Preservation – Brining

IN

We’ve benefitted from Forager Liz Knight‘s writing and knowledge for several years, and even had her company on a few memorable occasions! Here she sees what’s growing this February, and shares a technique for getting the best out of it.

LK: Like most foragers, I have a cupboard heaving with jars and bottles full of the preserved bounty of countless wild gatherings. If only they were all labelled, they would read like a chronology of the last 10 years foraging for fruit, nuts herbs, flowers, seeds, and roots. Preserved by sugar, acid, air and salt they line my kitchen pantry, providing me, (like every other forager who preserves) with a unique seasoning store cupboard, made up of flavours that belong only to me; bringing back memories of when they were picked each time a jar is opened and the aroma of the days gathering released.

The most pungent of my dried jars comes from plants that have been salted before they were dehydrated; one twist of a lid of salted leaves and you might be hit by onion, garlic mustard or seaweedy aromas; even more aromatic than the original plant, somehow more deeply scented, and flavoured. They’re my jars of wild umami, made better because of an overnight bath in salty water.
Salt makes everything taste better (this is both my opinion and a fact) salt helps reduce the bitterness in food, at the same time balances sweet and sour and helps release aromatic oils from food into your nose; helping you smell more and therefore taste more. No wonder we automatically reach for the white seasoning.

When you plunge herbs into a salt brine, the salt is absorbed by the plant’s cells, enhancing and releasing flavours already inside the leaves and stems. You’d be within your rights to turn this bath into a long soak, and ferment the leaves into sour, probiotic rich greens, but salted herbs experience a quicker plunge – 12 hours at the most, before they are removed from the water and dried thoroughly.

The resulting dried herbs have robust flavours and are perfect for using as seasonings in any savoury dish you would season with salt – crumbled salted nettles are lovely with toasted sesame seeds sprinkled onto breads or dips like humous, salted yarrow is incredible dusted on thin slices of tomatos; salted herbs are bombs of umami flavour and make the simplest of food explode with flavour.

See our instagram live with Liz for more incredible insight into local seasonal flavours

Wild herbs and flowers that are ideal candidates for salting are: Nettles, yarrow, cleavers, dead nettles, wild oregano, wild thyme, wild garlic, 3 cornered leek, ground elder, ground ivy, lady’s smock, bittercress, ox eye daisy, garlic mustard (hedge garlic), honesty, spruce tips, cherry blossom, apple blossom, rose petal and honeysuckle.

– Ensure your herbs are thoroughly washed, removing any soil and you have removed any discoloured parts. Place the herbs in a container with a cover

– Dissolve 25g salt into 500ml just boiled water (it is best to use a scale for this rather than using teaspoons as 5g of a finer salt will take up less volume than larger flakes).

– Stir the salted water until the salt is dissolved, and leave to cool.

– Once cool, pour the salty water over the herbs, ensuring all the plant is under water (you can use a whieghted object to keep them down), cover and leave for a few hours (up to 12 hours is ideal) before removing the plants.

– Shake the herbs, and then dry to remove any moisture (which will spoil the plants) If you have a dehydrator then dry crumbly, otherwise place on a clean tea towel and dry on a radiator, or in a very low oven – just don’t dry your pungent herbs in an airing cupboard where you also dry clothes or everything you wear from it will remind you of your pungent mistake.

Alongside the jars of the magical 5th taste, you’ll be left with a flavoured brine water; don’t throw this away as you can use it to soak meat, fish or vegetables – which pull the wild flavours into your food; or dilute it down to cook pulses or beans in.

And perhaps the most precious use of the brine – splashed into a dirty martini, which is best drunk whilst you’re looking through your collection of jars and bottles and wishing you had labelled them all..

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