Mulberry Liqueur

Haven't managed to post for a while. It's been a crazy week, with family guests, high fevers, earthquakes and swarms of bees. The earthquake(s) haven't affected us, apart from shaking/scaring  us. My heart goes out to all those (not very far away) who have lost  loved ones, homes, businesses and jobs. Life will never be the same for some. I have made a donation and encourage everyone to do so. A lot of small gestures can add up to something which makes a huge difference.
Unfortunately, there has been alot of controversy about making bank wire donations  here in Italy (due to bank charges). In Italy it's possible to donate 2 euros by sending a text/sms to  45500. I actually donated via paypal to CRI (Croce Rossa Italiana)Donazioni (Emilia Romagna EarthQuake)

Road splattered with fallen mulberries
During the last few days I haven't managed to do much plant gathering, apart from  more Mulberries. A while ago I came across a recipe for Mulberry Vodka/Gin in the Telegraph.
Although I managed to pick lots of mulberries, I didn't have any vodka or gin, but I did have some 95% alcohol. I really hope my recipe is a success.Only time will tell. I'll update in a couple of months.

Mulberry Liqueur

450g mulberries(washed & dried)
400ml alcohol (95%)
handful almonds with skins
200g sugar
450ml filtered water

Place mulberries in glass sealable jar(sterilised) with almonds and cover with alcohol.
Place in dark place at room temp. for at least one  month.
Shake every now and then.
After one month  heat water and sugar together,  allow to cool and add to mulberry liquid.
Leave for at least another month.
Filter and bottle.
Will post  later to say whether it  needs more time or not.


Mulberry Cupcakes

Yesterday I was running  jogging walking home briskly, well I was moving quite slowly as it was uphill, when I spotted two men at the top of the hill pulling down the branches of a tree . My first thought was "I didn't realise that the mulberries were ready".  My second was "Hey I want those mulberries". As I lurched closer I realised that the two men were actually my son and his Grandad.

Unfortunately the berries are all very high this year. The partners in crime had already chomped their way through most of the reachable berries. They were covered in purple juice....chins, hands and T-shirts. I managed to get a handful for myself and we ate them for breakfast in cupcakes this morning.

Mulberry leaves are all different and  irregular

A new  seedling already bears berries

Mulberry Cupcake Recipe(makes 12)

100g fresh mulberries(not too soft)
115g butter
115g sugar
115g self raising flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk(approx.)
grated zest of a lemon

Soak the mulberries in cool water for a few minutes(to removes dirt and insects).
 Drain and dry on kitchen paper.

Snip off the remaining stems

Cream the softened butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Seive and gently fold in the flour.

Add the zest and add the milk, mix together to  form  a soft batter.

Add a little batter to paper cases in cake tin.
Place a few mulberries in each case.

Fill  cases with remaining batter.
Bake in preheayed oven (180°C) for about15 mins, until golden and springy to the touch.

                       Decorate  or simply eat.


Wild Plant Menu

After collecting the plants that  I listed in my last post(on the wild plant course), we prepared some of them for a feast. Most of the time was taken up with washing and chopping the plants (remember to wear gloves when dealing with  nettles). The actual cooking time wasn't very long. The ingredients were just wild plants with the addition of chick peas, home-made bread and  cheese/ricotta, fresh organic eggs, a few strawberries, leeks, garlic and spring onions, flour, olive oil and home-produced honey.

This was the menu;
Crostini with Herb Salt
Lemon Balm Humus
Leek and Wild Plant Farrotto
Nettle & Spring Onion Frittata
Wild Green Salad
Strawberry &  Mint Ricotta  Crepes
Home-made herbal Liqueurs and Coffee(espresso)

This feast took place in the kitchen of  a  (almost) self-sufficient  organic farm in the north of Italy, run  by two young couples Eszter and Fabrizio and Corrado and Francesca.
BYGONE CHROME WIRE EGG SEPERATOREszter is an amazing cook and managed to organise  us all effortlessly, not batting an
eyelid when I almost ruined the egg white  by dropping  yolk in it. I can't seperate eggs to save my life (without my special egg seperator).

