I hope you and your nearest are managing to stay well during these strange times. For my part I am under no illusions just how lucky I am to be here in Devon, alongside my family, with our lovely veg garden just outside our door, and big West Country skies above us, which until today were practically cloudless, and beaming down glorious spring sunshine. Now the rain is falling steadily – and the veg and the grass are grateful, so I am too.
All of us at River Cottage are aware of just how difficult lockdown must be for those without such easy access to the outdoors. And since we have an abundance of produce, but sadly no events or courses to feed, we are putting our spring greens and salads into veg boxes, along with some essential supplies like bread, flour and pulses, and offering them up weekly to the local community. We are also working with the brilliant local food hub HALFF, making meals for delivery to those most vulnerable in Axminster and nearby.
And I’ve been filming some of my cooking at home - or rather my son Freddie’s been filming me cooking! - and we’ve been editing the recipes and putting them out on our River Cottage socials under the banner of the River Cottage Lockdown Kitchen. If you haven’t caught them, you can see my Store Cupboard Chachouka, and my Fruity Flourless Cookies HERE. I hope they help you make the most of your perhaps limited larder. (And even if you do have flour, these cookies, made with chickpeas, are seriously delicious!)
Aside from these domestic productions, all my filming projects are of course on hold until after lockdown. So I’ve been hankering after a project that both keeps me busy, and teaches me something I can keep with me long after the present troubles have passed. Last week I suddenly realised what I wanted to do – and I have begun to learn to identify as many of the wonderful wild flowers we have near us as I possibly can. As you might imagine, there are a few I know already – mostly the edible ones. But there are dozens, probably hundreds, that I don’t – and every day I am discovering a few more of them. Many are turning up right here in the garden, others on the nearby country lanes where we walk our dogs.
It’s getting rather addictive, so I’m taking pictures of them on my phone, and trying to Tweet four wild flowers a day, for as long as I keep discovering new ones. So far I have done 5 days on the trot – that’s 20 wild flowers identified without repetition. Some of my favourites – old friends and new discoveries – are below. Perhaps you can see why I am getting so excited. It makes me wonder where I have been looking all these years!
Left to Right: Gorse, Shining Crane's Bill
Left to Right: Wood Sorrel, Blackthorn (Sloe), Bugle
Today the rain has been making the next wildflower foray a tiny bit less appealing. So I’ve been baking again. This is my revised version of an old favourite – carrot cake. I’ve taken the sugar down a bit, and added more carrot, and swapped out some of the flour for ground almonds (or you can grind your own hazelnuts, cashews or even pumpkin or sunflower seeds). It’s “iced” with a trickle of warm honey. I must say I’m delighted with it! In case you haven’t got carrots, it also works brilliantly with beetroot, butternut squash and even courgettes!
I hope you too are finding that, despite this very troubling situation, there are some upsides to be explored. Mostly, for me, the upside is simply… time. The more I have of it, the more precious I realise it is. Perhaps you are finding the same.
Wishing you all the very best, and hoping we can welcome you back to River Cottage before too long,