A barley sugar tasting, wild fruit syrup

haws-september-2016

I love foraging for wild fruit, getting to make jams and jellies, fruit crumbles and pies…however last year the blackberries around here were rather scarce and so were the mirabelle plums…. with the help of a couple of excellent wild food books (Richard Mabey’s Food for Free is excellent) I decided to become a bit more adventurous in what I looked at for picking……the hedgerows around where I live are so full of the most beautiful scarlet and vermillion berries with crab apples and wildlings growing nearby that just a slow hour’s amble just up the road and round the way, stopping and picking a few here, a few there, soon produces a colourful basket right full of a wild fruit harvest……   (I’m now on the lookout for a yarn this same heart racing vermilliony red…any suggestions would be much appreciated)

When I’m channelling my inner Catweasel and clambering through the hedges or half up trees I’m often stopped and asked what I’m picking, and what am I going to do etc … the fruit I’m asked about more than any other are haws…… the colour of them can vary slightly, sometimes they are a dark wine red, other times they’re very orange red, but the easiest way to tell what they are is that the leaves are all the same shape, they almost look like tiny oak leaves.. the flesh inside is a bit like an avocado’s, sort of waxy/buttery….and like rose hips they’re super rich in vitamin C so they’re an ideal fruit to use to make a winter syrup……or a surprisingly fruity tasting breakfast preserve.

rowan-berries

Along with the haws I’d ideally throw in a couple of handfuls or so of rowan berries, we have a few trees around here although my favourite tree was picked clean by the birds over the course of a weekend (which will teach me to pick some a bit earlier next year)….they’re such a fantastic and bright colour, a gorgeous vintage lipstick red … I understand there’s a lot of rowan berries up in Scotland this year, so you could easily just use rowan and apple for the syrup if you don’t live near any hawthorns.

The village where I live is actually a suburb on the edge of Norwich (though I think everyone who lives here will say it’s a village) which was originally farmland and orchards, I suppose that’s why we have so many established hedgerows and lots of fruit trees, every so often I notice a new apple tree or a damson, but generally we’ve got crab apples and wildlings(apple trees), cherrys,pears,mirabelle plums and then sloes, rose-hips, haw and rowans, dotted around all over……

apples-and-rosehips

The Winter syrup is really easy to make…..all the fruit will need a wash and clean, I trim the bottom off the haws and if the flesh inside looks at all brown then I just throwto that one in the compost bin, only use the fruit that is a lovely creamy yellow inside.

Ingredients

500 -750 g of red wild fruit (haws, rowan berries, rosehips….a selection is good but 1 or 2 is fine….use less haws to rowan and rosehps just because they’re fiddlier to pick and are a bit pfaffy to prepare)

2 – 2.5  kilo of wild apples (they tend to be a bit “oooh” sharp and tart when you bite into them.

granulated sugar

large jam pan

glass bottles for preserving

Preparing the fruit

Wash all the fruit, cut the bottom off the haws to check the flesh inside, put into the pan and for every  100g of red fruit you want to use 75 ml of cold water…..  bring to a boil, turn down the heat and gently simmer for about half an hour/ fourty five minutes or so until the fruit becomes very soft.

I tend to prep and cook the haws first as they are rather fiddly, let them start cooking first then the rose hips if I’m using them, and finally the rowan berries….rose hips are topped and tailed then popped into the jam pan, rowans are given a rinse, remove the stalk then into the pan…..

Once the red fruit has all cooked, turn off the heat, and allow to cool before straining through a jam bag (I use an old cotton pillow case that is kept just for this purpose) and collect the juice…..

While the juice is straining chop up the apples, you won’t want the stalk or very bottom of the apple in the pan, but you can put in the cores as long as they look okay, chop up  into quarters (conker size) and for every 100g of apples you want 65 ml of water…..  you can also pop in a couple of star anise “stars” and a couple of cloves…. bring to the boil and then simmer for about half an hour – 45 mins.

Unless you have room for two drip drip drip jelly bags, then you’ll need to empty the pulp from the bag (save it into a big bowl, don’t put it in the compost just yet), rinse out the bag and then put the cooked apple into it……

Strain the apples and collect the juice.

Now using both lots of left over fruit pulp, weigh the combined pulp and to each 100 g of pulp use 100 ml of water…. simmer for about 15 minutes and then strain and allow to drip… depending on pets you can let this drip over night.  (you can also squeeze the bag if you want, the syrup won’t be quite so clear but it’ll still taste as nice and you’ll just be able to make more)

Making the Syrup

Measure out the juice, for every 500 ml of juice you’ll need 250 g of granulated sugar.

Bring the juice to a gentle boil, sort of when it just starts to burp and hiccup….then carefully add the sugar, stir well and bring up to a rolling boil…. you want the syrup to be at a good rolling boil for about 7 or so minutes…. very carefully pour into sterilised preserving bottles… (a ladle or measuring jug and a metal bottle funnel are really useful at this stage)

I find the syrup keeps best in a cool place pretty much for all the Winter, once the bottle is opened you’ll want to use it up within about 10 days…it’s nice taken like a throat syrup off a spoon but if you pour it into a cup and add hot water then it’s a nice soothing and fruity tea which if you have a cold is very welcome.

