A year of cats and knitting, frosty walks and Summer strolls,homebaked bread and foraged fruits…..part one…..

bernard-shawl-testing

Sometimes when I take stock of a year I find it too easy to remember the bad stuff, the sad times…horrifying world wide events can all too easily make us forget those little moments of smiles, and happiness and everyday pleasures, a spiral of despair and feeling hopeless can take hold in the blink of the eye and all those good things, however small and unimportant to others just seem gone……

One of the many things I’ve enjoyed so much about writing my blog and sharing pictures along the way is there’s a record, something tangible I can touch and look at and think “yes, that happened and it was a good thing” or “mmmm that tasted delicious”…remember how it felt to sit on the back door step with the sun on my toes or heading out for a walk when it was all frosty out and my nose turned numb before I’d even turned onto the lane…

I know it’s really not the same but all these tiny moments and occasions remind me of the bit in the sixth Harry Potter film, where everyone stands in the Hogwart’s courtyard with their wands out, shooting up wisps of light, sending out memories of love for Dumbledore and the dark mark of skull and snake in the sky slowly breaks up and fades under all that love…..as I say, I know it’s not the same but sometimes it’s necessary to remember the good bits and focus on that, to gather a bit of strength to be able to deal with everything else……

And so that’s what I’m trying to do today…..so go put the kettle on, make a hot drink, and get a plate of biscuits and sit down somewhere comfy as there’ll be waffling and rabbiting as I look back over my year……

Guess who has pinched my shawl

I’m starting with these pictures of Bernard cuddling in a shawl as they sum up my year better than anything else……after being told last Christmas Eve that the lump we’d had removed from Bernard’s paw was cancer we spent the first weeks of the year on tenter hooks….every morning his paws were checked for anything suspicious and days were spent with him curled up along side while I slowly re-knitted my shawl and fell very in love with the scent of sheepy yarn and the gentle click of my needles……. this is pretty much how the whole year has been but it wasn’t really until September that we got the thumbs up all clear from the vet regarding his health…it goes without saying that everyday this year has been so blessed, regardless of windy bottoms and swipey paws….

 

Most of Janurary was pretty much devoted to sock knitting (I’d been warned it’s somewhat addictive…..) my dear friend Anne gifted me not only another pair of hand knitted socks but also a ball of yarn, a set of needles and the lessons in which I learnt to knit a pair of socks for myself……yes there were grumbles when it went a bit wrong, but even better was the feeling of wriggling toes in socks I’d knitted myself…..

Most mornings started off cold, a bit damp and dreary outside, but we were treated to a spectacular frost near the end of the month, all silver and twinkles, glittering cobwebs and frozen marsh ponds…..I bundled up warm  in my first ever shawl and headed out over the pastures, it’s so cold my cheeks ached and felt incredibly rosy and pink….along the back of the golf course there’ss a small copse and it’s shaded, protected from the frost…the sun shines through the trees and the dry bracken just glows golden in the morning light…so beautiful and felt glad I’d got up and out to see it.

February was a bit of a frosty old month, we had one really foggy and frosty morning where the walk over the marshes was proper eerie, all mysterious shapes looming up out of the mist….fog totally transformed the meadows there and while normally I’m a bit loathe to step out where I can’t see more than a couple of feet in front of me, when the ground is so frozen underfoot I felt a lot safer.

I made some more sourdoughs, each one seemed to come out a bit different but I found I really prefer the smell of just a sesame loaf to those made with other seed mixes….the beloved says he doesn’t have a preference so I ended up baking to suit my nose rather than his tummy.

I finished my first ever pair of socks and was proud as punch to wear them out and about, (going so far as to wear them with red heels and leggings so they wouldn’t be covered up with boots) and hot on the “heels” of those were the ones I’d began knitting using some Shetland Spindrift I’d found lurking in my stash…so warm and the most gorgeous tweedy colour….all plummy and fruit crumbly.

On particular days it feels like Spring had very much sprung, the hedgerow that lines the lane behind where we live is bursting into bloom right now, wafts of heady blossom scent the air and it makes me just feel so happy.

And it’s not just nice scents that the air is filled with, there’s also that underarm farty sound which small boys like to make….it’s what I think Long Tailed tits sound like, we’ve got a least one little colony living near by and the garden is regualrly filled with them, they swoop around the the garden and are as impressive as anything by the Red Arrows…..I love their dainty colouring, all soft dove grey, milk white and rosy tinges on their fronts with a charcoal tail.

