Sheffield Urban Foraging in July

Viola Flowering July 2013 PJ taste

Viola Flowering July 2013 PJ taste

Writing now on the 7th July, three days into a veritable heat wave, its easy to forget that at the same time last year things were quite different – here’s a local weather snippet from 7th July 2012:

“Just been to (what should have been) a tractor-pull event near Buxton in the Peak District. Needless to say the place was a mudbath and we just escaped from the car-park before the rain made it nearly impassable despite the 4×4.

That’s what 62mm of rain in just 7 days does around here, flooding also on the Ashbourne road going from traffic news.”

This increasing variability of the UK weather has a major impact on what is available and when on the foraging front.  However, this adds to the excitement and anticipation of what might be found on any one excursion.

My first July target is a bit of a cheat – edible flowering plants.  However, as many of these self seed, think Nasturiums or Borage, they can pop up in a rather random fashion adding some great colour and opportunities for adding spectacular garnishes to your desserts.  The Viola is my current favourite.  Derived from the true wild Sweet Violet, Viola odorata, which flowers beautifully in the great outdoors in March and April.  My first grown from seed Violas have left it until now to start flowering – the results of a project started in March.

So look out for these flowers in your Grandmothers garden and remember not to eat anything until you are 100% sure of your identification and that they are from a clean and pure source – i.e no pesticides, additives or other nasties.

Viola with strawberry and lemongrass tart with PJ taste Brownie

Violas used as decoration with strawberry and lemongrass tart with PJ taste Brownie

PJ taste Wild Flowers

Borage (top left), flowering thyme (top right), nasturium leaves (bottom left), courgette flowers (bottom)

Wild cherry – Prunus avium

On to a true wild tree – or is it.  Many of our urban cherry trees are municipally planted but the fruit is non the worse for this.  The hot spell of weather has accelerated the ripening and suddenly in the last few days the fruit has started to turn a lovely burgundy red.  There are loads of cherry trees around and a forager with foresight would have noted their location from the giveaway displays of blossom earlier in the year.

PJ Taste Cherry Blossom smaller

Cherry Blossom in May – Crookes valley Park Sheffield

Cherries ripening in Catcliffe 8th July 2013

Cherries ripening in Catcliffe 8th July 2013 – roadside

These cherries although small were quite sweet and enjoyment is to be had by either jumping to catch a branch or climbing to get to the tantalising higher and better looking fruit.  Wayside cherries are great to munch on whilst on the hoof but if you collect enough and manage to get them home intact there are a variety of recipes.  Why not try Wild Cherry Brandy, made very much like Sloe Gin – as easy as pie by adding a little sugar to the cherries before sousing with brandy and sealing in a jar for a month or too.  Just don’t use a VSOP!

An equally easy pudding (apart from stoning the cherries) is a clafoutis – heres Nigel Slater’s recipe.

Fat Hen – Chenopodium album

Fat hen - a maturing plant forming seed head

Fat hen – a maturing plant forming seed head – the waxy coating is not so evident on the leaves as in a younger plant

Another name for this is wild spinach and our tamed spinach is indeed derived from this member of the goosefoot family – so-called because the leaves resembled webbed feet!  The seeds can lie dormant for many years before appearing in all sorts of waste ground, trampled areas of your allotment and in forgotten green parts of the city.  It is a problem weed in agricultural areas but the best solution is to eat it as it’s really very good.  More potassium and magnesium than spinach (so good for helping muscle, heart and nerve function).  One of the main identification keys (other than the leaf shape) is that the whole pant is covered in a fine waxy like powder which seemingly protects the leaves from pests.  This explains why it survives slugs better than spinach on my allotment and is surely an indicator that natural survival mechanisms worked better than adding pesticides or slug pellets?

Fat Hen with Spinach

Young fat hen sprout growing up to the left of thriving spinach – easy to weed out but why not grow in tandem and compare and contrast?

Fat hen can be used in a variety of ways although does not cook down in steamy water as well as spinach (its waxy protection acting against this).  However, when cooked down in oil or butter and garlic its amazing.  I like the recipe in the River Cottage Handbook 7 – Hedgerow for Hen Chicken – a chicken breast stuffed with fat hen.  We cooked it a couple of years ago with Rivelin Valley Chicken on location for our Wyming Brook Challenge.  Or just keep it simple and use in a seasonal salad – here’s my lunch with mackerel, spelt grain and carrot salad, fat hen and spinach with some lettuce and early flowers (borage, viola, courgette and nasturium leaves).

Fat hen salad with mackerel courgette and other flowersEnjoy your July foraging and enjoy the outdoor sun and light whilst it lasts!

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Urban Foraging in Sheffield – June

One of the joys of discovering the wild things in our midst is that each month brings new possibilities.  For me June’s highlights in Sheffield include Wild Rose flowers, the first Elderflowers and fresh Yarrow leaves, all of which are common in the green (and not so green) urban spaces of this great city.

