like hard work; it is cold, it’s windy, and a supposedly thankless task, however, it is surprising how many wild foods remain common through the dark winter months.
In a specially mild winter, one can gather plenty: sorrel, wild rocket, berries, some fungi. As the seasons get ever warmer, that kind of winter forage will be more and more common. Looking more closely at the clumps of stinging nettle, one could be pleasantly surprised to see new, fresh growth at and near the base. It will be intensely green, soft, still stingy and lush, making it a treat to eat as they’re tasty, and very nutritious.
Rose hips start ripening in Summer, and through Autumn and into Winter, one can find them slowly softening on the bushes. They are a superbly versatile fruit that is much under-utilized, they go much further than sweet rose hip syrup. Dried or fresh (with the bitter seeds removed) they make a fine herbal tea. The cranberries are – often frozen – just waiting to be harvested. The long skinny Burdock Root is edible but if the ground is frozen it can be a challenge to dig up. Whilst harvesting, dried grapes and frozen wild apples, Hawthorn berries can also be found as they persist into the winter. Whatever is harvested do not forget the golden rule: leave plenty for the existing inhabitants – especially in the winter.
Drying berries in the oven
Clean and dry the berries. Turned the oven as low as it is possible and spaced the cooking racks evenly apart. Covered a few baking sheets with parchment, and spread the fruit out in an even layer. Set the clock and at about the four-hour mark, there should be signs of shrinking. The fruit will be done after about 7-8 hours. Shorter drying time will result in more chewy fruit. They should keep for a few months in an air tight container.
Chop 150 g hazelnuts finely. In a medium bowl, cream 220 g butter and 70 g brown sugar until it is light. Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until it is thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, combine 125 g white flour, 120 g whole wheat white flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine, then add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix until the flour is incorporated. Form the dough into a log about 5 cm in diameter. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the log into disks of preferred thickness and arrange them on the cookie sheet. Bake until the biscuits are lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Cool completely.
Tempering chocolate in the microwave
To temper chocolate in the microwave, put chopped room-temperature chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, preferably glass, and melt on high for 20 seconds. This should yield a slightly lumpy mix with about one-third of the chocolate still relatively solid, remove the bowl from the microwave and, using a rubber spatula, transfer the chocolate to a clean, cold bowl and beat the chocolate until it cools (about 32°C if using a thermometer). Place back into the microwave and heat again for 5 seconds. Take it out, stir again, and place it back for an additional 5 seconds if needed. This is an easy process, but it does take practiced guessing to estimate the initial two-thirds to one-third melting ratio and the right temperature. Small chocolate pieces, called calets or pistoles ( chocolate chips formed into slightly rounded disk), can be used to cool the melted chocolate as well chocolate. Adding a tablespoon of flower flavoured (for example clover) honey will add a unique dimension of flavour to the chocolate bar.
Making rosehip and nettle tea
Both nettle and rosehip tea are a natural elixirs. Simply add water to the collected nettle leaves and rosehip fruit and heat to a near boil. Use about two cups of water for a cup of leaves and add 1 tablespoon fresh rosehip (seeds removed); there’s no need to measure. A stronger tea can be achieved by steeping longer, or weaker by adding more water. Once the water is near boiling, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour through a small strainer and the tea is ready to drink. It will taste fine without any additives.The cooked nettle leaves can also be eaten with a bit of butter melted over top, or they can be added to soups and stews.
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” Anne Bradstreet