Crostini with herb salt 

1 cup chickpeas (dried)
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
10 lemon balm leaves (more if you like)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Soak chickpeas in water for 12 hours.
Cook in pressure cooker for 1 hour.
Chop garlic and lemon balm finely.
Blend chickpeas with 1/2 cup cooking water.
Mix with garlic/lemon balm/salt/oil/lemon juice to required taste.

Leek and Wild plant Farrotto

250 g spelt(farro in Italy)
3 leeks
Wild plants (mallow/primrose leaves/blackberry shoots/nettles/deadnettles) or whatever
Herbs (thyme/sage/rosemary/savory)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cook the spelt in pressure cooker (15-20mins.)
Chop leeks,herbs and plants finely and cook in oil until soft.
(I think I would add a little vegetable stock here).
 Mix with spelt. Add more oil if necessary

Nettle and Spring Onion Frittata

4 eggs
2 spoons flour
500 g nettles (top parts) chopped 
3/4 spring onions  (leafy parts) chopped finely
Olive Oil

Break and seperate the eggs
Whisk the whites until fluffy
Add a pinch of salt to yolks and mix in flour.
Add the whites to the yolks and mix gently.
Cook spring onion in oil. Add nettles and cook until soft (add a little water if necessary). If they are older/tougher  nettles boil for a few mins first).

When the greens are soft add the eggs and cook on both sides.

Wild Green Salad

Primrose leaves
Salad Burnet
Dandelion leaves

Chop the wild greens finely and add to chopped salad leaves (lettuce/rockett/Radicchio etc.)
Dress with salt/pepper/E V olive oil/ and balsamic or apple cider vinegar)

Strawberry &  Mint Ricotta  Crepes

For 12 crepes
(Prepare the batter  a couple of hours earlier)
150g flour
1 egg
30ml milk
pinch of salt
a spoon of sugar
sunflower oil

500g ricotta
1 cup( finely chopped)strawberries
12 mint leaves (finely chopped)
1 spoon honey
Whisk the ricotta .
Add the strawberries,honey and mint and mix gently.
Lightly oil a non-stick frying pan. When hot add a ladle of batter and roll the pan to obtain a thin layer.
Cook until sets, flip over and cook other side for 10-20 seconds.Slide onto a plate. Fill half of crepe with ricotta mousse and fold into four.

All of the food was delicious, the crepes were really amazing, but unfortunately I was extremely full at that point. I really enjoyed the day and learned loads of new information. I'm glad I took some photos or it would have been difficult to remember everything. I also really enjoyed the nettle flavour in the omlette(frittata) and have a much better idea of how to eat them(I didn't think I liked nettles).
The most important thing I learned is that when using wild plants the preparation time is really important, chopping plants as finely as possible and also not to be afraid of mixing with other wild plants and cultivated vegetables, experimenting and  discovering preferred tastes by trial and error.

Angirelle farm is  on facebook "Società Agricola Angirelle"
and if you'd like to read about two different experiences of staying with them;

They are lovely people, open, generous  and extremely patient.
If anyone would like to experience their hospitality/or send their strong young sons (or daughters) to work on their farm (great way to travel  economically/educational experience) you can  work and stay their for short periods , checkout  the   Wwoof website. The farm is quite isolated but  the families travel regularly to the closest cities.


Identifying Wild edible/medicinal plants (May)

Last weekend, no it's already two weekends ago (how time runs away with itself), I attended an wild edible plant course. It was a terrible, wet day and I expected the course to be cancelled but fortunately it was still on.
There weren't many of us, all with varying degrees of experience and knowledge, but it was really interesting learning from experts and talking to other people who share this passion.
It's amazing how beginning to learn about edible and medicinal plants changes the way you view your surroundings. A walk in the country will never be the same again. Just recently the local council cleaned the public areas, roadsides and ditches, near my home, cutting the grass and strimming round trees and along the banks and ditches. A few years ago I would have been very pleased to see everything in order, but now I feel almost upset to see the plants disappear. It's like going to a supermarket just before a long-term petrol strike.

