Category: Free Stuff

Ten More Delicious Wild Foods That You Can Eat For Free

Posted by – February 8, 2011

You may already have seen my Ten Delicious Wild Foods article, but wait, there’s more ….

The hedgerows are in fact bursting with excellent wild foods, and I just couldn’t fit all my favourites into a top ten. So here we go with Ten More Delicious Wild Foods That You Can Eat For Free.

Image: wild strawberry. Source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. License: public domain (copyright expired)
Wild Strawberry

All the foods on this page are found throughout temperate climate zones. If you don’t live in a temperate climate zone (such as most of Europe and the USA), consider using the comments to tell me about wild foods where you live; I’d be interested to hear about them in case I decide to visit wherever you are.

Needless to say, get a good field guide and take care in identifying wild foods. If you’re in any doubt as to the identity of your prospective meal, leave it alone or ghastly, unspeakable things may happen to you.

Without further ado, here we go with another ten excellent wild foods …

Squiffy’s List of Ten More Free Wild Foods

10. Dandelion

Image: Dandelion Author: Matt H. Wade License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Yes, that’s right, dandelions are edible. The best bit is the leaves, eaten when young. They taste a bit like lettuce, but a little bit more bitter and less lettucey, if that make sense, and sometimes turn up as part of the salad in posh restaurants. Apparently you can also eat the roots boiled, or make fritters from the flowers. I haven’t tried either (it’s tricky to get the things out of the ground and the flowers don’t really look that appetising), but if you have, then let me know!

9. Hedgehog Fungus

Image: Hyndum repandum. Source: Archenzo. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.
Hedgehog Mushroom (Hydnum repandum)

As always, take care with identifying mushrooms. However, this particular one is really hard to mistake for anything else, due to the fact that it has teeth. That’s right, in place of the usual gills, hedgehog mushrooms have lots of small, toothy structures that look like the teeth of a small animal. Fortunately they don’t bite, and if you’re lucky enough to find a good crop (typically they grow around pine forests), the taste is generally mild, nutty and excellent. Fry them in a little butter or oil.

8. Glasswort

Glasswort is a sort of cactus of the sea shore. While cacti conserve water because there isn’t much where they grow, glasswort conserves water because it grows in places where fresh water is hard to find, on mudflats or muddy patches of sand by the sea. What’s really great about this plant is that it comes ready-salted. The traditional way to eat it is to boil it very lightly and then dip it in melted butter, but I actually prefer it raw. Pick the stubby ‘leaves’ when young, and pull the flesh off the stringy central core with your teeth. Crisp, tasty, and full of vitamins. In Norfolk, England, glasswort is sometimes to be found on restaurant menus and is sold by the roadside when in season.

7. Salsify

The salsify, or vegetable oyster, is a fairly invasive plant that resembles the dandelion, to which it’s closely related, except that it’s purple. The roots are the bit to eat. Books on wild foods typically recommend you to boil them whole, since they exude a milky juice when cut and lose flavor. I personally tried them chopped and fried. They aren’t bad; I’ve never tried oysters so I don’t know if it’s true, as alleged, that they taste like oysters. To me they taste more like Jerusalem Artichokes if anything. But here’s where I confess that it’s a very long time since I tried one of these, and in fact I didn’t pick them wild but grew them, as a young whippersnapper, in my mother’s garden. Once you’ve planted these things they keep coming back every year and in unexpected places. My Mum eventually had to move house to get rid of them. Be warned …

6. Puffballs

I’ve linked here to the Giant Puffball, but in fact as far as I know, all white puffballs are edible. Whatever you do, don’t eat them when they’ve turned to powder or are starting to turn greenish-yellow inside. That would be disgusting! No, you want them when they’re young and firm and white all the way through. The taste varies; I used to slice them and roast them over fires during my misspent youth, but I suspect they would be better fried. I’ll try that experiment as soon as I can and get back to you.

