Foraging on the QT

Nige digging for Pignuts

Today I had one of those pinch-yourself mornings (and I have them often) when I realise how priveleged I am that I get to spend my days working for, learning about, and generally spending time in the countryside.  One of the best things about my job is that I get to work with people who share my ideals, interests and enthusiasm, and there are few things that we are more enthusiastic about at Countryside Services, than a bit of good old fashoned bushcraft.

VERY fragile, white roots!

From basketry to wild food foraging, fire lighting to forest schools, if its outdoors, we’re all over it, and its nothing short of wonderful to meet new friends who share our passion for the outdoors.  Nige & I went to a top secret location today to meet entrepreneur, food writer, forager, blogger and owner of fresh food company Haresmoore, Sally Hares.  Our mission?  To find, harvest and taste a wild food that I’d never eaten before:  Pignut.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (or the brown heart-shaped thing at the end of the teeny white strand of plant material going into the ground)

Pignut (Conopodium majus) has been eaten for millennia, and has a plethora of colloquial names (kippernut, hawknut, ground/earth nut, and one I particularly understand: earth chestnut – it looks just like a sweet chestnut!).

But to most people, most of the time, it is called simply ‘Pignut’ due to the fact that it is a particular favourite of wild boar and event domestic pigs.  It has also (quite charmingly) been called St. Anthony’s nut – the patron saint of swineherds!

It does require a good bit of digging!

Its not actually a nut at all, but a tuber that can be eaten raw or cooked, and has a taste described as being similar to celery, hazelnut, water chestnut, brazil nut, potato (both sweet and normal) and chestnut.

I think I’d have to go with a combination of the milky, crunchy texture of brazil nut, with the mealy, flouryness of a sweet chestnut – pretty amazing!  Sally said she thought it tasted like celery!

The finished product!

The harvesting of pignut is a pretty involved procedure, with only a small morsel at the end, so unless you are a person that enjoys ‘the chase’, I’d go for something less labour-intensive.

We did a video today, in which you get to see the big ‘reveal’ – our first Pignut tuber, which we dutifully split into thirds and nibbled on, before deciding we had to have more! You can watch the video here!

The Chicken of the Woods in the frying pan.

As you can see, the procedure involves digging down beneath the plant until you reach the fragile, tendril-like roots, which will suddenly take a sharp 90 degree turn before eventually leading to the sweet tuber.  Break the tendril, and all may be lost, so its a delicate process!  Nige and I managed to find one each, but Sally got her technique down in minutes – she found a clump of pignut and dug down before approaching the tubers from the side!

Sally peels the Pignuts!

(I did say that it was probably because she’d been a wild boar in a former life, and we both agreed she should try truffle-hunting!)

We decided to cook the pignuts with some Chicken of the Woods fungus we’d harvested (stay tuned for a blog about my experiments with this amazing wild food!), so we retired to a glade in the woodland by a fallen tree, and prepared our food.

Pignut can be eaten raw or peeled and cooked.

We sliced up the Chicken of the Woods and Pignut, and cooked it in butter, salt and pepper, then stirred in some cream, followed by a dollop of the Wild Garlic & Walnut Pesto that I made last week.  Sally had brought with her some home made cheese and wild garlic scones, which were the perfect acompaniment to our concoction!  I just wish we had scratch-and-sniff computer screens, because the smell (and taste) was incredible!

The perfect topping to cheese & wild garlic scones!

You can see the video of us making (and eating!) our woodland lunch, and you might get an idea of its deliciousness!  We even ran into Inez, who is a regular walker in the woodland, and invited her to join our ‘pop-up kitchen’.  Every new wild food I try inspires me more and more – it was a great morning!  Huge thanks to Sally & Nige – Can’t wait for Elderflower Cordial & Turkish Delight later this month!

An amazing lunch on the woodland floor!

3 Replies to “Foraging on the QT”

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