Tips

While this is perfectly possible to make by yourself, prepping the fruit is faster and less tiresome if you’re chatting with some company…. when you empty the cooked fruit into a jelly bag (or pillow-case) soak and squeeze out the jelly bag, the juice won’t drip properly if the bag is dry…also empty the cooked fruit into the bag with the jelly bag in another large bowl or second jam pan…..(if not it’ll go all over the floor or work surface)… depending on how much pulp you’re straining, it’s often easier for one person to hold the bag in place just above the pan to collect the juice, while someone else strings it up.

If you’re using an old cotton pillowcase, use it inside out and chop off the bit htat tucks in on itself…that way the pulp won’t stick all around the seams.

 

Autumn sunshine and red hued hedgerows…….

view-through-the-oak-trees

Once again there’s been a shift in the weather and while the last couple of days have been chilly, it’s also been gloriously sunshiny.  Slowly the hedgerows are turning colour but it’s still very green and lush in our neck of the woods…..I’ve mentioned before that just down the road from our house there is a little lane that runs along the marshes where we go for a lot of our walks….and when it’s a bit wet in the meadows walking along here means we stay reasonably dry but still get to see the nice views across the pastures.  When it’s dry I love walking through those reeds you can see in the above picture, they grow either side of a pathway and when there is a breeze they rustle and sound so wild.

walking-out-along-the-lane

I’m always amazed at how the sunlight dances under the leaves, looking up in the branches and it still feels like Summer and then on the ground it’s Autumn with all those brown leaves…. quite often when we walk along the lane we’ll see a jay flying overhead, there’s at least a couple of pairs living around here and they are fairly frequent visitors to the garden. We also see a lot of magpies, generally we hear them first as they are rather noisy with all their sqwarking and carry on.  It’s not uncommon to see groups of 4 or 5 or even 6 of them at the moment, I guess there isn’t a lot that eats them so they are pretty high up in the food chain scheme of things.  Growing up in the countryside we’d often see the rather grizzly sight of magpies strung up on fence posts and field boundaries along with weasels and crows by the farmers……

acorns

Probably the first tree I learnt the name of was the oak tree, those familiar leaves, all curves and wobbles with acorns peeping up from underneath….a couple of years ago I noticed some really odd looking acorns, they were all mis-shapen and lumpy, and looked all the world like little green men or some such characters drawn by Brian Froud…these ones seem to be fairing better.  Acorns have such a lovely shape and when I was very small I used to think little pixies or faires used the acorn cups as hats.

oak-leaves-and-acorns

It’s nice to see the tree so healthy looking.  With such a rich harvest of acorns I’d have thought to have seen a few squirrels about but to be honest I’ve barely seen any this year, maybe it’s not been such a good year for them, as usually we can hear them scampering about even if we don’t always see them.  We get the occasional squirrel on our garden fence but there are so many cats about (a lady just across the way from us has 10, maybe 11) so I suppose the squirrels decided it’s safer to keep to the woody sections rather than venture too often in people’s gardens.

meadow-hedgerow

I love seeing the hedgerows this time of year, everywhere is so bright, red and berry laden….it’s like everywhere is all bedecked with red and green for Christmas already (and they say the shops start early)……the haws are so abundant this year, and it’s been really good here for rosehips too.  Some of the tangles of wild rose have their branches right bowed over so laden are they with huge scarlet hued hips…..

rowan-berries

And it’s been a good harvest too for the rowan berries…..another month and these will have all been stripped bare by the blackbirds…I never seem to see many other birds on the rowan tree, it always seems to be blackbirds.

My favourite recipe for rowan berries is to use it in a Winter syrup along with haws, rosehips and apples, I’m not such a fan of the thick dark rowan jelly but prefer one that is lighter tasting…..it still works well used in gravies or sauces and isn’t so over powering.

red-admiral

Although I’ve grumbled a bit about it being chilly in the mornings and evenings (so glad for this years hoarded pile of handknitted socks and shawls) we’re still having the odd incredibly warm day where we see some rather unseasonal visitors in the garden….normally dragonflies and damselflies have died by now…. and butterflies would start to be hibernating up out of the way or migrating..but this beautiful chap was quite content to bask in the sunshine and the darting flutters overhead show not all the dragonflies have gone quite yet…….