5. Sweet Cicely

I used to be somewhat obsessed with this plant, and now I don’t know why. But it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for. The leaves are very like those of the incredibly-common ‘wild chervil’ or cow parsley, which you can also eat (once you’ve identified it safely and correctly), but which I find disappointing. Sweet Cicely on the other hand has a rather fine aniseed flavor. The whole plant smells of aniseed, especially the leaves when crushed (compared to cow parsley’s mousy parsley smell), but it’s the unripe seed capsules that are the best bit. They grow surprisingly large and juicy and are good to eat raw. Apparently they’re also good pickled, and if you’re into pickling things you could consider adding a handful of green cweet cicely seeds to the mix. Sweet cicely seems to prefer temperatures that are a little on the cool side, and while I rarely encountered it in England, it is easy to find in Scotland. Wikipedia says it is a native of central Europe. Whether it grows in the USA I don’t know, but you can always buy the seeds and grow it yourself (hope this link works!): Sweet Cicely Herb 50 Seeds – Myrrhis odorata

4. Elderberry

Image: Elderberries. Source: Jonathunder. License: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

Of course, no discussion of wild foods is really complete without mentioning the elderberry (or the blackberry, but see my other post for that). The flowers can be coated with batter to make fritters, or fermented with sugar to make elderflower champagne. But I don’t recommend it; the flowers are reputed to smell like The Black Death. I’ve never smelt The Black Death and doubt whether it has such a pleasant, if odd, fragrance, but I can say that for me the flowers taste awful both in fritter and in champagne form. However, the berries are a different story. Mixed with sugar they are OK in pies — probably best with other fruits, since they are too juicy to make a firm pie mix. They really come into their own when used to make wine. I’m no great fan of wine, but elderberry wine is really good. It tastes like wine should taste; fruity and fragrant, with no bitter oaky aftertaste (unless you mature it in oak barrels!), and it gets better with each passing month.

3. Wild Strawberry

It’s always exciting to find wild strawberries. Their leaves look a lot like those of another common weed, the name of which I can’t remember — except that true wild strawberry leaves end in a little point, while the fake version is flat or indented at the end. Anyway, when you catch the plant red-handed with strawberries, all doubt is removed. The fruits are nothing like shop strawberries, which they resemble tiny versions of. Their flavour is intense, sweet and very strawberry-like, but rather different to commercial varieties. Many people consider the flavour superior. I doubt whether you’ll ever find enough of these delightful little fruits to make jam — unless you grow them yourself and have a lot of patience for picking them — but they are an excellent fruity snack at the right time of year.

2. Bilberry

Bilberries are a lot like American bluberries (I think maybe the latter is a cultivated version of the former), but smaller. Of course you can do all kinds of things with them, as with blueberries — pies, jam, fruit smoothies and so on — if you can pick enough. But they are also good enjoyed straight from the bush. They taste a lot like blueberries to my mind. You’re probably going to have to go and ramble on the moors to find this one (watch out for your local Beast of the Moors, not to mention those bog holes that suck you in and kill you while the Beast menaces you from the edge), but it’s well worth the effort. Often you find bilberries growing on close-cropped bushes eaten by sheep, for instance on Kinder Scout in my native Derbyshire, but if you hunt around you can find entire tall bushes covered with tasty fruits.

1. Hazelnut

Image: Hazelnut. Source: Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. License: public domain (copyright expired)

The Hazelnut can grow into a rather pleasing little tree, but is perhaps more often found in hedgerows, where it blends into the general shrubbage but can be recognised by its distinctive leaves. The nuts are to be found cloaked in protective leaves, inside of which is a little nut in a brown shell. I’m sure you know hazelnuts; they are frequently to be found chopped or ground in chocolates, but they’re also delicious enjoyed by themselves, with just a little salt.

Although I’ve ordered the above list as well as I can from worst to best, to tell the truth it wasn’t as easy to put these in order as it was with my original Top Ten Wild Foods list; the ones on this list are all more or less equally excellent.

There are of course many other wild foods to be had, but I won’t talk about them here since the list could go on indefinitely. Some of the other intriguing possibilities include nutty sedge tubers, cat-tail roots, sycamore syrup, wild plums, chanterelle mushrooms, pine nuts and many more.

If wild foods interest you, check out one of these books on the subject:

(I get a small amount of cash if you buy using these links — yipee! and thanks).