Dog Rose

The common dog rose, Rosa canina, is found on wasteground, in parks and growing in hedges.  It has lovely pink flowers and can grow quite big to 2.5m tall.  The even more fragrant Japanese rose, Rosa rugosa  is an introduced species with dark pink flowers and grows a bit smaller to 1.5m.  All rose petals are edible but as always be careful that they have not been sprayed with pesticides.  By picking just the petals you can ensure that the hips still form to enable a return visit in the Autumn to make Rose Hip syrup.  I love discovering ways of preserving wild food and making crystallised rose petals gives a brilliant store cupboard ingredient for decorating a special cake and adding exotic flavours later in the year (going all Ottolenghi on you ras el-hanout the North African spice is made from dried rose buds and spices such as cinamom, mace, aniseed and nutmeg).

Pistachio Meringues, Rose Cream and Crystallaised Rose Petals  PJ taste May 2013

Pistachio Meringues, Rose Cream and Crystallaised Rose Petals PJ taste May 2013

The blooming of Elderflowers, like many annual events, is all to fleeting in nature.  Really at their best for only a few weeks so watch the weather and make the most of them, picking well away from roads.  You can make a fragrant cordial, or excitingly an Elderflower champagne which is ready in a matter of a week or so, or even deep fry tempura style for a stylish dessert garnish.  (We did chocolate coated elderflower tempura as a dessert in Miss Cindz’s Chocolate Puddin).

Yarrow Meadow Vetchling Ox Eye Daisy

Yarrow is all around us, hidden until you start to notice it on verges, alongside footpaths and in parks.  We use it primarily as a simple herb tea, refreshing and said to have all kinds of therapeutic properties including a remedy for colds and fevers, with anti -inflammatory benefits too.  (Sounds like some rather expensive cold cures available commercially!).  Find out more about this common plant by clicking here.

How to crystallise flowers.

A little fiddly but well worth the effort.  Add a few drops of water to an egg white to thin it slightly and whisk well.  With a small pastry brush carefully paint on as thin a layer of egg white as you can and then dust with castor sugar.  I tend to let the castor sugar fall over the flower back into the bowl whilst holding it in tweezer.  Next carefully lay out the flowers on baking parchment and dry over 8-12 hrs over a radiator or on a sunny windowsill.  Occasionally moving them around prevents them sticking inexorably to the paper.  Once dry they can be stored for a good time.  My rose petals from last year are in a screw topped jar and each time I open it I am met by a heady perfume – almost good enough just to keep for this!

Note: never pick any wild plant until you are 100% sure about its safety (there are a lot of poisonous species masquerading as something else), your right to collect and the impact on the environment.  There are some good guidelines available on-line and books such as The River Cottage Handbook number 7 “Hedgerow” by John Wright go into some detail.

Just outside the city boundary into the Peak district a host of different species can be found – for an insight see the Wyming Brook challenge on an earlier PJ taste blog. 

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Urban foraging in Sheffield – May

Its all about the blossom!  Finally this year a warm interlude, uncharacteristically gracing the May Day Bank Holiday, triggered the buds to blossom on most of our urban shrubs and trees.  It’s a lovely time of year as new colour is painted back into our perspectives.  For the urban forager it’s a chance to bottle some of the scents and preserve some of the colour by trapping these ephemeral blooms in syrups and jam.

PJ Taste Cherry Blossom smaller

Cherry blossom is beautiful as it abruptly wakes skeletal tress in many urban streets reminding us that they are still here with us having survived another drab winter.  These trees are in Crookes Valley Park and I am sure still provide many students with pleasure as they walk from digs in Walkley to the University.

One way of preserving the flavour is to make  syrup from the blossom.  To do this simply layer the cherry blossom with sugar in a jug – pack the flowers tightly into each layer of about 2cm in thickness covering with 1cm of sugar and building up to the top.  Leave this to infuse for 24 hours before adding a 55ml of water to every 100g of sugar used and slowly dissolve in a pan over a gentle heat.  Strain and bottle this liquid in a sterilised bottle and use as a flavouring on ice cream or pancakes to make jellies, or to flavour simple sponges (by replacing the sugar with syrup) or simply dilute for a refreshing soft drink.

I can’t remember a year when the dandelions have flowered in such profusion, creating beautiful scenes for us and welcome foraging for wildlife.

2013-05-05 08.34.58

Dandelion and a Peacock

Every verge, piece of waste ground and most front lawns have been covered in the beautiful large yellow flowers.  To capture some of this colourful bounty we made Dandelion marmalade and even though it seems you need to pick and awful lot we made hardly a dent on the local population.

To make Dandelion Marmalade first pick the heads from enough flowers to fill approximately a 1/3 of an average carrier bag size.  You are aiming for 80g of petals in total.  It’s important to do this on a sunny day when the flowers are fully open as you will notice that they steady close up in as the day draws to a c lose or if it’s a little dull. It’s also very important to make sure that the area you pick from is not polluted in any way, either from four-legged friends or say from chemical spraying.  Taking your bounty home the next stage is to snip the petals from the green (and bitter) base of the flower, more correctly known as the calyx.  It’s not as bad a job as I first thought and soon my carrier bag was reduced to 80g or so of petals.