At the course, we identified about fifteen plants, most of them I knew already. However I also learned about new plants and discovered new ways of using the plants that I already familiar with. These are  some of the plants  we saw and harvested;

                                                                                     English Italian Latin
                                                                                                                            Dandelions (leaves)-Tarassaco -Taraxacum Officinale  and Nettles-Ortica-Urtica Dioica  
To find dandelion leaves search for dandeion flowers/ "clocks" and follow them to the ground.
We used the dandelion leaves in a salad.
The nettles were added to a delicious fluffy omlette and added to farrotto(a risotto,with farro instead of rice).Nettles can be used in many ways and are antianemic,astringent,depurative,diuretic,hemostatic.

Lemon Balm-Melissa-Melissa Officinalis   
 If in doubt if it's lemon balm just rub a leaf. The smell is unmistakable.
We used it to make lemon balm humus(Yum)  and drank fresh lemon balm tea which was quite earthy tasting.It's sedative properties make it good for relaxing and digestive properties make it a good after dinner tisane.


Curly Dock -Romice Crespo -Rumex Crispus
                    (Acetosa-used for all types of dock)
New leaves are good in salads (not too many as they are quite acidic due to a high oxalic acid content). Older leaves need cooking.They are astringent and diuretic.

Primrose(leaves)-Primula-Primula Vulgaris.
I knew primroses were edible but I didn't realise that primrose leaves are a good salad leaf.They are diuretic, sedative and depurative.

Water Mint- Menta Acquatica- Mentha Acquatica
The smell and taste of this mint growing in water was much stronger than other mints and more like peppermint (infact I think peppermint is a natural cross between water mint and spearmint).
We used water mint and wild mint  in a delicious dessert, toothpowder  and mouth wash. We also drank mint tea (lovely). It is analgesic,antiseptic,digestive,stimulting and tonic.I will be drying large quantities from now on.

Horsetail-Coda Cavallina- Equisetum Arvense
Such a strange ancient plant.
We didn't eat it, but used it to make natural cosmetics, an infused oil and nail bath. Due to it's high silica content it's remineralising and good for skin,nails and hair.It's also astringent,diuretic,hemostatic and healing.

Hawthorn Biancospino Cratageus Monogyna Jacq.
We didn't gather it, but the blossoms are used here as a tisane,usually to treat and strengthen the heart as it's sedative, hypotensive and vasodilatory. It's also a popular ingredient for jam.

Blackberry(shoots)-Rovo-Rubus Ulmifolius Schott 
I forgot to take a photo when picking. Be careful of the thorns. I love blackberries but had no idea that young blackberry shoots are a tasty addition to salads. They are antiinflammatory,antidiabetic,astringent,depurative, detergent,diuretic and tonic.

Mustard-Senape-Sinapis Arvenis
There was lots of mustard growing at the edges of a field. It's very pretty. The young green leaves can be used like greens/spinach.

Red Deadnettle-Lamio-Lamium purpureum
Another new plant for me to be added to salads, but the flavour wasn't very nice. It's  depurative, astringent and hemostatic.

Italian Woodbine-Caprifoglio-Lonicera Caprifolium
This is a type of honeysuckle. Caprifoglio means goat leaf. We didn't pick them, just admired them. They are lovely with a pleasing perfume.
In Italy the flowers( expectorant antispasmodic,antiiflammatory and astringent)are used to make a tisane, good for coughs and sometimes used to flavour jams (not the main ingredient) and in perfumes.

Salad Burnet-Pimpinella-Sanguisorba Minor Scop.
This was another new discovery for me,. It's quite difficult to spot in overgrown grass. We used it as a flavouring in  the salad. The leaves taste just like cucumber. It has digestive and astringent properties.

Mallow- Malva- Malva Sylvestris
Mallow is fast becoming one of my favourite wild plants. It's pleasant tasting and has emollient, soothing,antiinflammatory properties. It's very versatile and can be used in lots of recipes, it's especially good for thickening soups and stews. It's mildlly laxative.Mallow tea is comforting if you have a sore throat.

In my next post I'll write about how we used some of the above plants...


Elderflower & Lemon Oatmeal Sugar Scrub

Waste not Want not....

