So, what a scorching June we have had! Glorious sunshine, baking long hot summer days and balmy evenings: what could be better? With all this heat, the wild cherries have been ripening up nicely so if there are any left after the birds have gorged themselves, get picking! I can spot the cherry trees a mile off nestled amongst mixed hedgerow trees and shrubs, with their elliptical leaves and glossy red fruits. Try the ripe fruits to see if they are sweet enough to eat as they are or if they are sour, perhaps a cherry schnapps might be more suitable.
Wild strawberries are ripening well, nestled in hedgerows which show glimpses of their fruits where most are hidden under their leaves. If you can keep some and not just savour them warm and straight from the hedgerow, they make such a delicious jam which is brought to life with a squeeze of lemon. If you can gather enough of them, have a go at making a yoghurt crème brûlée by popping them in a ramekin with yoghurt and cream (if you wish) and topping it with demerara and blow-torching it until it forms a hard caramel crust.
If it has been a little too hot for you, you may have found refuge alongside rivers and estuaries, hunting for a cool breeze off the water. We are so lucky in Cornwall to have such diverse habitats and estuaries are my favourite. One of the ultimate edible treasures at this time of year has to be marsh samphire which is a seasonal salty treat, growing in sandy soil. Also known as glasswort or Salicorne in French, try snacking on this raw and you’ll be surprised at how succulent and naturally salty this is! Steam or simmer it as a vegetable, blitz it into a sauce or pickle it, samphire is very versatile so make the most of it.
As with most plants, don’t uproot it but harvest it with scissors so it can regrow and do it now because in a few months it will have become too woody and then will have died off through the winter. Other fantastic estuary edibles are sea purslane, sea aster, sea spurrey, sea arrowgrass, sea beet and rock samphire to name but a few! Tree mallow is flowering beautifully at the moment, with its rich purple petals and soft downy leaves. You can eat most parts of mallow and in this case the leaves make a tasty, mild flavoured vegetable, the petals brighten any dish and the unripe seed pods are called ‘cheeses’ and have a pleasant pea like flavour which go down well as a wayside snack.
There are quite a few fantastic edible plants at their best right now, the first being linden, also known as lime. The botanical name is Tilia and there are a handful of different species, but all can be used the same way. Right now the trees should have started to flower and these have the most beautiful fragrance, like honey and vanilla. Try using them to make a tea or better still steeping them in a clear alcohol like vodka and sweetening to taste to make a delicious liqueur. The young, heart-shaped leaves can be eaten too and are very pleasant.
The second edible plant which I guarantee you’ve trodden on before is called pineapple weed. If you don’t know it, it lurks in field entrances or any soil which gets compacted and looks quite like a chamomile or mayweed which has lost its petals. Pineapple weed is fantastically versatile as it can be used fresh by chopping the leaves and flowers and using them to make a fresh salsa, in salads, to make drinks or can be cooked in cakes as they keep their delicious pineapple flavour.
The last edible which I love and want you to discover has to be ox eye daisy. The leaves, flowers and flower buds are all delicious and have a very fresh parsley and almost pineapple flavour. Have a nibble on them raw, pickle the flower buds in a tasty spiced vinegar or batter and deep fry the flowers to either serve as a tasty treat or use them as decoration on puddings.
Pineapple weed cupcakes
2 tbsp chopped pineapple weed – flowers and leaves
110g self raising flour
110g caster sugar
140g softened butter
280g icing sugar
pineapple weed flowers for decoration
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Prepare a muffin tin by popping in paper cases. Cream the butter and the sugar together until combined and beat in the eggs. Sift in the flour and fold it in. If the mixture is a little stiff, add in some milk until it is a better dropping consistency. Add the chopped pineapple weed, lightly stirring the mixture and spoon it into the paper cases. Bake in the oven – this can take between 10 and 30 minutes so I put the timer on for 10 and check them.
While the cupcakes are baking, make the buttercream. Put the butter into a bowl and sift in the icing sugar. Mix it well until completely combined and add a little milk if you need to thin it slightly.
Once the cupcakes are cooked (you can check with a cocktail stick to see that they are cooked in the middle), you need to leave them to cool completely before icing them. Decorate with a spring of pineapple weed on top.