Foraging for Food: Squiffy’s Top Ten Wild Foods

Posted by – February 6, 2011

Sure, you can buy food in a supermarket. But it’s more fun to discover it growing wild. If you really want a big change of lifestyle, you could even consider living in a forest and foraging for food … but I wouldn’t recommend it, mainly because most really decent temperate forests have long since been turned into buildings, fire and paper goods. Trust me, I’ve looked into it.

Image: Dandelion Author: Matt H. Wade License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported<br />
Dandelion (edible leaves, flowers and roots)

However, wild foods still make a great snack.

If foraging for food is something that might pique your fancy, here are my top ten edible wild foods, complete with Wikipedia links. If you actually want to try these wild foods, be absolutely certain you’ve identified them correctly; get a good field guide and learn which poisonous plants can be confused with edible ones. Don’t take any chances. There are lots of poisonous plants and fungi around. There are plants that will send you mad, plants that will give you cancer, and fungi that will kill you slowly and painfully over several days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But with a bit of practice, plant identification quickly becomes second nature. After all, we were all once hunter-gatherers back in the mists of time, so the ability to learn plant identification is in our blood.

The plants in my list can be found throughout temperate climate zones, and often beyond. I’m a native of the UK, but as far as I know all of these plants also grow in the USA and throughout much of Europe, as well as in many other parts of the world.

So without further ado, here we go, in reverse order, complete with links to Wikipedia:

Squiffy’s Top Ten Most Delicious and Intriguing Wild Foods

10. Wild Mint

Not so much a food as a flavouring, wild mint can be found all over the place once you start looking for it, especially near water. Learn to recognize the leaves and flowers, and confirm by checking for the distinctive minty smell and square hollow stems (square stems are a characteristic shared by all plants in the mint family, of which there are many, but nothing else smells quite like mint).

Try making mint tea, or chop the leaves finely with vinegar for a delicious mint source; sprinkle over free-range beef. Delicious!

9. Pignut

The pignut is an intriguing and elusive wild food. I’ve never seen it growing in any great quantity, which always makes me feel like leaving it where it is, but supposedly in some places entire areas of woodland can be thick with pignut. Be careful not to confuse it with other ‘umbellifers’ – plants with ‘umbels’ of little flowers that look a bit like umbrellas; the family includes not only edible plants such as the wild carrot and parsley, but also poisonous plants such as hemlock and fool’s parsley. Pignut is quite a distinctive plant once you get to know it, and its thin, meandering root leads down into the soil to a single ‘nut’, the size of hazelnut and equally delicious.

8. Cuckoo Pint

Cuckoo Pint is a very common plant, at least in Britain and no doubt elsewhere too. Its weird and distinctive flowers are apparently designed to lure in flies and keep them prisoner while showering them with pollen. The leaves, flowers and red berries of this plant are poisonous, as is the root. So why am I mentioning it? It just so happens that when the root is thoroughly cooked, it becomes edible and quite delicious. If you’re careful you can bake them outdoors in the hot ashes of a a fire. They taste a lot like really good baked potatoes. But take care, because I can tell you from personal experience that they burn your mouth and throat if not cooked enough! Apparently hundreds of years ago feeding people improperly cooked cuckoo pint roots was considered a very funny joke, but fortunately humor has moved on since then.

7. Horseradish

Once you’ve seen the large, dock-like leaves of horseradish a few times, you can spot them everywhere with little difficulty. The plant is a member of the generally-edible cabbage family and probably you can eat the leaves if the fancy takes you (but don’t take my word for it — I’m just guessing!). However, it’s the roots of horseradish that are the tasty bit. Like mint, horseradish is not so much a food as a condiment. Put the fresh roots in a food blender along with some salt, pepper and a little cream. The resulting sauce is absolutely delicious, especially with meat. The fumes from mincing horseradish will make your eyes water, but it’s worth it! If you’ve ever tasted the supermarket version, be prepared to forget what you thought you knew about horseradish, because the real thing, freshly dug out of the ground, is a completely different experience.