 

 

There’s a cat in the jam pan and some wild apple vodka……

 

autumn-raspberries

We’ve had some surprisingly sunny weather the past few days and while the raspberries in the garden are starting to show signs of slowing down there are still a fair few to come….mostly we’ve been eating them as they are but a request was put in for more Raspberry Cognac Jam so I made a batch of that last week while trying to keep the cat from next door out of the kitchen….I often have the back door open as it gets a bit hot and steamy in the kitchen as the fruit melts with the sugar and slowly becomes jam, and inevitably the little miss just keeps trotting in for fussing and attentions….she rubs round my feet and I seem to have one eye on the bubbling jam and the other on where she is and what’s she getting up to now…generally it involves trying to play with knitting I may have left on the side or trying to sneak a taste of what Bernard was having for his lunch…

The jam itself is very easy to make (especially if you don’t have the cat from next door trying to jump up to play and getting all underfoot…..)…you don’t even need that many berries to make a little batch and when I make a small amount I find it’s easier to cook the fruit in a heavy bottomed pan (like Le Crueset) rather than a big pan designed for jam making

jam-pan-kitty

And talking about jam pans…..hmmmm….it would seem that they make rather nice places to catch a crafty forty winks when we aren’t looking…… obviously it’s all my fault for not putting the pan away properly after I’d used it, but to be fair I hadn’t expected to find someone making themselves quite so cosy……

out-of-the-pan-and-into

That’s one very expensive cat bed…… at least the pan had been all washed so he won’t be all jam sticky…..

wildlingsSo while the jam pan is being used for other things (I can’t believe he’s really made himself a little bed in there…) at least I can make use of some of the crab apples and wildlings that I’ve picked from the hedgerows that seem to be really heaving this Autumn…..I made some apple vodka last year and wasn’t really sure how it was going to turn out taste wise, however it was a more than pleasant surprise…..I left the apples slowly drowning in a big Kilner jar of vodka for about 6 months…then had a taste and another taste…hic….. it was more than a little reminiscent of a warm apple brandy or a Calvados….and when I offered tastes to friends no-one guessed it was vodka.

bachelor jam style infused gin

I also made a bachelor jam style drink….different hedgerow fruit is layered with sugar and then the tipple of your choice is poured over…..just leave in a dark place for a few months……

It looked like it was going to rain an hour or so ago so I quickly nipped out to fill a basket with apples, beautiful yellow and orange apples the size of ping pong balls, all flushed and rosy with a real transulent glow about them…and then a selection of sharp green apples. Both work well in the flavoured vodka, and it’s really just a matter of giving them a clean, chopping them up and covering them in sugar and vodka and leaving them……. very welcome on a cold February evening when the wind is wild and it’s cold and dark outside…..

(I also got to see my little friend Bertie…he’s an adorable King Charles Spaniel with tufty russety orange eyebrows…he’s a real sweety and I was more than happy to sit on the grass and have a few minutes fussing with him while I chatted away with his owner about the joys of foraging and what I was going to be making)…..

apple-tree

Wild Apple Vodka….

ingredients

200g  wild apples

300 ml vodka (doesn’t have to be a flash pricey one)

50g granulated sugar

2 cloves, piece of cinamon, star anise*…….

decent sized Kilner jar

method

Sterilize the Kilner jar……..

Wash and pat dry the apples…..chop into quarters, discard any stalk but you can leave in the core.

Throw a handful of chopped apples into the jar and cover with some sugar, repeat and add a clove, repeat with more apples and sugar and another clove, repeat with more apples and sugar…… (I tuck the spices in the middle)……

Pour over the vodka and seal the jar.  Give everything a gentle shake.

Put in a dark cupboard and gently shake the jar every few days (this helps dissolve the sugar)….Leave for a few months before tasting….if you’d like a more developed flavour just leave well alone for another couple of months……  finally remove the apples and spices.

You can simmer the vodka drowned fruit and use them as a base for fruit fools (beware…they’ll be quite tipsy tasting) or apple tarts.

 

*as the apples and vodka are left for several months, the spice flavour slowly developes…you don’t need to add more than a couple of cloves to make a warm soothing flavoured vodka, however half a cinnamon quill or a star anise flower could be added if you’d like a stronger flavoured drink…. too many cloves though will make it taste more like a Winter cough sweet though than a nice WInter evening tipple……

 

 

Darker mornings and the delights of a pan of blackberries…..

autumn blackberries

And slowly slowly the year moves on, the weather finally seems to be catching up to the changing hedgerows and trees, mornings are dark and distinctly nippy, cobwebs strew across the raspberry canes and sparkle with an almost frosty dew, the marshes are covered with a low ground mist before the day clears and properly wakes up…..and then what seems but in the blink of an eye, twilight rolls in and then by seven it’s suddenly night….

I think like a lot of people Autumn is my favourite season, partly because I love getting out and having a kick around in the leaves, and the trees here can look so stunning, a breathtaking mix of yellow and saffron, flame, crimson amongst russetty browns, sepia tones and shades that look like gingerbread men….

