Lady's Smock (sacred to the fairies) adds a wasabi punch to a sandwich
“Lady’s Smocks all silver white and cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight.” William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost.
The full moon of May 5th moon is sometimes known as the Flower Moon. Perhaps this is because in May spring flowers are in abundance. Another common name, Milk Moon, probably alludes to the return of cattle to pastures new (Beltane) and an increased milk yield. The cuckoo has returned to my favourite Uist foraging beach (you can read about foraging seaweed on this particular beach in The National ). For a few weeks only, I go seaweedising (so named by the doyenne of the Victorian Sisterhood of Seaweed Hunters, Margaret Gatty’s young daughter) to the dulcet tones of the cuckoo echoing off the hills. I am fortunate. I’d thought the Uist cuckoo arrived at Easter, but this year it wasn’t until April 20th. Being the first person to hear the cuckoo is a most enviable local thing. Many of the wild edibles I forage are associated with Christian Festivals and folklore. Each festival and each wild edible has a season.
Chronus is clock time, carefully determined by the earth’s sweep around the sun. There is a chronological order to it. Kairos time has a deeper philosophical meaning, it allows appreciation of activities of a spiritual nature. My seaweedising is kairos time, a joyful & precious routine but it remains limited by chronus time: the ebb of the falling- and flood of the rising-tide. Both are dictated by the pull of the sun and the moon on the oceans.
Traditional festivals which energise communities, were, in bygone years, closely tied to the farming year. Most people in Britain now live in cities where they are employed in non farming related activities. Although festivals may appear to be related to a world that has lost touch with nature and its seasons, our pagan festivals, thinly veneered with Christianity, break up the modern year. A festival provides an opportune time to reflect and relish, if not to stand and stare.
Festivity connects communities – the Union Jacks for the Coronation brought people out on the streets - whether monarchist or republican. Any party is fun and an opportunity to unite neighbours. The use of a quiche for The Big Lunch was a clever idea. Simple ingredients lent an opportunity to reconnect with the season and - in the event of it being served at a street party - to the community too. Thank goodness Covid restrictions are past. Despite the rain, the coronation provided an opportunity for folk to connect face to face and, in my case, with the aid of Whatsapp, at a distance too.
My Coronation Quiche (the recipe is in my previous Substack) used dulse in the pastry and St George’s Mushrooms and the edible flower Lady’s Smock Cardamine pratensis in a wobbly set, savory custard.
Coronation Quiche: Mushrooms and Lady’s Smock with Wild Garlic (Ramsons)
Interestingly Lady’s Smock has both a religious and also a rather promiscuous interpretation of the same name. Richard Mabey suggests that Lady’s Smock may have gained its name from spring-time frolics in the meadows ‘ a bit of skirt ’. In contrast others say it is named in honour of the Virgin Mary because it first comes into flower around Lady Day (The Feast of the Annunciation March 25th). Lady’s Smock is additionally thought to have association with the robe worn by Mary, on Good Friday. Take your pick. It goes under many other names: Milkmaid, Cuckoo Flower (seasonal timing of course) and Fairy Flower because it is said to bring bad luck - and was not included in May Day garlands for this reason.
It is a perennial that likes damp habitat. In common with scurvy grass, in days gone by, the flower was used to treat scurvy. A member of the Brassicaceae family, its flavour packs a punch - like rocket, horseradish, watercress – a peppery kick not unlike wasabi. Add the pretty flowers to salads and use the leaves to spice up mashed potato, stews and soups. A few leaves in a young nettle pesto will add flavour. If you cook with nettles do this early in the season. By mid May, I only tend to use the nettle tips.
In profusion, Lady’s Smock casts a mauve mist across meadowland. On the Isle of South Uist, the pretty flower decorates ditches and damp gardens. It may carpet graveyards too. Forgotten graveyards can be a forager’s paradise.
This Wild Sourdough Open Sandwich recipe is taken from The Forager’s Kitchen Handbook. It includes a recipe for pickled wild garlic buds, but you could use Lady’s Smock leaves instead. When writing the book I married ingredients in season together. Increasingly, I give central stage to one foraged ingredient. The provenance of foraged ingredients is always assured.
To every flower there is a season. When Lady’s Smock fades, replace it with Bitter Vetch. In autumn, add wild seeds for extra crunch.
What to Forage and Find:
4 rashers bacon
2 handfuls young nettle tops, washed & chopped
2 teaspoons sorrel stalks,finely chopped
2 teaspoons lady’s smock stalks,finely chopped
Teaspoon pickled wild garlic stalks (if available)
4 tablespoons crème fraiche
150g cheese, grated
4 slices sourdough bread
16 lady’s smock flowers
Preheat the grill and cook the bacon until crispy. When cool enough, break into small pieces. Leave the grill on.
Put any bacon fat and the butter into a frying pan on a low heat to melt the butter. Add the nettles and cook to wilt, 3-4 minutes.
Add the sorrel and lady’s smock stalks and cook very briefly. Turn into a bowl to cool.
Add the crème fraiche, pickled wild garlic stalks, cheese and cooked bacon and stir carefully.
Lightly toast the sourdough on both sides, then top with the prepared mixture.
Grill for 3-4 minutes until the cheese bubbles and browns slightly.
Scatter the Lady’s Smock flowers over the sandwiches and eat as soon as possible.