Sunday, 20 June 2021

Wild food in Midsummer

Midsummer on the działka - the joy of sunshine, nature is just beginning to bring forth its bounty. By the roadside grows the sorrel, a leafy weed familiar to all Poles as szczaw, the acidic tang that gives zupa szczawiowa its character. Sorrel has a short picking season, from late-May to mid-June, it needs to be harvested before it grows too high and goes to seed; the leaves then become tough and fibrous. Sorrel has arrowhead-shaped leaves that are easy to spot among other roadside weeds, it grows in clumps and is easy to harvest.  [Note the ox-eye daisies in the background.]

As well as being the basis for one of Poland's classic soups, it also tastes good in salads. For me, however, it goes into a lentil curry. Rinsed thoroughly of dust, cut width-wise into strips, it goes into a shallow pan with pre-boiled lentils, it soon turns into an olive-drab khaki colour after a minute or two boiling. I add piri-piri chili peppers for heat, some Indian spices, goats cheese, Halloumi or chickpeas for protein, and serve with Basmati rice. Sorrel has high amounts of oxalic acid, which can give rise to kidney stones if eaten in large amounts. And this is why dairy products (cream or cheese - or indeed egg) are used to whiten the soup or stew or salad - to take the edge off the acid.

Below: a plate of lentil and sorrel curry with chickpeas and rice. Takes about 25 minutes to prepare.

This is also the time for poziomki (Fragaria vesca, wild or woodland strawberries). These are tiny and require intensive work to harvest. They have a specific perfume and taste, and simply guzzling them by the handful after spending an age picking them makes little sense.

I am making nalewka poziomkowa. Fill a jar with the tiny berries, pour in 95% spirytus rektyfikowany to cover the fruit, screw lid on tight, leave for four to six months, pour off the liquid into bottles, add sugar to the berries (sparingly - 10% sugar/90% drained fruit) and leave to ferment for another couple of months. Drain the berries again, add the fermented liquid to that bottled from the first fermentation. Ready(ish) to drink around Christmas, but better to leave for another month or two after unifying the results of the first and second fermentation. Easy really. The result should be sublime in taste, smell and colour (a rosé pink). And about 55% alcohol by volume. The hard part is picking them. There's about 150g collected in the punnet below - it was about half an hour's work.

The results of the first harvest in the cellar. Five jars, none of them large; I expect to make around two half-litre bottles of the finished liqueur from the contents, once the fruit has been drained for secondary fermentation with sugar added. Unlike the sorrel, which has now gone to seed, the wild strawberries will still be pickable for a week, maybe two, so I hope to step up production of wild strawberry liqueur.

While picking the sorrel and the wild strawberries, I listen to the birdsong. They're clearly not just signalling readiness to mate or warning their flock of some impending threat - these are conscious beings communicating. I rather fancy that they are commenting the local events of the moment to each other, sharing the qualia, the subjective conscious experience. One burst of song suddenly and acutely reminded me of the garden in our family house in West Ealing in the summer of 1970 or '71, just after we'd moved in - a species of bird, I figured, that has long disappeared from the suburban gardens of London, but is still here in rural Mazovia.

This time last year:
Summer Solstice at a Time of Pandemic

This time six years ago:

This time eight years ago:
Fashionable bicycles for Warsaw's hipsters

This time nine years ago:
On Jarosław Gowin and leadership in Polish politics

This time ten years ago:
Death of a Polish pilot

This time 11 years ago:
Doesn't anyone want to recycle my rubbish?

This time 12 years ago:
End of the school year

This time 13 years ago:
Midsummer scenes, Jeziorki

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