I also love the food I tend to associate with this time of year, slowly cooked casseroles and hale and hearty stews, sticky fat sausages (vegetarian ones sitting in the pan alongside butter sauteed onions and crab apple jelly as they melt together into a sticky gravy) and blackberry crumble….it’s easily one of my top five favourite foods and while I can’t eat too much of the crumble mix anymore I happily can wolf down second helpings of the cooked fruit…..however it’s been another poor old year here for blackberries* so rather than pick them for just one or two brief tastings of pudding I’ve been making dark coloured jellies which will hopefully see us through the year.

berries in the pan

A couple of years ago my beloved bought me a huge French copper jam pan, it’s a bit of a beast as it’s so big and rather heavy to boot but it’s wonderful to make jams and jellies in, the changing patina of the copper reflects the gently cooking fruit and becomes even more beautiful every time I use it….. a pan of blackberries on the stove, simmering foamy bubbles slowly appear across the surface, welling up from the deep like a great and fearsome sea monster, a dark rich fruity aroma wafts up….my glasses steam over if I get too close as I try to breath it all in…..more than bonfires or the smell of a damp leaf strewn afternoon, this is for me the very essence of the smell of Autumn and is a yearly treat I begin to look forward to as soon as the days become longer and warmer….

Dark glistening berries, purple but often so dark they’re almost jet black, magically become a bright vivid magenta as they bubble and froth…like some Shakespearean witches brew …oh for a pair of tights in this colour to be worn with purple shoes.

purple fingers

The smell of bubbling berries is such a familiar one…even when I lived in the heart of the city I was always able to find some hidden up brambles and pick enough berries for a pot of jam or a tummy warming crumble…..I’m not a very chic forager though, I always seem to end up with the pinkest of fingers, stained like foxgloves and tingling with splinters and nettle stings (I never make foraging sound very attractive, but the rewards more than make up for any pickle or hedgerow tangle I find myself in).

I used to just make blackberry jam but the last couple of years I’ve switched to making jellies using some of the local wildlings and crab apples that grow so abundantly nearby….when I cook my apples I pop in a couple of star anise “stars” which gives the apples a heady almost mysterious aroma, and to the simmering blackberries I add in a few shards of concentrated liquirice juice….both add something that makes the blackberry jelly taste even more blackberry and Autumny.

Jelly or jam making is such a soothing process that always seems to help me ease and adjust into Autumn…gloomy mornings are rather miserable, the evenings get shorter as they draw in so quick all cold and damp outside, almost every day at the momentt I seem to encounter huge hairy spiders as they run across our carpet or lurk by the side of the stove which make me jump right out of my skin when I see them (yes, card carrying Arachnophobe here)…but an afternoon spent slowly stiring a pan full of berries, with the scented steam drifting out into the garden, maybe having enough left over for a crumble to pop into the oven…. and I’m blissfully content and feel I can cope with anything (regardless of how many hairy fast moving legs it has).

apples and quinces

In another week or so I’ll be making apple and quince jelly, I’ve got a bowl filled with small japonica quicne on our front room table and as they slowly ripen the quince smell more and more incredible, very citrussy and sherbety…at night I close the door so when I open it in the morning I’m greeted with a lovely uplifting perfume….

The jelly is really simple to make and is rather marmaladey in taste.  It’s very delicate and it’s easy to see why it was eaten as a breakfast preserve before the fashion for oranges came in…I only made a few precious jars last year but I’m hoping to make enough to give some as Christmas gifts….I have a friend who now lives in London (she’s an amazing cook and has spent this last year studying at Leith’s Cookery School)…in Autumns past she’s been a foraging buddy, and we’ve picked bags of sloes and baskets of blackberries, so I’m hoping to be able to fit in a trip to London before the year is out and surprise her with some homemade preserves made from my solitary foraging escapades.

 

*the year before last we went blackberry picking about the mid twenty something of July right through September and into October, I must have picked in the region of 30 some lbs of blackberries, the hedgerows were fair heaving, and were so laden with fruit…the berries were fat and so sweet and flavoursome.  The first few times we ate the fruit as it was, just a dribble of Jersey cream or yoghurt on top….and even when I made it into jam the seeds were very few and far between…but every cloud has a silver lining, and as the harvest seemed a  bit sparce last year, I experimented more with what went into the jam pan and made some glorious jewel bright amber coloued hedgerow jellies instead.

A hedgerow harvest roundup of recipes………

an afternoons foraging

As I mentioned yesterday, the hedgerows are turning and the wild fruit is ripening…that means it’s time to make jellies and jams, syrups to sooth sore Wintery throats…even a crumble if the Winter gets colder (though it’s been a bit muggy and close for a crumble so far and the berries are a little too seedy and sharp to eat as they are, perhaps another couple of weeks though….)

