Pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is, as its name suggests, a ‘weed’ that smells and tastes of pineapple. A weed, of course, is simply a plant growing in a place you don’t want it to grow. Some of these plants are edible and indeed delicious, and a morning’s weeding can provide breakfast as you work. You can find pineapple weed, also sometimes called disc mayweed or wild camomile, growing in both rural and urban settings. It can spring up on recently disturbed ground, often on poor and compacted soils, along path edges, even in cracks in concrete. (I have a huge patch behind the house where the ground was dug up to install drainage.)
It has very fine feathery leaves, and in the summer – from May through to late August – forms small yellow-green flowers with no (or vestigial) petals. Both the leaves and the flowers give an aroma of pineapple when crushed. The flower itself even resembles a tiny pineapple. It is vital, as ever, to be 100% sure of the identity of anything picked in the wild before use. It is also a good idea to try a small amount the first time you eat any wild food, to avoid risk of allergic reactions (this is especially true for wild flowers).
Pineapple weed has a long history of medicinal use; as a sedative, to treat gastric upsets, and as an anti-inflammatory. Research has also shown it to have anti-microbial properties, even inhibiting growth of E-coli.
As a wild edible, it is one of the more unusual to be had. There are many strong flavours to forage, from the mustard hit of jack-in-the-hedge to the bitter cabbage of wintercress, but pineapple weed has a uniquely tropical taste. It makes a great snack, nibbled straight from the plant when out walking; the flowers have more flavour than the leaves, though can become bitter with age (as can we all). Steeped in freshly boiled water for ten minutes or so, it makes a wonderfully soothing herbal tea. The flowers make a good addition to a salad. They can be infused, with sugar, into vodka to make a showy aperitif. Its fruity notes mean it is most at home, for me at least, as a pudding ingredient.
The best way to utilise its charms is by infusing, such as in a jelly or in a set cream. This dish is essentially a posset, though purists may balk at the additions of stewed rhubarb and a crumble topping. It can be made a day in advance and then finished and garnished just in time for serving. The sharpness of the rhubarb pairs nicely with the fruity, smoother flavour of the pineapple weed, and the topping gives a welcome crunch.
Ingredients (serves 4).
For the posset:
660ml double cream
150g caster sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
75g pineapple weed (flowers and leaves/stems)
1 bay leaf
For the rhubarb:
55g Demerara sugar
For the crumble:
50g plain flour
60g Demerara sugar
60g rolled oats
100g cold salted butter, cubed
10g sesame seeds, lightly toasted
To make the crumble, rub all the ingredients together with your hands until a breadcrumb-like texture is achieved. Transfer to a lined baking tray and cook in a preheated oven at 150ºc for about fifteen minutes, stirring every now and then, until golden and crunchy. Allow to cool, and set aside. (Any leftover can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of weeks.)
Discard any leaves from the rhubarb, wash the stems, and remove any of the tough ‘strings’ from the outside. Slice into 1cm slices, and place in a pan with the sugar and a tablespoon of water. Cook gently on a medium heat for ten minutes, stirring regularly, until soft but still holding some shape. If it is very wet, pour off some of the excess liquid. Allow to cool, and then divide between four clean glasses. Pop them in the fridge while you prepare the cream.
For the posset (cream), bruise the washed pineapple weed with a wooden spoon. Place in a pan with the cream and warm gently for fifteen minutes or so. Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for half an hour. Strain through a sieve, and discard the pineapple weed. Back in the cleaned pan, add the sugar and the bay leaf to the infused cream and slowly bring it to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Turn down to a gentle simmer for one minute, then take it off the heat. Remove the bay leaf, add the lemon juice and give it another good stir. Lick the spoon. Allow to cool to room temperature, then carefully divide into your glasses, on top of the chilled rhubarb. Cover and place in the fridge to set for a four hours minimum, or overnight.
To serve, uncover and sprinkle some of the crumble on top. Garnish with a couple of pineapple weed flowers, or other edible blossoms.