A few years ago, my wife Gemma had a job working on Walney Island, this also happened to coincide with the beginning of my interest in wild food, and how this could be used to create dishes that represented the area I had grown up in.
During her time on Walney I would join her on walks around the top of the island to take in the amazing views and unique landscape it offers. During these walks I began to discover and learn about many of the coastal herbs and plants we now use at the Old Stamp House.
By far the most challenging and unique ingredient that I discovered was Sea Buckthorn. Incredibly acidic but floral at the same time. It took many failed attempts to create a recipe using this ingredient that would be suitable to serve at the restaurant.
Sea Buckthorn isn’t native to Cumbria, it was introduced from the east coast in order to stabilise the coastal dunes where its hardiness and deep roots are prized. It’s also valued for its many health benefits; it’s become one of the new and trendy superfoods with because of its high amounts of vitamin C. Coincidentally you will often find it in expensive shampoos! I suppose the latter idea must have been inspired by its ancient use, part of its Latin taxonomy ‘Hippophae’ comes from the ancient Greek words hippo meaning horse and phaos meaning shine - it was commonly used as a food supplement, which made your horse’s coat shine.
In Cumbria it’s now believed to be doing more harm than good and is being removed from many of the nature reserves dotted around the coast, especially as it is said to be having a negative impact on a number of our native species of plants and animals by causing too much stabilisation of the sand dunes and providing too much shade cover.
Sea Buckthorn is one of the easiest costal plants to spot, with distinctive clusters of bright orange berries that ripen in late summer and autumn. The easiest place to spot them is at the side of the road when you’re driving into Barrow!
A word on foraging; please check if you are allowed to forage in your chosen area. You are not in fact permitted to remove any wild plants from nature reserves, and there may be restrictions on some other areas of the countryside too, so it always worth a check. And do follow the Wildlife Trust’s guidance to always make sure you leave enough for the wildlife, only pick where something is abundant, and only take what you need.
If you are going to pick sea buckthorn, you’ll find it’s not that easy, as the bushes are spiky! I mean seriously spiky! The berries themselves tend to be mushy, making sea buckthorn more suitable to juice than anything else, which happily is readily available to buy online. I personally would recommend saving yourself the bother and leaving the berries around here for the over-wintering thrushes.
If you do struggle to find buckthorn juice it can be replaced with passionfruit juice.
Sea Buckthorn Truffle Ingredients:
650g Milk Chocolate
300g sea buckthorn juice
100g soft butter
Fresh mint to garnish
Sea Buckthorn Curd Ingredients:
200g Sea buckthorn juice
3g Agar agar
For the curd place the sugar and water in a pan and boil to dissolve the sugar.
Add the sea buckthorn juice and agar to the pan and bring to the boil.
Boil rapidly whilst whisking the mix for 1 minute the pass through a sieve on to a tray and place in the fridge to set. Preferably over-night.
When set place the mix it a blender and blitz until smooth. Place in a piping bag.
For the truffles, take a large flat-bottomed pan and reduce the buckthorn juice down by two thirds.
Add the honey to the juice and turn the heat down to its lowest setting
With a spatula mix in the chocolate gradually a handful at a time followed by the butter until it has melted and emulsified.
Pour into a lined tray and place into the fridge to set.
Once set, portion the truffle, roll in cocoa powder, and pipe some of the curd on top and finish with a sprig of mint.