For years I was all about the jam, much prefering those to jellies which I’ve always found to be a bit lacking in richness of taste, however, after the accidental blackberry treacle mishap a few years ago, I’ve since happily tinkered in the kitchen and am now firmly a jelly lover…in part also because I can’t really eat bread anymore and whereas jam and yoghurt looks a bit odd,  jelly and yoghurt seems somewhat more acceptable (it’s a bit like those Muller fruit corners.)

blackberry and licorice treacle

My favourite jam in the whole world used to be blackberry ….however my head has been turned by making bramble jellies with a few apples thrown in to the simmering pot….straining the mush to create a deep purple and glistening juice …… I love eating this with yoghurt both for breakfast and as pudding.

a hedgerow harvest

Adding some elderberries helps add a deeper fruitier note to the jelly (just a couple of handfuls is enough) and this tastes so good that I tend to hoard it all for myself…I do like those dark rich fruit flavours.

coral coloured crab apple jelly

I could wax lyrical about crab apple jelly all day, the jelly is easy to make and it can be made both sweet or sharp….the sharp is probably better added into casseroles or soups, or slowly stirred in to sauteing onions or pan juices to make a bright and glistening gravy.

The sweet jelly is ideal for breakfast preserves and in one of my Tamsin Day Lewis books she says it was her father’s favourite.

Cooking down the apples helps to make a good base for other hedgrow fruits, the jelly doesn’t taste like cooked apple in the slightest and only rounds out and adds body to the other wild fruits.

hips from an apple rose

For a lighter jelly that’s amber and flame coloured, I use the red and vermillion hedgerow berries…rowan and rosehip and hawthorn haws….. I’m amazed by the different tastes and colours of the haw berries…..I read that they can have the texture of an avocado, and while it took a few tastes to see that, particular berries, when large and ripe do have that butter soft feel….. you can also use hips from apple roses…… our lovely council has planted lots of these around here, and this time of year the hips are huge and are the most beautiful bright orangey red, similar to a vintage hued lipstick I used to wear.

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

I made two different tasting syrups last year, one was light and while nice swallowed off a spoon, it really came into it’s own stirred into a cup of boiled water and sipped like a fruit tea…..it was just the ticket when I had yet another cold or sore throat.  Over the past few years I’ve become very susceptible to laryngitis, and generally suffer with it a few times a year, however where normally it would make me feel very miserable, knowing there’s a bottle or two of this on hand has helped cheer my spirits a lot……

The other syrup was a lovey deep and dark purple, really glistening like the blackberries and elder berries that went in to make it….it tasted a bit like Ribenna when I tried it with hot water, but just a little on a spoon and swallowed like an elixir was very soothing on a sore and raspy throat.

apples and quinces

A very pleasant surprise was the quince jelly I made, well I call it quince but actually I used fruit from a little japonica shrub that’s just round the corner and up the way…..this was such a delicate and light citrusy taste, I can completely understand why this was a standard breakfast preserve for warm rolls until marmalade started to become fashionable.  The jelly is so bright, really golden and even on a dull and Autumn morning seeing a little jar of this on the table is bound to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

foraged apples

As I’ve said before, I know I’m really lucky to live here, while not being slap bang in the middle of nowhere, I’m in fact on the outskirts of Norwich, but to the back of us it’s all fields and river land, marshes and meadows……mostly it’s a case of looking around me, seeing what’s growing…..I know I’ve made a couple of dog walkers jump when I’ve emerged a bit tangled from a hedgerow or squeezed myself out through a gap in a fence…… what’s lovely is the amount of people who will stop, ask what I’m picking and what I’m going to make…it’s been a great way to meet people where I live, and then when I see them again there are hello’s, how do’s….and much fussing is made of their dogs. Hopefully if the weather stays dry I’ll be foraging this weekend with my friend Debbie, and while clambering through hedgerows by myself is fine, it’s always much more fun to be with a friend (and if Beks is reading, we also intend to hit the park and have a go on the swings…..)

Below is a bit of a rundown of some of my favourite wild jams,jellies and syrups and links back to where I’ve wrote out the recipes……..hope this wets your appetite and encourages you to  head on out and see what the hedgerows near you have in store……

Crab apple/wildling jelly

Rosehip and Haw hedgerow jelly

Blackberry jam

Blackberry treacle

Blackberry and Wildling jelly

Quince and Wildling jelly

Hedgerow Winter syrup

 

 

Hedgerow jewels and a wild pantry……

apple-tree

Even though it’s still warm and a bit muggy during the day (and even the last couple of nights the covers have been kicked off), the mornings are dark and we’re starting to notice a distinct chill in the air…..however this isn’t a post that’s all doom and gloom…..I love Autumn, it’s probably my favourite time of year, the hedgerows are turning the most incredible colours, scarlets and vermillions, flame reds and crimsons as haws and hips and rowan berries ripen.  Even the apples look particularly rosy and bright this year.  A walk down to the shops on even the most overcast and dreary mornings is soon brightened when I spot dew heavy berries, glistening and looking good enough to eat (which they are).

walking-home

I’m incredibly fortunate to live where there are still lots of hedgerows where it’s okay to forage and gather, behind the houses there are numerous walkways where cars can’t fit, just a few hundred metres up from our house there is a mass of hawthorns and wild roses….there is also a lane with an abundance of elderberries and sloes……and this doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of blackberries that grows over out on the marshes and surrounding meadow land.  Wildlings and roses arc overhead and are there to see if you only look upwards.