High point of the month was popping into my local library and finding the floor space there given over to the local guilds of Dyers,Spinners and Weavers…I had a go on a drop spindle and spun a wee skein of wool, so exciting, and I even had a go on a spinning wheel….so relaxing and I just loved it.  I went back the following week and bought some amazing handspun dk yarn, one skein of Castlemilk Moorit and one of Shetland….absolutely increbible to touch and the smell….sheepy heaven.

March was a really sad month for me, my oldest and dearest friend passed away….I was lucky enough to have known Joyce since I was about 11 or so, originally she was the mum of my oldest sister’s boyfriend, and soon she become such a warm and freindly addition to our circle of family friends….she’d always appear on her bike with a beaming smile and a jolly wave, bicycle basket laden with a harvest from her garden, a bunch of something bright and cheery for my mum……we really looked on her as a surrogate grandma, we certainly loved her as such. The past couple of years she’d been lost in a hazy confusion of dementia so in a way I’d already said goodbye to the lady I loved, she was one of the nicest people I think I’ve ever had the good fortune to know.  She’s left a real ache in my heart.

The rest of the month was rather knitty based  (as I said at the start this was my year of knitting)… I joined up for a new kal (more of an unkal) over at the Caithness Craft Collective, and nominated a couple of unfinished woolly bits for that, firstly the grannies paperweight crochet blanket with it’s never-ending amount of tails to sew in, and a forgotten about tea cosy that I super-sized knitted by mistake…I began a “unicorn” in soft blue alpaca and silk….and this gave me the kick up the bum to start (and finish) my Nature’s Shades kal, a beautiful Moonraker shawl in soft and sulky greys, with accents of coffee bean and golden cream pips.  I also finished a pair of socks I’d began knitting for the beloved’s birthday, watching him put them on and wriggle round his feet as he admired them….well my heart near burst.  Even now a year later, I still can’t believe I’m knitting socks…thank you awesome Anne for the lessons…

Other highlights included making possibly the best hot-cross buns ever, making a real nose runningly spicy thai style soup (it was nice, just a bit hot), doing a Spring Fair over in Holt organised by my friend Ruth and bird-watching in the garden with Bernard on days when it was all sunshine and birdsong.

After what seemed like a long, damp and dreary start to the year, we started to see signs of life in the garden in early April…a little smudge of blue forget-me-not blossoms by the side of one of our raised beds and spotted lady birds scurrying about as we began a bit of weeding and tidying out of doors.

I finished my Nature’s Shades shawl for the Knit British/Brit Yarn kal on Ravelry…I was so pleased with how the shawl turned out…it’s very drapey and light, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be….the weather held up well and treated us to a couple of really smashing Spring sunshine days so we headed out with the shawl to take pictures and then walked round to Keswick Mill and saw fish for the first time in one of the streams (which we found very exciting) …  I also took some pictures of the beautiful dappled marking on the Keswick Mill brige, soft speckles of pink lichen amongst the grey stone work, walking home we saw an incredible puffy fungi on one of the posts near the golf course, soft rhthymic scallops in gentle shades.. ..everything you need for a shawl design is there in that fungi…colour, and shape…

Pudding of the month has been Creme Brulee/Trinity cream……so easy to make, and so easy to eat. I didn’t bake as much bread as usual as our oven is starting to play up, but each time I open the oven door it’s such a surprise to see what the loaf will look like, no two have ever looked quite the same, subtle changes in colour and shape…but all smelling so good.

I had such a thrill this month, I won a skein of the beautiful and lustrous Tamar…the colourway was Tiddy Brook and it’s a real powdery pollen yellow green…the colour changes in the sunlight, the twists in the yarn capture and hold light and shadow like you wouldn’t believe….the competion was held by lovely Isla at Brityarn. I really was over the moon when I realized I’d won this yarn, along with a gorgeous Ethel the sheep bag which I soon filled with all my Natural un-dyed British yarn….little did I know this would be the start of my Karise shawl addiction and love for Blacker Yarns….

I bought a couple of old books from charity shops, my favourite being this knitting book from the seventies, all the pieces in the book are knitted by children. I couldn’t resist the cover with that dear little knitted horse.

 

The weather was really splendid for most of the month, the air just seemed filled with sweetness and floral scents each time we stepped out the door…just up the road form us is a big patch of grass where all the dog walkers meet up and if I time my trips just right I get to have doggy cuddles with some of my four legged friends….at one side of the green there is a clump of Stag Horn Sumac growing and at this time of year those first leafy fronds look all the world like phoenix feathers or dragons feet…fancible imaginings but I think you can see where I’m coming from..I can’t walk past these without stroking them, it’s always the simplest pleasures make me happy…..

