Peculiar pickings

Pickled Ash Key
You will need:
1 pint jug of ash keys
10 peppercorns
1 tsp ground ginger
1 pinch of allspice
1 pinch of ground cloves
1 pinch of ground cinnamon
6 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 pint of apple cider vinegar

Wash the ash keys and remove the stems, then place in a pan and cover with cold water. Slowly bring to the boil and simmer for about 7 minutes.
Strain the ash keys then put them back into the pan, cover with fresh water, then bring back to the boil and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Drain again and place in clean/sterile jars, allowing a little room for the liquid addition.
Put the spices, salt and sugar into a bowl with the apple cider vinegar.
Put the bowl into a saucepan and cover it, add some water (not to the bowl but just to the pan) and bring slowly to the boil.
Allow to gently boil for about 5 minutes, then remove the bowl and let it sit for a couple of hours until it is completely cooled.
Strain the liquid through muslin or sieve into a jug, then put it into the jar/s of ash keys, filling to the brim.
Close the jars and store in a cool dark place for about 3 months.
This pickle will bring a zingy burst of spring flavour to any salad, barbequed meat or cheese platter and will also make for a perfect and peculiar addition (if you make it now) to al fresco dining on those long, sultry summer evenings!

Words by:
Nikki Bawn
Featured in:
April 2019

Variety is the spice of life, so they say, and when it comes to foraging for food, you won’t find a larger or more varied selection of taste sensations than at this time of the year, as Nikki Bawn explains.
Lengthening days and rising temperatures bring the bounty of spring, and from April onwards, the hedgerows, fields and woodlands quite literally turn into Mother Nature’s very own wild supermarket.

The lovely people that come along to my Boggle Lane foraging workshops are always amazed by the massive choice of plants, berries and flowers that are so often overlooked, but they are bursting with flavour and many health benefits too.

Trees are one of my favourite food heroes. Many of our tall and ancient friends produce leaves, sap, bark, berries, flowers and seeds that are both edible and delicious.

Birch sap, for example, is nature’s energy drink. It’s known for its ability to detox the body and can easily be collected in spring by fixing a bottle to a cut branch the width of a finger. At the other end of the spectrum, though, it also makes great wine!

A more peculiar picking is that of the ash tree. Ash keys (Fraxinus excelsior) at first glance can look like tangled twigs at the end of each branch. These scruffy looking, nest-like masses, though, are seed pods. When picked young, the small, barely developed seeds encased in a wing shaped covering make the most mouth-watering pickle, the taste of which is hard to describe – but I promise, it doesn’t disappoint.

Of course, our foraging friends are always excited to fill their baskets with old favourites like wild garlic – but trying something new is always so rewarding. When you’re next out and about doing a bit of hunting and gathering, or just out for a trot across the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds landscape, make room next to the nettles, garlic, borage and dandelions for some more unusual finds like ash keys.

Foraging, for me, isn’t just an opportunity to blow away the cobwebs and top up the Vitamin D; it gives me heightened awareness of the changing seasons and wonders of nature and is truly calming and joyful.

So, if you get a chance go out and stop and stare, take time to drink in your surroundings because spring heralds the return of blooming and blossoming abundance like the candy pink confetti of cherry blossoms – they are a sure sign that the sun is returning, and the taste dial is turning up too!

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