rowan-berries-sept-2016

For the next month or so, walks and gentle afternoon ambles to stretch and unwind will see me heading out, basket in hand to gather what I like to think of as my wild pantry…..the basket is great, I can fill it with freezer bags of soft fruit like blackberries and elderberries and they don’t squish like they’d do in a tote.  Another essential is a walking stick, good for moving nettles out of the way or for helping reach those higher brambles which always seem laden with the biggest berries.  A little pair of garden pruners lays in the bottom of the basket and these help trim back those eye high nettles or any trailing brambles.  I’m probably never the most smartest dressed person but these Autumn walks see me channel my inner Catweazel….wearing a pair of the oldest jeans which are plucked and snagged and a breton style tee that’s a bit holey and stained from last year’s encounters with some ferocious brambles, when it gets chillier I’ve got a tatty old jacket which is more holes than cloth and a pair of wrist warmers that I bought some years ago now, they’re locally spun and hand knit but sadly no longer have the details of the lady who knitted them.

vermillion-coloured-rose-hips

A few years ago I started keeping a little notebook for my walks, just scribbling and noting down what I noticed growing where, whenever I spotted a lone damson in a hedge, or a japonica growing quite randomly (with some apples thrown in this makes a lovely substitute for marmalade…and if you sit the fruit in a bowl and leave them for a week or so to fully ripen they’ll fill your house with the most beautiful of scents) but somehow this got mislaid, I suspect it got lost or left behind when I was clambering about through a hedgerow last year but for the most part I can close my eyes and tell you exactly where the good things are growing……(rather annoyingly the fence in the above photo has recently been repaired, there were gaps and holes in it which I could squeeze through to gather apples that would have been slightly out of arms reach…….but at least I can still pick the rosehips)

blackberry harvest

One of the nicest jams I made was quite by accident and I ended up calling it a blackberry treacle (I forgot to add the extra water and made a sticky tar like spread…..it was the taste of Autumn, and was delicous spread over toasted cinnamon bread )….the following year I made another batch and added some liquorice (the sort you use for cooking and which you can break down into small glossy shards) for a deeper flavour…the results were amazing and then last year I made a jelly using crab apples, blackberries and a few shards of said liquorice… as dark and wild as any heady embrace with Heathcliffe ….when I used my last jar I really did feel very sad and sulked for days.

apples-and-rosehips

Because last year didn’t seem to be such a good year for the blackberries around here I experimented and tinkered with other hedgerow fruits… haws, rowan berries, rosehips and elder berries are all edible…… and I made possibly my finest batches of jellies of all time.  I also made some fruit syrups and they got me (and my boyfriends dad) through a year of colds and snuffles and sore throats.  It’s amazing how many wild apple trees we have growing here and they all make a good base for jelly and syrup making, adding a note of flavour but also helping them set)…they’re sometimes a bit hard to see at first, but once you start noticing them it seems like there are apples everywhere…..

haws-september-2016

I was a bit worried what this Autumn would bring as the forging over the Summer was a bit quiet, the rubbishy weather meant the plums and cherries didn’t fare too well at all however what I’m seeing as I step out the door really does make my heart happy….a wealth of haws in particular which makes for a very fruity preserve.

It’s best to check in with your local council regarding foraging restrictions in your area, a lot of new rules and regulations seem to have crept in and where you might be able to pick in one place, you might get told off if you pick elsewhere. (I think Bristol bought in some changes the other year and I’ve been told other councils are getting stricter too….in part I think this is because foraging over the last some years has become more popular and that means bushes/shrubs/trees are getting over picked or plants near by are getting stood on and damaged.)

Tomorrow I’ll share some of my favourite recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nettle tingling fingers and blackberry junkets….

It’s been really hot and sticky feeling here the last few days, a bit too hot for me really and I’ve not wanted to do much of anything….however as I’d started noticing some fat and shiny blackberries about when I’d headed down to the shops we decided it was time to start gathering something to put down for the pantry.  The wild mirabelle plums which I’ve picked every year since I moved here didn’t even come to fruit this year and the wild cherries were a rather poor show, I managed to pick a small handful to eat on the way home but there wasn’t enough to cook with.  I’ve been a bit worried about the blackberries as they seem to have been a bit slow making an appearance but this last week or so I’ve been seeing the odd glimpse of shiny jet black berries when I’ve walked down to the shops.

the sock thief

We’ve not actually been home all that long as we had to stay in this morning looking after a fledgling wood pigeon our neighbour’s cat had knocked out of our tree…Bernard’s a bit old and creaky to be springing up trees however little miss from next door isn’t very old and she’s also pretty fearless…..adult wood pigeons are beautiful if a bit…hmph’ty…they always remind me of Georgian politicians or fat old country squires with the gout.  We get a few come visit in the garden and thy make me laugh how they strut about. Their colouring though is so pretty but the fledgling …well it was definitely a face only a mother was going to love…sadly the poor little creature died and I’m afraid to say kitty got short shift from me when she poked her head around the door to ask if Bernard was coming out to play….she’s already in my bad books as she  sneaked in and played with/ pulled out a sock out that I was knitting…she’s also eaten soup I was planning to eat myself and she also has a taste for lemon yoghurt…do not let that cute face mislead…this is one bad cat.

