Fairy potatoes and sea spaghetti

Chatted with Bobby Kerr on Newstalk’s The right Hook yesterday and got to thinking of wild things to do with your little ones this Easter.

How about a trip to the woods and byways in search of Fairy potatoes,and pick pretty primroses and violets which you can candy for a stunning edible decoration on your Easter deserts.

If you happen to be by the sea it’s the perfect weekend to hunt for sea spaghetti and other seaweeds.
The seaweed can be used to make cookies or used mixed with regular spaghetti, it turns bright green on cooking which only adds to the fun.

Or make the first of the year’s cordials from nettle tops and Blackcurrant leaves.

So what are fairy potatoes and how would you recognise them?

They are a member of the carrot family, grow in grassland and woods and are a great thrill to find, (don’t forget to ask permission from fairies to take some) Also called pig nuts, Conopodium majus. The fine leaves are above ground just now and it is a delicate operation to follow the slender stalks back to the tuberous “nut” which is usually off to one side and not directly under the leaves. DSCN0036


Pignut / Fairy Potato / Prata Sioga

Once you have dug your fairy potatoes they need a good scrub, remove outer skin and they are ready to eat, you can shave or cut them to smaller pieces and toast on dry hot pan for few mins, add to salads or to top pasta dishes.

Crystallizing or candying flowers is easy peasy if a bit sticky and just yesterday I oicked up a new tip for drying them, First cover a bowl or rack with baking parchment, with a skewer make holes in parchment so you can thread the flowers through and suspend them while they dry, Next beat up some egg white and paint the flower all over with egg white, each side of flower and stem, coat in caster sugar, unrefined if possible as healthy option and “post” them into the holes in your paper.

The young leaves are lovely too and they can be draped over  a curved surface so they are not flat and more interesting.

Sweet voilets are perfect contrast to the primroses and these little beauties have a long and interesting history, the ancient Romans used them to make wine, they are still used for sorbet, they were a remedy for headache and pain relief and syrup as childs laxitive.Violet essence is very expensive to produce, needing 100kg of flowers to produce just 50grms of essenceapril-pics-125april-pics-117

Make sure you use wild primroses Primula vulgaris as  the garden cultivars are NOT edible.

Sea spaghetti himanthalia elongata, low tide this weekend is a good time to go hunting for this seaweed, it grows on lower shore and so is uncovered at lowest tides, brown spaghetti growing from a little button, the hold fast, when gathering seaweed, know your patch, never pull from holdfast, cut with scissors or knife, leaving some to grow again. take just a little.

Other seaweeds to look for at this time are Carrigeen and Nori to name just two. Prannie Rathigan’s  book Irish Seaweed Kitchen is the seaweed bible both for identification, recipies folklore and nutrition.

Sea spaghetti turns green when cooked which is great for kids of all ages and Prannie’s book includes a recipe for cookies using sea spaghetti, almonds and spelt.

There is also a recipe for land and sea spagetti from Eithna o Sullivan along with a host of other ideas from many of our best know chefs.

Sadly my seaweed photos are trapped in camera which is in intensive care, restored to full health by Saturday, Fingers crossed.

Nettle and Blackcurrant leaf Cordial,

here is an interesting drink, use unrefined sugar and drizzel undiluted into yougurt or over pancakes or dilute for a hot or cold drink.

2lites of loosely packed nettle tops,

2litres of Blackcurrant leaves,

1.5kg sugar, unrefined is best,

2teaspoons citric acid (optional)

I.5 litres of water.

Heat water in sausepan and add sugar, stirring to dissolve,

Bring to boil and turn off heat, add leaves and stir in as they wilt,

Add citric acid if using,

Cover and allow to infuse for several hours or overnight.

Strain bottle and store in cool place or fridge.Another wildfood enthusasist

Happy foraging, would love stories, pics or recipies from your forage.

Mushrooms, Mycelia, and more


St. George's mushrooms in situ.

St. George’s mushrooms in situ.

Mary Bulfin - wild mushroom foragerIt may seem an odd time to be posting about mushrooms but there is a good reason for my writing at this time. I have been researching growing my own fungi and now seems a good time to get organised for the year ahead. Our first mushrooms, the highly prized Morels, will appear with luck in March, and I want to be ready.

Ready to pick if lucky enough to find them, but also ready to harvest spores and attempt to grow the mycelium at home – an ambitious project, but with the guidance of www.fungi.com and the years of experience of Paul Stamets and his team, it’s certainly worth a try.

If you have interest in fungi you will find Paul Stamets’ books and talks quite fascinating. In fact, if you are interested in environmental protection, remediation of pollution, forestry, or the general well-being of our planet then look him up. I was given Mycelium Running as a gift and it’s a book I refer to again and again.

To pick out one topic from the many, how would it be if we could charge our food with sunlight and store the Vitamin D to boost us in dull winter days? In my opinion our poor country is so sadly lacking in natural sunshine that this would be of huge benefit to us all and a lot more accessible to most than a foreign holiday.

We can do this with mushrooms – yes really! They can be shop bought, or even better, wild. Stamets’ method consists basically of exposing the mushrooms to sunlight, they then absorb vitamin D. The mushrooms are then dried and the vit D content remains high for at least a year.

  • For the full method and scientific analyses of content and absorption into body go to www.fungi.com.
  • See Paul Stamets give a TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world.html 


So it’s February, cold and wet, you might think there is not much for a keen forager to do at this time of year – not so!

I have been to Connemara on a seaweed forage collecting Carrigeen, Dillisk, kelp, sea lettuce and wrack, all now drying in my polytunnel, I will take another trip at lowest tide in March.

Meanwhile we have been enjoying Navelworth, and Corn salad as fresh greens and the Ground ivy is up and at its curly leafed best just now. Ramson’s Garlic patches close to coasts and in well sheltered areas have begun to appear and just as last year’s supplies run low it’s already time to make more garlic pesto.

There is still time to dig up and dry Dandelion root for dandelion coffee before the plant’s energy is concentrated in making new leaves and flowers.

Also keep a look out for Chick weed and Hairy bitter cress, both plants survived the winter in my veg patch. Soon Garlic Mustard will be appearing and Nettles.

Indoors there is Blackberry wine and Crab apple wine to bottle. I still have not started my Oak leaf wine, just lazy.

I have been reading up on how to grow your own mycelia and with a lot of luck I hope introduce at least one species this year, more about that in my post ‘mushrooms and more’.

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