Sweet cicely and nettles
My family are away this Sunday, so I decide to visit my mum in Ayrshire and take the opportunity to get some herbs that are not normally available to me as I live in Argyll.
I get pretty much set with my foraging bag; loads of plastic bags, trays etc and of course, my knife.
I take a detour via Perthshire, as I'm after Sweet Cicely - one of my favourite herbs - which is just starting to come good. I spy some at the roadside quite early on, the lighter green standing out but I don't stop to get it because it's a busy road and there are only a few plants.
A mile down I see a few more - then passing through a village just out of the centre I see it, about 20 small plants - yaas!
I park up, fill my pockets with bags and start gathering. Normally I just take the middle, very yellow, closed fluffy-leafed centre part, but most of the plant is good and I quickly start filling bags, cutting with my opinel.
"Iya! Iya!" It starts to come back to me that for some reason nettles like to hide amongst the sweet cicely, and in it, my hand starts to get stung badly.
"Make an interesting combo that, with fish maybe", I ponder...
Ground ivy and hedge garlic
I'm there for about 15 minutes picking the nicest brightest leaves and stalk shoots of sweet cicely with a little bit of their flowers. Something faster than a frog runs off moving the grass, then something else moves. I see a tiny mouse - there's a wee hole, and I'd disturbed this family.
I get in my car, carefully making sure my bags are closed over. I'm feeling pretty chuffed with both my hands tingly stinging.
I drive about 50 yards and think "hmm... could it be?" I turn around at the first opportunity and pull up. I grab a bag and jump out to the most beautiful hedge garlic aka garlic mustard or Jack by the hedge I've ever seen and start picking off the tender tops that are lighter green.
I jump a fence into the bottom of someone's garden, scaring off a rabbit this time. There's a carpet of hedge garlic amongst nettles, ground elder and perfect young ground ivy.
I pull a few small hedge garlic saplings with the root, thinking of a snail dish made in Noma, and then I'm back to the car. I get another bag and start on the ground ivy, just taking the tops again and again it's the best I've found, slightly reddening and tender with very small purple flowers just starting to show.
I get back to the car happy, mind racing, hands still stinging.
Still in Perthshire en route to Ayrshire, I spy a few large Sweet Cicely plants. Okay, I think, why not - it's right beside a large lay-by and I'm out in it picking off these much bigger plants, the succulent centre bits. That's not all that's here, there's hogweed shoots too. I pick some shoots with closed leaves and succulent stems, then get some white nettle, I try a flower, hmm, a hit of sweetness.
Argyll lamb, Jack by the hedge, Gill-go over the ground
Inspiration comes to me when picking and I love mixing up the ingredients that grow together. I was looking at ground ivy online and its various nick names: it has a few and I discovered it gets called 'Gill-go over the ground'.
This got my mind racing; already I was serving it with the hedge garlic, so if I call that Jack by the hedge, would that be like Jack and Jill?
Or would it? I text a forager mate asking how it is pronounced. Is it like fish gill?
He's not sure so I text another forager mate, not sure either but he reckons it's like Jill.
"Why don't you call it runaway Robin or creeping Charlie or creeping Jenny? Ha :-)" He texts back. Jack 'n' Charlie, that's not bad, I think.
I just go with Gill. If these top foragers don't know, neither will the guests I'm thinking.
I use confit shoulder, slow cooked in duck fat picked off then put in reduced lamb jus.
I serve it on Ardfern Organics amazing leaves and finish it with the ground ivy and hedge garlic mixed up with a rapeseed oil and girole vinegar dressing put over the top.
Caution: sweet cicely is from the deadly carrot family, like hemlock and you have got to be very careful - you must check with an expert before using. And watch out for the stingies!
Recipe: rhubarb and sweet cicely slice
Just one of the things I do with the sweet cicely is in this dessert pairing it with rhubarb, a marriage made in heaven.
For the puff pastry
1/2 level tsp salt
170g plain flour
140g unsalted butter
1 Boil the water, salt and butter until melted, let cool.
2 Put the flour in a mixing bowl, add the buttery mix, and beat softly to bring it to a dough.
3 Pin the dough out, dusting with flour, making four thinner flaps around it, leaving a neat rectangle in the middle.
4 Shape your still firm butter to a cm thick, fitting on top of the rectangle on the dough, now fold over the flaps covering the butter.
5 Pin out the buttery dough carefully, away from you, dusting with flour, up and down to make a longer rectangle. Try not to let any butter show, if it does, carefully cover with the dough and dust with flour.
6 Fold the ends into the middle to make three layers, rotate the pastry 90 degrees and repeat the process, these are the first two turns, cling film mix and put in fridge.
7 After one hour repeat the process to make 4 turns, put back and fridge for an hour again and keep doing this until you've done 8 turns, that's it ready.
It's good to put finger marks on the pastry to keep count of the turns, you will forget.
Don't be scared to make puff pastry, it's very easy and totally better than buying it. If my buttery recipe doesn't work for you, try a different one online, it'll be worth it.
Pin some of the pastry out to 1/2 cm thick, and cut to squares, I'm never too precise with this. Then bake to light and fluffy, crisp golden brown puffs.
Sweet cicely pastry cream
4 x free range egg yolks
100g castor sugar
1 Boil the milk with chopped up sweet cicely, use the amount you like to get a nice aniseed flavour, keeping some nice fonds and flowers for garnish.
2 In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar for a minute then whisk in the flour.
3 Pour the milk into the eggy mix, whisk it in and put it back to the pan and on the stove.
4 Slowly bring to the boil whisking consistently to keep smooth. It should be thickening up now, pass it through a sieve back into a bowl, cover directly on top of the mix with cling film and fridge.
1 Peel the rhubarb, making a thick syrup from the peelings, some sweet cicely stalks and sugar, pass that through a sieve.
2 Chop and bake the peeled rhubarb in the oven sprinkled with sugar until tender.
3 Cut the pastry in half, put the pastry cream in a piping bag and pipe around the bottom square, 4 leaving a space in the middle, put the baked rhubarb in this and then the lid on top to make a little aniseedy rhubarb slice.
5 Spoon some syrup on the plate and garnish the top with sweet cicely flowers and some tender leaves, I put a wee primrose flower on this sometimes too.