black berries in dappled sunshine

But as it was sunny and nice we decided we’d still go out as planned but just set a very gentle and slow pace as we ambled over the marshes ….there’s one spot in particular where we think the blackberries are best but it’s got so overgrown and tangled that it was really hard to just get on in there and pick.  We’d taken small secateurs as we knew it was going to be a bit of a jungle but didn’t realize just how overgrown and wild it had become…. my poor fingers are so sore and tingling from the nettle stings and brambles.  It feels like there’s more than a couple of tiny bramble splinters too but at least I didn’t stand in any fox poo today or get covered in cobwebs which I’m quite apt to do so am looking at the silver lining….generally when I’m foraging by myself I end up half in the hedgerow and when I clamber out look more than a little like Catweazle but when I’m with my sweetie he seems to make sure I don’t bring home half the hedge with me.  A couple of years ago I bought a walking stick from a charity shop and it’s brilliant to take with me to gently pull down any laden stems that seem a bit far out of reach, and I also take an old pair of garden clippers that were a car booty 50 p purchase to lop down any nettles that tend to spring up right in my face, however, I completely forgot to take the walking stick and missed it pretty much as soon as I got there.

river side

However we still picked just over a couple of pounds before deciding it was just too scorchy and wouldn’t it be nice to get home for a cold drink so we packed up and walked back home a slightly different way…normally it’s too boggy and wet underfoot to walk across this piece of the meadows but today it was just perfect.  Up to quite recently they’ve had cows grazing on here so all the meadow grass and wild flowers have been nibbled down, but I could see lots of vetch shoots appearing however I’m not sure if they’ll have time to blososm before the Autumn weather creeps in.

As the weather is due to be hot and sticky  tomorrow as well I’ve decided to make some little blackberry junkets…they need to be kept in the fridge once they’re set as they don’t have any preservatives in them but they’re so delicious that to be honest I generally can eat them til they come out of my ears.  Like possets they’re a wonderfully old fashioned recipe and are ridiculously easy to make.  This is the best weather to make them but really we should have gone out this morning to pick the berries so they had time to set while the sun was at it’s strongest, but I’ll pop them in the fridge overnight and then sit them out for a few hours in the sunshine tomorrow (and if all else fails I’ll add a little sugar, bring to the boil and get a set that way)…..when the early blackberries are picked they’re really super full of pectin and set naturally in sunshine, because they don’t contain any preservatives they do need to be eaten up quite quickly.  They are so eye closingly good on a just out of the oven scone with a smear of clotted cream on top but I think they’re also nice with yoghut or creme fraiche.

Sunday strolls and dappled shade lanes…..

meadow july 2016

Yesterday mornning while it was all sunshine and warm, we went out for a slow Sunday stroll across the meadows and marshes just down the lane behind our house….it was one of those perfect not too hot, not too bright Summer Sundays, ideal for lazy walking and meandering along, not being in a rush, just walking at a leisurely pace and enjoying being out of doors……

grassy and green

As we cross the main meadow there’s an almost constant chiruping and trilling of crickets and grasshoppers in the grass, and mixed in with the bird calls, it’s like nature’s very own orchestra playing…..at one point though I was pretty sure I heard a snake so decided to keep to the more well worn path rather than veer off to the sides to inspect how the blackberries were doing….the meadows are still incredibly lush, with swaithes of shoulder high meadowsweet and tufted vetch growing in huge patches…..water mint and apple mint grow in abundance and I like to pick  little sprigs to rub between my fingers for wafts of refreshing minty scent, then saving the rest for when we get home where I crush it with strawberries and pomona and have with lemonade in the Sumerriest of cocktails……..

tufted vetch and meadowsweet july 2016

As we walk along by the riverside or marshy pools we’re forever turning our heads, looking up and over as we try to follow the flittering, ever changing flights of damsel-flies and dragon-flies, jewel like, irresdescent colours flicker and dart around us……some are the most intense shade of peacock tail feather blue, others are green and then there are ones that are almost conker brown.

on way to mill

As well as ambling around over the marshes we also walked up to Keswick Mill and peered over the smaller humpbacked bridge just before the weir to see the fishies in the water, we didn’t see such impressively sized monsters as earlier in the year, but instead we watched several dozen smaller fish of assorted sizes swimming about, almost dancing , seeming to enjoy the sunlight on the water before they’d move back to the shaded sides amongst the river reeds…..the water is really shallow here and to be honest is much more of a gentle flowing stream than the deeper, wilder weir just up the way, the water is incredibly clear and on a hot and bothersome day, watching the fishies and the dappled shadows over the water always cool me down.