When I had finished filtering the Elderflower syrup  a few days ago, I was left with sticky, sweet elderflowers and lemon rind. Not sure why, but I had the urge to grab a piece of elderflower and rub it over my hands. I gave my hands a good scrub and rinsed them, afterwards they felt soft and smooth with a sweet scent. I've seen quite a few recipes for sugar scrubs lately and as the Elderflower syrup recipe is half sugar I decided to experiment with the leftover elderflowers and lemon peel.

I lay the elderflowers and lemon on baking trays lined with foil and put in a low oven at 100°C (unfortunately I forgot to check the time) But I think I left them there about 90 minutes until they were very dried.

elderflowers from syrup 

lemon rind from syrup

The smell from the oven was delicious, my son was really miffed when he realised it was only another of his  mum's mad creations and not at least a  jam tart or  even  a lemon meringue pie.

Recipe(measures approx.)

60g ground elderflowers/lemon rind/sugar
40g ground oatmeal
40ml sweet almond oil or olive oil
40ml coconut oil

Then I ground the elderflowers and lemon in a blender for coffee to a fine powder. The small amount of powder weighed 60g.
ground dried eldeflowers and lemon rind

 I added 40g of of blended oatflakes and passed it all through a fine seive.

with added oatmeal

Next I added 40ml Extra Virgin OliveOil and 40ml Coconut Oil(warmed) and mixed everything together.
The consistency was perfect, but perhaps sweet almond oil would have been better than olive oil, as the strong olive smell masked the delicate elderflower/lemon scent a little(olive oil is more economic).

The scrub was then poured into containers and used liberally in the shower(5/10 mins). I even used it on my face. It really helped to smooth and soften my dry, flaky, winter skin,especially my legs. I was really pleased with the results and felt like I had had a professional  pampering treatment. I also smelled good enough to eat.

As the summer beach weather rapidly approaches I'll need to scrub a few more times.
I'm not sure how long it will keep for, but natural hand-made products should be used as quickly as possible.(Keeping it in the fridge should prolong the shelf life).

Happy Mother's Day! (in USA & Italy)


Italian Cocktail "The Hugò" (again) - Elderflower syrup

I've managed to make some Elderflower syrup at last and this evening we drank the first  "Italian Hugò cocktail", of the season, as an aperitivo. It was lovely. Even my husband, who isn't a "cocktail" person, said that it was "buonissimo".  You can find  more about "the Hugò" in my March post;

  My daughter collecting elderflowers
The weather turned from hot and sunny to very wet and windy again and the heavily laden acacia and sambuco(elder) trees and shrubs are looking a bit worse for wear. I don't think the blossoms will be here for much longer. I'm hoping for a lovely dry day tomorrow so that I can gather some more.

This is my elderflower syrup recipe. If you look around you will discover that there are countless different recipes to choose from. I think that it all depends on personal taste and it's a good idea to experiment, try different combinations and find out what works for you.

This is my version;
Elderflower syrup recipe

35  small elderflower heads/25  if they are large (Choose the ones with the nicest scent)
1 kg sugar
1 litre filtered water
The peel from 3 lemons (no white pith)
sliced lemon (remove pith completely from one of the lemons and slice thinly)

Some add citric acid, I don't because I will  use the syrup within a month. However I intend to make more and put it into half-filled glass jars/bottles and freeze.

Shake the flowers gently to remove any insects. Remove any brown flowers and don't leave too much stem.
Put the blossoms and lemon peel into a large jar.
Heat the sugar and water until the sugar has melted, let cool a little and pour into the jar.
Add the sliced lemon, pushing down gently with a spoon to make sure it's covered.

Cover the jar with a muslim or a tea towel and leave, undisturbed in a darkish place for 48 hours.
Filter into sterilised bottles and seal.  (Keep one in the fridge ready to use).

I like to use a splash in cold sparkling water or on ice-cream, but my favourite way to use it is in "the Hugo".
I'm sure it's fantastic in champagne aswell, but I haven't tried.....YET.

The Hugò Cocktail Recipe

To  be mixed and served in a large old fashioned wine glass;

4/6 ice cubes
3/10 of elderflower syrup
7/10 of  prosecco (Italian  dry spumante) ICE COLD 
a sprig of fresh mint
a slice of red apple or lemon
soda/sparkling water if you prefer it longer

The Italian Hugò Cocktail  on Punk