Next take 60g of the petals and heat gently until just simmering in one litre of apple juice (reserve the other 20g for adding to the jam later).  I used an excellent variety of apple juice from Carr House Farm.  Turn off the heat and leave to infuse overnight.

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2013-05-12 16.49.40Next day strain the juice into a pan and add 100ml of fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons) and heat to boiling point.  Add 750g of jam making sugar which has added pectin added and boil vigorously until setting point is reached – this should be within 10 minutes or so although my first batch took a little longer.  Remember to add the reserved 20g of petals which I did for the last few minutes of boiling.

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Finally bottle in warmed sterilised bottles.  The resulting jam is a lovely combination of sweet and sour flavours with a rich, warming after taste.  I shall enjoy some of this later in the year to remind me of this colourful harvest

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Wild and edible flowers – tamed for the table

I love a new project and my latest adventure is to grow the maximum number of edible flowers I can this year.  Things started in earnest yesterday with the delivery of my wild flower seeds ordered from  An enticing package was eagerly torn open and out spilled an array of coloured coded seed packets and a really useful leaflet – “how to sow your seeds”.  Game on.


Great excitment my Sarah Raven seeds have arrived

I got some encourage last year when I realised that my neglected allotment yielded 3 or 4 months of borage flowers which had obligingly self seeded themselves from the previous year’s sowing.  Throw in a tasty (and really quite spicy) harvest of nasturtiums from the garden and the flowers from courgettes and a new crop of artichokes allowed to flower (really should have picked these earlier and made use of the globes) and a realisation grew that this could be extended.


PJ taste wild flowers Sheffield grown in 2012

So how am I going to tackle this task?  The first job will be to prepare the soil in my allotment a job which really should have been done before the winter by digging in manure and compost, removing weeds and breaking down the soil into a finer tilth.  However I am a great believer that it’s never too late and some action is a lot better than a lot of sloth.  There is a bonus in this belated early spring digging as removing all the dandelions will yield a crop of roots.  These will be dried and roasted in a challenge to make a coffee substitute better than the pretty appalling barley cup I remember drinking (why?) as a student.  The next job will be to understand the bewildering differences between hardy annuals, annuals, biennials and perennials essential as they demand different sowing times, conditions and general care.  Luckily the leaflet from Sarah Raven is a great help and is obviously full of tried and tested best practice which I hope will guide me through.


The flowers of PJ taste Sheffield grown globe artichokes 2012

So here are the seeds I have and I hope to report back through the year to show how they and I are getting on:

Cowslips Primula veris
Malope trifida ‘Vulcan’      
Nasturtium ‘Black Velvet’      
Sorrel Buckler Leaf              
Wild Primrose Primula vulgaris  
Tagetes minuta      
Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’   
Garlic chives
Calendula officinalis Indian Prince       


Truely wild cowslips, beautifully situated on the banks of Bala lake – 14th April 2012

And finally what do we do with edible flowers – eat them of course!  Heres a couple of dishes last year in which we incorporated them:


Squares of Malva Pudding (flavoured with apricot) with local Crème Fraiche and very local Nasturiums made for Kuoni November 2012 (yes the plants were still flowering in November!)


Wedding cake with PJ taste grown borage, nasturium. poppy with whirlowhall Farm raspberries



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Shake Up Your Wake Up – Delicious and Free Breakfast dishes

We enjoy making interesting food from local ingredients – this way we believe it tastes better and helps to feed the soul!  To conincide with this years National Farmhouse Breakfast Week we are launching a new Breakfast Meal Deal.  As well as a great value highly nutritious breakfast we are offering a range of free dishes for you to add.


Heres to a tasty way to start the day and ensure your energy levels help meet the challenges of the day.

Special Offer for Farmhouse Breakfast Week **

Choose ANY Hot Drink Plus one of:

Local Dry Cured Bacon with Local Baked Bread

Egg and Tomato Sandwich (V)

Moss Valley Sausage Sandwich

PJ Taste Porridge Pots with Organic Hemp Seed Fruit and Nuts

And get a FREE Treat

Savory Breakfast Muffin (V) or

PJ Taste Fruit Pots with Longley Farm Yoghurt and Granola or

Chili and Jasmine Fruit Salad or

Poached Winter Fruits with Vanilla and Greek Yoghurt with Toasted Hazelnuts

*£5.25 to eat-in ** Free Treats valid Monday 21st to Friday 24th January


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Spotlight on Sheffield Honey

Hidden Gems.  Sheffield has an array of fantastic local food producers who are working away from the mainstream mediocrity of Supermarket Britain to produce real food.  We feel it is important that the flavour, health and environmental benefits are shared with a wider audience which is why we are putting the spotlight on a different producer each day.  Todays producer is Sheffield Honey – taste the product in our Apple and Rye Cake and cinder toffee or browse the shop for honeylicious Christmas  gift ideas

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FREE coffee and cake -just spend £20 spend local food Christmas gifts

FREE coffee and cake with £20 spend on PJ taste and @SheffieldFood delicious Christmas goodies download voucher

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