The golden-yellow flowers of this hugely common heathland shrub bloom all year round. Forage them on a sunny day to make the most of their surprising, coconut fragrance and add an exotic twist to your baking.
Gorse (Ulex spp.) is a tenacious survivor of a shrub. Hardy, prickly and evergreen, it can produce its flowers year-round, despite often finding its home in highly-exposed expanses of wasteland, mountainous terrain, cliff tops and semi-barren heath. It’s incongruous to think that this tough and very common member of the pea family (Fabaceae) is perfumed so exotically but its yellow-orange blossoms exude a coconut scent, along with faint hints of fruits like mango and pineapple.
This delicate, exotic perfume is best carried by fats and alcohol, so favoured uses for gorse include liqueurs and meads, as well as ice creams. What works in an ice cream works as a custard, so we thought we’d try something a little different and infuse the blossoms into a classic custard tart. The plant is, after all, known in Devon as “Dartmoor Custard”, on account of the mass of yellow with which is flavours the moor. We weren’t disappointed with the result: the fruity-floral notes come across really well in this recipe. While gorse blooms all year round, it peaks in April/May, so this tart would make a perfect addition to an Easter tea.
There are three species of gorse that exist in the UK: Ulex europaeus (also known as furze and whin), Ulex galii (also known as dwarf furze) and Ulex minor, which is concentrated more in the south east. All are edible and the plant is easy to identify, with the only similar bush being its relative broom, another member of the Fabaceae family, although this lacks prickles.
You do need to be mindful of the prickles when foraging gorse, but the flowers can easily be picked with a little dexterity. They are best foraged on a dry, sunny day when the coconut scent is at its height. Gorse flowers do contain small amounts of toxic alkaloids, so shouldn’t be eaten in large quantities or too regularly. The peas and pods should not be eaten at all as they are considered toxic. For more information on gorse, see our foraging guide.
Ingredients (makes one 20cm tart):
100g freshly-picked gorse flowers
500g pack of shortcrust pastry
4 large eggs
140g golden caster sugar
300ml whole milk
300ml double cream
- Pick through the gorse flowers to remove bugs, then give them a good shake in a colander and a rinse.
- Soak overnight in 300ml of milk.
- Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Roll out the pastry to roughly the thickness of a pound coin and to a suitable size and shape to fit a 20cm, loose-bottomed sandwich tin, allowing for some overhang.
- Grease the tin and press in the pastry before putting in the fridge to chill for 10mins.
- Line the pastry with baking parchment and fill with ceramic baking beans. Bake for 20mins, remove beans and paper, and then return to the oven for a further 15mins until golden. Trim the edges using a large, serrated knife.
- Turn down the oven to 150C. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl.
- Put the cream, infused milk and gorse flowers into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Slowly pour the hot mixture into the eggs through a sieve, whisking continuously.
- Put the blind-baked pastry, still in its tin, onto a baking tray on a pulled-out oven shelf. Pour in the custard up to the brim. Slide gently back into the oven and bake for 1hr. The tart should be set and golden when ready.
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!