I also finished my second Moonraker shawl, this was using an alpaca/silk blend with the woolly pips of colour knitted with vintage tapestry wool…at first I was quite pleased with it but after wearing it a few times the different weight of the yarn I used didn’t really feel right…..definitely a case of (k)notting rather than knitting…. oh well, not the end of the world but I did feel a bit disappointed.

I also wrote a rather lengthy piece on what I like to use for my quilting….it really gets my goat that a lot of people seem to think you need to spend lots of money to be able to make a quilt…yes you will need to spend a few pounds but if you spend it in the right places and not on a lot of what I find un-necessary or not needed straight away equiptment then a quilt needed cost an arm and a leg to make….

As the weather is nice lemon possets become a favourite pudding to finish off a meal, and I baked some Moomin Mama buns….

June was rather damp….barely a day seemed to go by without it raining, though the garden seemed to thrive on all the water and almost overnight our raised beds were full of wild flower blossoms and smudges of forget me nots and dandelions lined the steps and path to the compost bin…..

Back in May I started knitting my first ever cardigan and in June I was able to cast it off the needles…. the pattern is Ramona and I love that the techinques for making increases in the Open Sky Shawl are now used to make increases in this…..the yarn is some I’d bought years ago from a charity shop, it’s all wool but reminded me of the pebbly beache sof the Suffolk coastline where I grew up…(however looking down at it now while I typ I’m all too aware of how it’s bobled and pilled so not great yarn but it is nice and cosy to wear….)

I also knit my first ever pair of toe up socks…the pattern is by Rachel Atkinson and was a gift from my friend Julia in Scotland…it’s all nubbled in texture…I used a now discontinued homemade strawberry ice-cream pink from Blacker Yarns and can’t not think of holidays in Italy where gelatto is served in glass dishes……

I also made some elderflower cordial, not so much as last year as it was too wet, but once again I had a little furry asisstant to help me check for insects in the blossoms..and I also made a fruity semi-freddo….

After listening to podcasts by both Caithness Louise and Shiny Bees Jo I ripped out the alpaca/silk shawl…..no tears, no sighs of bother….this is one of the joys of coming to knitting from a background in sewing…the ease with which a yarn can be re-used…..so with the help of an upturned chair, a sink of warm water and a rolled up card tube from the kitchen roll to use as a make shift nostepinne the yarn is re-balled and looks good as new…..

 

Part two tomorrow……

 

A little bit of seasonal pottering in the kitchen and a round up of our favourite Yuletide recipes…..

almond biscuits 005

I know not everyone likes pottering about in the kitchen but I’ve always enjoyed using my time in there to mark the seasons…we try to eat seasonally with our vegetables and I find my baking or jam making shifts accordingly too…..I’m always happy to try out new recipes but over the past some years I find myself returning to the following tried and trusted recipes, which for us, have become a big part of our seasonal celebrations….I’m currently writing up a selection* of our favourite recipes as part of a Christmas/New Year present for some friends that live a really long way away which means we only get to see them very occaisonally… (I thought they could add to what we send with favourite recipes from their family)….I’ve gone through the things we like the most and thought I’d round them all up and put links to them here tooo which makes it easier to share them with other people too….

Citrussy almond biscuits…..(light and delicate and all citrussy, these aren’t only nice and refreshing but if you get a gippy tummy at all or wake up a bit nauseus due to overindulging rather the night before then they seem to very good at helping to calm down the flutters)

marmalade 006

While you probably won’t see the seville oranges pre Christmas, for some reason I always think of this as a Christmas make…..the smell of those oranges is so wonderful and fresh…just watch out for little bears who may want you to make them a sandwich…..

A slow simmering marmalade…..

gingerbread man 003

You can’t catch me I’m the gingerbread man…sticky and dark or crisp and biscuitty…I love both versions of gingerbread…the spicier the better….

dark and sticky…slowly filling the house with good smells while it bakes….

crisp and biscuitty…good for building houses and cutting little figures from…

homemade mincepies

I love mincemeat, the smell of it wafting up throughout the house while the fruit is simmering away on the stove is such an evocative Christmassy smell….while I have a really silly amount of different recipes for making it, these are the two I find I use more than any other…..

mincemeat made with cider…..

mincemeat made with vegetable suet….

breakfast buns

And I don’t just save mincemeat for the mince pies….. a good old dollop or two of mincemeat makes for an instant fruity loaf if you fancy baking some bread, and if you enrich the dough with butter milk and eggs you can easily make a sort of panettone style mufffin…..I also like adding a heaped spoonful or two of mincemeat into a plum or apple crumble……

It also works well in this recipe for fruity breakfast buns…..so good with salty butter and a smear of dark jam…..but you could also use it in a dough mix for hot cross bun style buns…..