6. Wild Cherry

Wild cherries are less sweet than cultivated cherries, but just as tasty. This is the sort of wild food that you can gorge yourself silly on, and I have done. Cherry trees are easily spotted, and fairly hard to confuse with anything else, other than possibly the cyanide-containing cherry laurel — which however does not really look anything like the true cherry. True cherry trees carry their fruits on those distinctive long stems rather than the short, stubby stems of cherry laurel. Wild cherry trees are often grown for their blossom, but the fruits are also good to eat.

5. Stinging Nettle

The stinging nettle was introduced to my home country, England, by the Romans. Thanks, Romans! Now we’re taking revenge by filling their homeland with tourists. However, while it’s true that nettles are covered in thousands of tiny hypodermic syringes that inject acid into your skin (nice!), the stings are fortunately never all that severe and the leaves of young nettles are rather tasty. Be sure to pick only the young leaves, before they turn laxative and become infested with insects. In Britain and probably elsewhere, you can expect two crops a year — in spring and in autumn. Simmer the leaves with water and a little butter, or make soup out of them. They taste perhaps a bit like spinach, but not so spinachy, and are horrendously good for you. Apparently you can also make rope or paper out of the stems if the mood takes you.

4. Parasol Mushroom

Now we’re getting down to some seriously delicious wild foods. As I hope you know, you have to know your way around wild mushrooms a bit before you start eating them. Get a good book and learn the poisonous ones as well as the edible ones, so you know which ones to avoid. However, of all mushrooms, the parasol is perhaps the hardest to confuse with anything else, with its distinctive cap and movable double-ring that slides up and down the stem. What’s more, parasol mushrooms knock the spots off supermarket mushrooms in terms of taste. Oh, people rave about the delicate apricot-like taste of chanterelles, but give me parasols anytime. They have a superb mushroomy flavor, and since the caps tend to grow quite large, you can really get your money’s worth out of these fellas.

3. Blackberry

Easily identified and delicious raw or cooked into jam, jelly or pie filling, the blackberry is most certainly one of the greatest and tastiest of all wild foods. If you can find a substantial area of land in a temperate zone that hasn’t yet had houses or roads built on it and isn’t a swamp, chances are you can find blackberries growing in profusion. Picking the berries can sometimes present a challenge, as you find yourself leaning precariously over massive spiky bushes, but it’s all part of the fun.

2. Sweet Chestnut

In spite of the ever-so-slightly England-centric nature of this page, the sweet chestnut doesn’t grow all that well in England; it’s too cold there. But it can be found, and the nuts are fantastic boiled or roasted and dipped in salt before eating. If you boil them, getting the bitter peel off can be tricky, albeit worthwhile. Roasted, the peel tends to flake off more easily. God, do they taste fantastic! In Spain you can apparently find entire forests of sweet chestnuts, although I’ve never seen them so I wouldn’t know. In Italy you can find people selling roasted chestnuts from stalls in the street. These stalls used to be common throughout parts of England too, but these days seem to be confined to London. Roasted chestnuts are a wonderful food to eat on a cold autumn day. In the wild the trees are beautiful and easily-identified. Don’t confuse them with horse chestnuts of course, but aside from both trees having nuts that are covered in mahogany-colored skins, they aren’t really similar. There’s something about the sight of a sweet chestnut tree that is somehow magical and exotic. In Italy, encountering a grove of chestnut trees is a wonderful experience. The trees, with their elongated, serrated leaves, look almost like something oriental, even alien. And wherever you see those trees, you know that mouth-watering chestnuts are to be had at the right time of year.

1. Horse Mushroom

Image: Horse Mushroom, Photographer: Frank Gardiner aka Zonda Grattus, License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Horse Mushroom

Huh? A mushroom is the number one edible food? And one fit only for horses at that? Well, guess what, horse mushrooms take the whole mushroom flavor to a brand new level. A horse mushroom was for me clear and away the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life. The taste is beyond describable; I can only say that if you buy the finest-quality large-capped mushrooms from a supermarket and fry them in butter till they are just a little brown, then you have something that can perhaps give you the merest hint of a how a good horse mushroom tastes. Horse mushrooms are often found growing in old cow pastures, along with the familiar type of common mushroom (which of course also tastes excellent, far better than the cultivated mushroom). They are fairly distinctive and have a recognizable characteric scent, but don’t pick them till you’ve learnt your way around mushrooms from a good guide book or someone who knows what they’re talking about, such as your grandmother. You wouldn’t want, for example, to confuse them with the destroying angel, a vindictive little amanita mushroom which will kill you slowly and painfully over a period of several days, the first symptoms only appearing just when you think you’re safe but are in fact done for. But if you want the finest wild food taste sensation available, you need to learn mushrooms and get to know those old cow pastures! The exquisite taste of the horse mushroom is my reason for making it the number one wild food.

