Skull Gang Foraging Club: Lurchie Gets Wet For Fennel
Fennel is pretty special. You can use it to steal fire from the gods. It was one of the nine sacred herbs of Woden (the pagan dude with one eye), and the Welsh used to say, “He who sees fennel and gathers it not, is not a man, but a devil”. The seeds are meant to reduce the after-effects of booze, and they stop you farting.
The Romans probably introduced fennel to Britain. They also introduced pubs. This was a day for pubs. The lurch was miserable (by the way, she still hasn’t killed anything. She has managed to find a bucket of curry. A whole fucking bucket. And a raw chicken leg). Despite our distinct lack of a Mediterranean climate, fennel does fairly well in the wild here. It is found mostly in the southern counties, and is more prevalent by, but not restricted to, the coast. Fennel loves damp wasteland, and can be found living as happily on roadsides as seaside cliffs. We found a whole bunch in East London. We showed a friend from up north. The next time we went, half of it was gone. Northerners.
Fennel can grow up to eight feet tall and has feathery, dill like leaves. It smells strongly of aniseed. Both the normal green fennel, and a coppery species known as bronze fennel can be found growing wild. Both are edible. Wild fennel won’t develop the large bulb that cultivated ‘Florence’ fennel gets, but the entire plant can be eaten. All you really need are the leaves though. Later in the year the flowers can be collected and fennel pollen extracted, or it can be left to seed, and then the seeds gathered. The seeds can be used whole, or ground and used as a spice. The only thing to look out for when picking fennel is poison hemlock. Poison hemlock looks similar, but has more carrot-like leaves, and doesn’t have that strong aniseed aroma.
Fennel’s fresh, sweet flavour goes well with most fish, especially oily fish like mackerel. It can also be wilted, minced, and cooked with some skinned Italian sausage, then added to penne to create a traditional Sicilian Pasta con Finocchietto. Which is what we did, only with some wild garlic tossed through at the end. Or you could just make fennel butter. Fennel butter is incredibly easy. All you need to do is steam the leaves, chop them finely and mix with a good, soft butter. It will go well with pretty much anything out of the ocean, and will work on chicken and pork as well. Or just wave it around looking for fire like Prometheus did. I don’t care.