And if you have bits of pastry left after making any mincepies then this recipe for tiny spiced biscuits makes use of every last scrap……

cinnamon swirl biscuits…..

Hope you enjoy baking and cooking these as much as we do……….

*The book will include recipes that we regularly cook and bake such as casseroles and breads, cakes etc but will also include recipes for jams and jellys, furniture polish and hand salves…..

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fluffy plumes, other people’s cats and a fat velvety spider……

next doors cat

Don’t trust that cute little face….. as I mentioned the other day we’ve been getting a new little visitor in the garden of late…..this is Ivy and she lives next door.  She’s about 9 months or so I think and is one mischievious little minx.  We occasionally see her brother Neil but I don’t think him and Bernard get on so well however this young madam seems to becoming Bernards new partner in crime*.

Most mornings when I get breakfast things ready and pop toast under the grill I hear a high pitched mew and when I open the back door this is what I see sitting on the back door step….it’s like she’s asking “is Bernard coming out to play” …. inevitably he’ll appear, slowly stroll out into the garden and then there’ll be nose and face rubs, a bit of bottom sniffing and from time to time Bernard will give her a quick wash, the way she wriggles makes me think she feels it’s a bit like a mum licking a hanky and wiping it over a child’s face.  And then when Bernard is happy and thinks she’s all spick and span, they go running up the path together and then out into the playground that’s the other side of the fence (there’s actually a little hole in it which Bernard treats as his own personal door….)

not our cat but it's in our garden

Whereas Bob used to follow Bernard right through the house as they’d come bolting in from the garden, often all the way up the stairs and then back down again, Ivy tends to just come up to the kitchen door if she sees us about……however, if she thinks we’re not around it’s quite another matter and then she seems more than happy to come in and have a good explore and has made me jump as she suddenly appears from behind a chair or the side of the sofa…..when it’s been hot and we’ve had the door open she’s snuck in and pulled about in my work room (reels of sewing thread seems to delight every cat I’ve ever met) and I’m trying to forget what she did to my knitting…..

I quite like sitting out in the garden on the door step with a cup of tea or with my breakfast, enjoying the peace and tranquility while the day starts to wake or just to have a few minutes breather while waiting for the kettle to boil….however I’ve found that leaving things mid eat on the back step to answer the front door is fatal….I’ve come back to find her face in my yoghurt and have even caught her wolfing down carrot soup…..

And she’s so quite quiet…Bernard wears a collar which has a bell and a name tag and a magnet for the cat flap…he gets grumpy about a lot of things but is as good as gold with having the collar on and it doesn’t seem to bother him….we get lot of birds in the garden and I feel that a bell gives them at least a few seconds warning if he’s lurking around in the undergrowth…but Ivy doesn’t so will silently creep up and spring out, often grabbing poor old Bernard’s tail in the process.

in the nanny chair

I’m particularly fond of Bernard’s tail, it’s fat and fluffy and when he saunters off with it held up high it looks all the world like a peacock plume on a fancy hat and incredily stately and grand….(when I commissioned a picture by my friend Beth, she drew Bernard using it to do the housework with…) and it would appear to be an object of fascination with other cats….Bob and Izzy and the rest of the kittens who lived next door last year were all “worm tails” as are Ivy and Neil.  Bob used to spend ages staring at Bernard’s tail and feathery ruff, gently reaching out to pat them and gazing up with envy…Ivy is a bit more grabby grabby and a couple of times has almost fell off the potting table as she stretches out her paws to take a swipe at that enticing tail.

a monster amongst the raspberries

Otherwise in the garden it’s all been a bit quiet although the raspberries seem to now be coming into their stride….a handful of canes has slowly spread across the garden and we’ve now got quite a decent sized patch.  The variety we like is called Autumn Bliss and we’re often still picking them late October early November…in fact one year I was picking them after a snowfall.

They get really high and some of them out there are easily 7ft.  They first start to fruit around mid-Summer but this first crop is never much to write home about, a few scrabby berries to scatter on breakfast yoghurt or pop on top of an Eaton mess, however the second harvest begins around now and is worth the wait…fat, velvety, rich tasting and full of flavour, the berries also swell up and can become the size of small plums in the blink of an eye…..we generally get a good few kilos of fruit and have enough to make and put down several batches of a French style jam for the pantry and Christmas gifts, as well as stuffing ourselves silly on raspberries and cream for pudding.  Last year we made a raspberry liquor which was very nice and also a cognac jam inspired by Anna Karenina and Kitty’s jam.