Looking up into trees and searching the verges and hedgerows has made me think this Autumn may be a quieter year for foraging…certainly the wild mirabelle plums that I’ve gathered for the past 5 or 6 years will be missing from my wild pantry…the blossoms didn’t really come to much which is hardly surprising as the weather was so bad, so no plum crumbles or jams, no plums in brandy to keep Winter chills at bay…and along with the poor show of plums the wild cherries don’t seem to have fared much better…there’s been the occasional nibble when I’ve passed by underneath, but not enough to turn anything into something good to put down for the colder months, or simmer and spoon over ice-cream.

honey bees and bramble blossom

However the apples seem to have done better, I’ve been seeing a lot more trees laden with fruit , even more so than last year, and fingers crossed it will be a good year too for the blackberries, we’ve eaten a couple of fat early berries which have been really juicy, though very tart.  I’m hoping to be able to make a couple of junkets as that is one of my favourite blackberry recipes and which can be eaten with just out of the oven scones under heaped teaspoonfuls of clotted cream or stirred through yoghurt.

bracken

And I’ve noticed the hawthorns, rowan and rose all seem to be coming along nicely as well so I’m planning to make more hedgerow syrups as I honestly don’t know how I’d have got by this year without them…..while not having quite such painful laryngitis as in recent years, this year I’ve still been prone to numerous coughs and colds and sore throat, and a spoonful of amber coloured syrup in a cup of hot water has been really soothing to sip at……the syrup is also nice over yoghurt and ice-cream but my favourite way to have it has been to make it into a tea.

I loved this dappled spot alongside the train track where the sunbeams came streamng down and made all the bracken and mare’s tail gleam all golden light, earlier in the year I walked here when there’d been a frost so the bracken looked quite different then.

And while we just walk slowly, taking our time to smell things, stand and listen to birds overhead, I’m always quite happy to return home, key out to open the door and the kettle goes on to make tea before almost anything else.

 

Elderflower and lemon cordial with a photo bomb by Bernard….

and the assistant helps out

The past week seems to have been a bit of a wash out, so much rain and grey clouds overhead it’s barely felt like Summer at all…..everything in the garden and hedgerows seems a bit behind itself so I’ve only made one batch of cordial so far ….I was hoping the weather would brighten up so I could  head out mid week to gather more elderflower blossoms but everywhere was so wet and boggy underfoot that I ended up nesting on the sofa with a few episodes of All Creatures Great and Small to keep me company while I sat and did some knitting……

I used pretty much the same recipe as last year for the cordial but by adding extra heads to the water and sugar I made a the cordial a bit stronger…I could have added more water but I quite like a stronger flavoured drink.

(This is a picture from last year when Bernard decided he was going to assist me….a cloudy puff of blossoms got scooped up out of the bowl with a fat furry paw before he chased it half way up the garden, scattering tiny flowers like confetti outside a church)….

I tend to pick the blossoms in a “a few from here, a few from there” manner…that way there are still plenty of flowers left to ripen up and become elderberries in the Autumn…if the blossoms are at all caramel coloured or smell a bit sharp, if they make you wrinkle your nose up and remind you of cat wee…don’t pick them…the cordial will come out tasting very unpleasant and will be quite undrinkable….instead leave them be and they’ll reward you with fat clusters of deep purple and black berries and will be waiting for you in September to turn into jellies and syrups.

I try to head out in the morning when I’m gathering the blossoms, generally between 10 and 11, that’s late enough for any dew to have dried off in the morning Sunshine, early enough for the blossoms to still be powdery and sweetly fragrant…….(a hooked walking stick is also handy to take so you can hook and gently lower down those higher branches)

making cordial

I try to cut off as much green stem as possible from the elderflower heads, they don’t add anything to the taste and I prefer the cordial mixture to be as full of polleny blossoms as possible…..in the past I’ve made the cordial with a small handful of fresh lemon verbena leaves added to the elderflowers..they add a soft, sherberty note which is very nice, and I also add them to homemade lemonade for the same reason……

I always strain the mixture at least twice before pouring it into sterilised bottles, generally through some cheesecloth or muslin, but an old, clean pillowcase that’s been soaked in water and well wrung out works just as well, but the cordial will take a bit longer to slowly drip through.  If you squeeze the muslin or pillowcase bag then your coridal will be on the cloudy side, I like to make mine clear so allow it plenty of time to slowly drip through the fabric.  (Cloudy doesn’t make a difference in taste, but I don’t think it looks so pretty).

As well as being delicious to drink with water or soda, the cordial is lovely drizzled over just cooked gooseberries to make into purees/fruit fools or possets (we had a gooseberry/elderflower posset last night for tea which was a perfect pudding for a chilly Summer evening)…..it also freezes well so you could pour it into ice-cube trays if you have plenty of freezer space.

When it’s warm and the evenings are light,  I can drink this til it’s coming out of my ears, however once the weather turns and the nights slowly begin to draw in then my cravings stop…along with asparagus, broad beans and strawberries it’s a real Summer taste and one I don’t find myself wanting until next year again rolls around.