Saffron Harvest

close-up of saffron blossom

close-up of saffron blossom

Some blessed and enlightened gardener(s) planted up patches of one of my local parks with saffron crocus – Crocus Sativus and they flower for a period of two precious weeks at the end of October, each flower lasting just a day.

There are other autumn crocuses, from the colchicum family that flower earlier in September through to December, but they aren’t edible, (in fact some, such as naked ladies, are highly toxic – so be warned)…..the stamens are usually quite obviously different. True saffron crocuses have 3 stamens, whereas the colchicum family (as they’re really from the lily family) have 6, and the stigmas and stamens often (but not always) look very different. You want to collect stigmas.There is some difference in colour, from strong orange to deep crimson in true saffron – if you’re not sure, read a few reliable guides, but when stigmas are dry, the smell of saffron is unmistakable.
UPDATE – spent some time chatting to a gardener who specialises in native British planting the other day, and he told me the stigmas from colchicum family can also smell of saffron when dried, as they also contain safranal – the best way to exclude a poisonous naked lady is to check for leaves – naked ladies don’t have any when they flower (they produce leaves in the spring, when they sometimes get mistaken for wild garlic – which is when most cases of poisoning occur – sometimes fatal). Crocus leaves are long thin spikes, darker than a blade of grass and slightly glossy. I went to back to the park to take a better picture, but the municipal gardeners have mowed 😦 however, found some naked ladies planted in the local ecology park so have posted a picture at the end of this post. Saffron is always planted by humans, whereas naked ladies also appear in the wild, especially in the southwest of England.

Now, if you were a saffron farmer, or growing some in your garden, you would be up at the crack of dawn to harvest your gold (it is the most expensive spice on earth), but I tend to go later in the day – it gives other creatures a chance to share the bounty and it doesn’t effect the quality dramatically and as the flowers are delicate, you don’t need to panic so much about ruining them. I tend to use a pair of tweezers if I remember them, but fingers can be used with care;-)
As with some wild mushrooms, the flavour gets stronger as the stigma dry – I place mine in cigarette rolling papers as I pick – use a similar sort of paper as tissues would absorb too much of the precious flavour.
One of the golden rules of foraging is never to take more than 1/10th of what you find, and while saffron doesn’t depend on pollination as it doesn’t produce seeds, please don’t be greedy if you find some – the earth is a common treasury for all;-)
Personally, I love love love saffron, but I usually collect about 30 stigmas – enough for 4 or 5 dishes a year – it’s a luxury and it would somehow feel sacrilegious to treat it with less than reverence. If I need more, I buy it.
Bulbs are available for sale (and get planted) from June – you can earn serious brownie points with your favourite gardener for the price of a few bulbs. I’m not sure how far north they flourish in the UK – see the wikipage for growing conditions .
If you have to eek out small amounts of saffron in a recipe, I recommend you augment it with anatto seeds (from the lipstick plant) soaked in hot water or brown onion skins boiled in water, as they both give a lovely colour and no discernible flavour. Turmeric, while a lovely shade of yellow and a brilliant spice in its own right, has a very strong flavour which will annihilate your saffron.

this is a naked lady, colchicum - and IS NOT saffron - if it has no leaves, leave it well alone

this is a naked lady, colchicum – and IS NOT saffron – if it has no leaves, leave it well alone


things to harvest, things to sow

It feels like I’ve had so much to do, and so much to pick and make, there never seems to be a good time to sit and write – the cocktail of my life is definitely being served with a twist of ‘scared rabbit caught in the headlights’ at the mo, leading to a touch of scribbler’s stoppage…….which, dear reader, while inconvenient, is not as painful or as socially embarrassing as it sounds 😉

I’m not apologising for my silence – I’m sure you’ve been too busy to notice, but more that I might post in splurges while I catch up…so, the list below will grow links as the evening progresses….
Mother Nature seems to being having splurges too (maybe it’s our age) 😉 – so some things are early (mulberries and blackberries), some things are going at normal speed (fennel seeds and mushrooms), some things have done really badly because they flowered before the cold snap (plums, peaches, almonds and I fear, sloes) and some things have gone overboard with their bounty (cherries, nasturtiums, grapes and cobnuts)…and I found 2 sprigs of blossom on my next door neighbour’s pear tree this week….which is just plain abnormal.

nape cherries in the sunlight

nape cherries in the sunlight

Things to pick and harvest now
Poppy seeds – for baking
Angelica seeds – (but make sure it’s angelica not giant hog’s weed) for baking and flavouring
Cherries – for liqueurs, cordial and glacé
Vine leaves – preserved leaves for dolmades
Nasturtium seeds and leaves – for poor folk capers and lily pad crisps
Green walnuts – for nocino
Mulberries – for liqueur and cordial
Blackberries – ditto and B’s lovely chilli blackberry jelly

Things to sow now
There’s loads of flowers you’re meant to start in late summer for next year, and I usually forget, but Sweet Cecily is useful, ditto angelica, although you need to pop the seeds in the freezer for a couple of weeks to break dormancy…
….and lots and lots of coriander – (this may seem silly as it’s going to bolt and flower really quickly if it’s hot and dry and anyway there’s 4 huge bunches for £1 on the market but…) – in a couple of months the bees will LOVE you for this favourite pollen source, and you’ll be able to harvest both green and dried seed….don’t bother to use seeds from a garden centre – miles too costly – straight out of your kitchen cupboard will do fine…

