Eating your way across North Cornwall’s landscape

Spring is what people used to call the hungry gap–the time of year when the food they’d by for the winter was running low and the crops were nowhere near ready to pick. So–I’ve been told–people around here turned to the hedgerows and picked what they could.

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These are nettles–horrible itchy things but they loose their itchiness and are edible as soon as you steam or boil them. You can use them pretty much like spinach, but you have to be careful how you pick them.

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The grassy-looking things are three-cornered leeks. They smell more oniony than garlicky, but all the same I can’t walk past them without wanting a pizza. Good in a salad, or tossed into a pasta sauce at the last minute.

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G. tells me this is the ancestor of celery–alexanders. They were brought over by the Romans (or so I’m told; I haven’t been able to confirm that). I’ve never cooked with them but G. has, and he lived to say they’re good. The seed, root, and flower are all edible.

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And finally, one not to eat. This is dog’s mercury. M.’s dog eats it, if she can, every spring. She eats it, then she throws up. That’s a dog’s idea of a fun day out. It’s toxic in large doses. The “dog” in the name means the plant isn’t useful. Except to M.’s dog.

31 thoughts on “Eating your way across North Cornwall’s landscape

  1. I shall keep my eyes out for what is edible out there… I think hedgerow foraging is great fun! It makes me feel positively virtuous. But then, evening nightshade looks ever so like redcurrant… one must be careful! :-) Great post, Ellen!

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  2. This makes me think of the guy in the US who watched too many episodes of Man vs Wild or Extreme Survival or something and decided to make his own Youtube survival video. He made himself a little salad of what he though were edible leaves. In reality his “salad” consisted of oleander, foxglove and hemlock!

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  3. Back home in Scotland, I had a friend who was into foraging for food. I was always happy to cook and eat the things I found on a walk with him but would then get trepidatious about picking things like fungi on my own. I have cooked with nettles a few times but my favourite wild plant to cook with is wild garlic. I love the smell of it when we walk in the woods and it’s lovely in grub.

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    • Mushrooms make me nervous–even the ones that can’t be mistaken for anything else. (It’s important to have something to worry about.)

      For some reason, we don’t have wild garlic growing in the immediate area. I wish we did, but it’s all three-cornered leeks.

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  4. This is fascinating. Diana Gabaldon often refers to nettles in the Outlander series, so to see one and hear how they are cooked bring the story to life for me. Thanks.

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    • …and for what it’s worth, if you manage to get into them, you can minimize the itch by rubbing it with dock leaves. (It’s not quite an itch, but that’s the closest I can come to the sensation. Irritation doesn’t go far enough.)

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  5. Thanks, never knew you could eat Alexanders. But what about the wild garlic? Here in mid/West Cornwall the woods,( and my garden), are full of wild garlic. It smells like the tame kind but the taste is not nearly as strong, more like young spinach that has been cooked with garlic. Good raw in salad, as soup, fritatta, stuffed into roast lamb or chicken or made into a persto-ish thing. The Yarg chees people even wrap it round some of the cheeses before they are cured. The most common cheese they make has nettles. This is entirely understandable: the woods around the creamery have nettles growing everywhere that is not full of wild garlic. Rebranding what would otherwise be thuggish weeds as culinary delicacies.

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    • I didn’t think to mention Yarg cheese being wrapped in nettles. Good point. I’ve never seen the ones wrapped in wild garlic.

      Sadly, we don’t have wild garlic growing near us, just the three-cornered leeks.

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  6. Nice post. What about dandelion greens? My Italian grandmother used to make a salad with them, which we all thought was evidence of her backwardness while we gobbled down frozen pizza.

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    • It’s an odd thing, now that you mention it, but I haven’t heard anyone talking about eating dandelion greens–it’s all nettles and wild garlic and so forth. Maybe frozen pizza contains some ingredient that renders dandelions invisible.

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  7. The little I know about Cornwall is from Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series 😉 I clicked this post on seeing the name Cornwall and loved the way you’ve described these plants and their use in delicious sounding recipes…i want a pizza now.

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