If you’re seriously into foraging for food, you might want to buy a book about it. The only two books about wild foods that really stick in my mind are:

Richard Mabey’s Food for Free

A good general guide to wild foods, although it leaves many great foods out.

… and a book I read when I was twelve years old, which really inspired me to research wild foods more for myself:

Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain

A fascinatingly-detailed story about a boy who runs away from home to live in the Catskill forests. Lots of information about the edible wild plants of that area, some of which are also found in places as far flung as England.

Still want more? Checkout Squiffy’s Ten More Delicious Wild Foods You Can Eat For Free

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Top Ten Essential Free Software Choice Picks

Posted by – February 4, 2011

If you use Microsoft Windows (which you probably do — Bill has got us all over a barrel), there are a number of amazing free software programs that you absolutely shouldn’t be without.

Here’s my top ten of absolutely top-quality free software programs.

Top Ten Free Software Programs

1. Open Office

While Microsoft charges a small fortune for their Office suite, you can download Open Office for free; it’s almost completely compatible with Microsoft Office, and in my opinion a lot nicer and easier to use.

2. Skype

Skype makes it possible to call other Skype users, either using a webcam or just using a microphone and speakers, like a telephone — absolutely free. Plus you can call phones and use it exactly like a telephone if you’re willing to stump up some cash. Especially great for long-distance calls, since their call charge doesn’t depend on where you are in the world.

3. VLC

Maybe it’s just me, but Windows Media Player never seems to play my video files correctly. I also dislike the way it takes ages to load and witters about media libraries, when all I want to do is play an mp3. For that reason I was delighted when I discovered VLC. It’s free, open-source, and it seems to play just about anything with no hassle.

4. Google Chrome

Chrome is certainly one of the fastest browsers on the market. I also love the discreet browsing feature that allows you to view pages without recording them in your history (known to some as “porn mode” …)

5. Thunderbird

Excellent free email client. You can even connect it to your (free) Google Mail account and make it backup all your emails!

6. 7-Zip

If you like to download free stuff, doubtless you’ve encountered all kinds of weird zip file formats. 7 Zip handles most of them – and fast.

7. The Gimp

Superb image editing software with a strange name. Can’t afford Photoshop (or can afford it but just don’t want to pay for it)? Gimp’s what you need.

8. DVD Decrypter

Want to make backups of your DVDs? Prefer to watch your DVDs from your computer instead of messing about with discs? DVD Decrypter can rip your DVDs to .iso files, which you can play directly with VLC; you can also use DVD Decrypter to rip your DVDs to VOB format, which another program (such as AutoGK) can convert to video files.

9. Audacity

Audacity is an excellent free multi-track sound editor. If you ever need to record anything (podcasts, for example), Audacity will do the trick. You can edit your recording, remove background noise and even add special effects like echo.

10. Avira

Let’s face it, we all need anti-virus software. Avira is the best free anti-virus that I’ve found. OK, they want you to buy their non-free version, but that’s fair enough considering how much they give away for free.

You may also be interested in ….

Blender: free 3D animation software

Psycle: free music creation software; download free VST instruments and use them with Psycle to create your own electronic synthesizer orchestra!

Mu Torrent: Download videos, music and everything else using torrents. The idea behind torrents takes a little getting used to, but once you start you’ll be hooked … Don’t download anything that violates copyright law though, I wouldn’t recommend that!!

Real Alternative: Play RealPlayer files without having to download the awful and (in my opinion) intrusive Real Player.

Firefox InLine Translator: If you use the free Firefox web browser and you’re interested in foreign languages, Inline Translator enables you to translate words by simply selecting them. Amazing!