(….other things to sew, sadly, are the holes in the arses of 3 of my favourite skirts, but that’s because I never change into ‘my gardening clothes’ – I’m a clutz….)

things to upcycle
Kitchen spritzer

salad days

… my body is screaming for salad, even though first thing every morning this past week has felt cold enough to warrant a good old British fry up…anyway, apart from imported stuff – the rest of the world seems to be having its seasons in a timely fashion – homegrown vegetables are going to be a bit late coming to market, so the next lot of recipes will probably be a mixture of mezze, tapas, antipasti etc etc – things you can make with veg more commonly associated with spring and winter.
You wouldn’t adam and eve it, but there were loads of parsnips on the market last week. Yes, parsnips. In June.
I am also saving my fizzy water bottles and stocking up on sugar and unwaxed lemons, because by next week, it should be time to make elderflower cordial and elderflower fizz…only saying this now, so nobody thinks I just magicked up a store of bottles when I wanted to write a recipe 😉

Chasing my own tail 11/5/13

I really wanted to go to the woods today and collect more wild food, and maybe take photos of my favorite ‘good weeds’, so I don’t inadvertently encourage ppl to poison themselves :-(, but I’ve had really bad insomnia for the past few days – so when I finally woke back up this morning, it was cold and windy and the sky was full of big grumpy clouds, and I’ve elected to stay home and try and catch up with my recipes – ‘cos I’ve cooked an awful lot in the past 10 days. It feels like I’m downloading my brain 😉

Apologies if the incessant stream of posts feels a bit OTT….I’m sure I’ll run out of steam and calm down soon.

Free food and weekly shop

I really, really have stuck to the budget in my cyber absence but I have bought some things like rice (£7.50 for 5 kilos) and the like… last week I bought a chicken reduced to £2.85 from £4, which went straight in the freezer, potatoes, garlic, ginger, chillies and a Chinese cabbage, which I haven’t used yet, but I also bought posh goat’s butter – more about that later…and dark soya sauce..and..and
Spring has come extremely late in London, but now it’s here, it’s going great guns, so there’s loads of nettles, wild garlic and other ‘weeds’ that are great free food if you get the young tips. It’s a window of about 2 or 3 weeks, so I’m trying to think of how to freeze some of this harvest, and come up with some recipes to make it a bit more interesting. Basically, nettles (which sting) and dead nettles (which don’t)taste like spinach and are really good for you – however, they are more fibrous, they cook down like amaranth – Jamaican callaloo – which is used, by different names, all over the world. The bestest ever name I found on wikipedia for amaranth is the Nigerian Yoruba -arowo jeja – apparently this means ‘we have money left over for fish’!
Nettle soup is lovely, if a little ‘too good for you’, but how much of the same thing can a person eat in a week – or feed to their long suffering family – so, along with a basic soup recipe, I am going to post a potato, onion, and ‘green’ pakora recipe and one for my version of Jamaican Pepperpot Soup.

all a bit ‘cod’ apology

When I started this, I really thought that the blog part was going to be the easiest, ‘cos I pretty much thought of it like my own private diary, albeit online…and so when I realised that I kept on pulling posh grub out of the freezer, it felt a bit contrived and false – ‘cod’ – – why keep a diary if it’s full of lies? It is true that my haddock/monkfish tail/lamb neck fillet/1 kg side of salmon were all bought at massively reduced prices (some people save up for the January sales for clothes etc, I put aside £40 odd quid after Christmas for posh food that the supermarkets have overstocked with!) – but it isn’t the kind of thing a person finds and cooks every day. Anyway, lunched out the blog because of this – but then, when I logged back in, found ppl had liked my site and signed up to follow it – OH No! being crap in real life is bad enough, but now I’m doing it electronically and globally as well.
So, sorry, sorry, zorry.
The good news is, I have cleared out my cupboards of everything that I don’t buy regularly, I have kept to the budget AND EVEN IF THE MONEY HAS BEEN SPENT (Doh – Mr Simpson moment 😉 …….) I have managed to put £20 aside every week towards my ever spiraling ‘want’ list.
Even better news, have been given a second-hand cooker – which only cost £40 to get moved to my house – not installed yet but… and also found a handmade Persian carpet – I do love London, and it often seems like London loves me back:-)

pretty off topic radio rant – tax v subsidy


One of the bad/dangerous things about staying at home wrapped up in bed too ill for jolly pop music is that you end up listening to radio 4 all day (in itself a good thing) and therefore the news (ditto) and therefore the bloody politicians, which is seriously injurious to health and blood pressure….so, re: the bedroom tax/spare room subsidy – which is going to cause misery to thousands whatever you call it…our glorious leader, the smug git, wittered on about how it couldn’t be called ‘the bedroom tax’ based on the definitions of ‘tax’ and ‘subsidy’ – alright then, call it a subsidy….and then maybe we could introduce a ‘bedroom bonus’, where people in overcrowded social housing get a bonus or rebate while they wait for a flat where their teenage girl and boy don’t have to share a box room or how about a ‘bugs and broken bits bonus’ or a ‘repeatedly bodged repair job rebate’.

Off to see if my cupboards hold any herbal ingredients for a suitable tonic, as I have no intention of grossing you out with a recipe for boiled blood. Going to spend today and tomorrow writing up the recipes, and going back and linking and tagging everything – so if I don’t want to make a pig’s ear of it, I’d better switch off the radio and concentrate…..