If you’re a long time reader then you know there is one creature that can make me shoot across a room and up on to the sofa pretty damn quickly…spiders…. lifting up these berries to find this fat monster did give me a bit of a start, however maybe knitting with natural shades of yarn has rubbed off a bit as I found myself gazing at those soft nut browns and the patterns on it’s body and actually rather appreciating the beauty of this hairy beast.

* I used to think of Bernard and Bob as kitty versions of  Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid…..

The last of this year’s hedgerow harvest……

autumn blackberries

The last of the hedgerows jams and jellies has been bubbled and boiled for another year, the jam making equipment has been packed away though I know I’ll have to get it all out again in a few weeks for making up a batch of apple rich mincemeat……The pantry shelves are all stacked with different jams made with the wild fruit from within a few hundred metres of my home….Normally I stick to variations of blackberries (prefering a thick treacle like jelly than a seedy jam) and raspberries from the garden, as those are our favourites and as we get older we’ve become more stuck in our ways, but this year the blackberry harvest wasn’t as good as last year (when I ate so many blackberries I was very much in danger of turning into one) so I began to look around me, and began to really appreciate the beautiful hedgerows that are dotted around my village……

Gorgeous rosy cheeked crab apples, wildings, rose hips, haws from hawthorns (the fruits can vary so much but it’s easiest identified by the leaf shape…like tiny oak leaves), rowan berries, and apple roses with hips as big as tomatoes……other fruits I’ve foraged this Summer and used for jams and ice-creams include mirabelle plums and wild cherries and gooseberries from my friend Jan’s allotment…..so while at first it felt like the glass was a bit half empty, looking at all the different flavoured jams I’ve made instead, the glass is in fact full and over flowing.

I’ve also made fruity syrups for sore Winter throats, variations on a rosehip one with haws and rowan berries for extra vitamin C, and a beautiful dark claret one infused with a handful of blackberries and the last of the elderberries.

Along with the jams and jellies, there are boozey filled Kilner jars, inside an assortment of wild fruit, slowly drowning their sorrows in vodka, gin, cognac and brandy….this makes us sound like a right old pair but while neither of us are big drinkers (unless it’s tea) a little glass of something warming on a cold winter’s night hits the spot most pleasantly.

blackberries

The other weekend while the weather was still all warm and sunshiney we went for a bit of an amble over the marshes and were properly treated by finding a row of blackberry bushes just laden down with fruit.  While not as juicy or sweet as the blackberries we picked earlier in the season, these actually had a deeper flavour….many exploded as we picked them (too much rain of late so we ended up with foxglove fingers) or were as hard as bullets when we sampled a couple but that didn’t stop us from a happy hour or so of picking in the Autumn sunshine.

I’ve picked blackberries from this spot before, they’re the last of the berries to ripen up (other bushes were finished weeks ago) and they’re always a bit on the seedy side so are best used in jellies where the seeds are all strained out and just that dark intense juice remains.

We’re pretty well stocked up now for syrups but I made another jelly with the blackberries, this time cooking some wildlings first before tipping in the berries and a piece of star anise…….allowing the fruit to gently simmer and to fill the kitchen with a lovely rich perfume……

Blackberry and wildling jelly

(the basics which you can adapt)

Roughly chop your wildlings (or crab apples), put into a big pan and cover with water (for my 650 g apples I used 500 ml water)….simmer til the apples are soft then add the blackberries (850 g) and a little more water (250 ml) and a piece of star anise (I used a whole “star”)…simmer until all the fruit is soft (my blackberries were very hard so I let them gently cook for about half an hour.)

Allow the fruity pulp to cool and then tip into a big wet and wrung out jelly bag (or pillowcase) and allow to drip (or if you’re impatient squeeze the bag after a couple of hours…)

Measure your collected juice and for every 570 ml of juice you want about 450 g of sugar.  I also add a good squeeze of lemon juice.

On a gentle heat allow the sugar to dissolve into the juice, stir all the while so nothing sticks and then once it’s all liquid, turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil for about 5 minutes, check for a set, and remove the foamy scum from the surface of the jelly.

Pour into sterilised jars and seal……particularly good on tea cakes or fruit enriched loaves.

apples and quinces

The other jelly I made last week was a crab apple and quince one…..I allowed the quinces to really ripen before using them, for the past few weeks opening the living room door in the morning has been a real joy, the sherbety scent of the quinces has perfumed the air reminding me a little of lemony turkish delight (I may have lost my chocolatey sweet tooth but still adore Turkish delight and honey halva)……

I used half a quill of cinnamon as the fruit cooked and on tasting the jelly I think I could have used a whole one, there’s just a very soft, background taste of cinamon and perhaps it could have been stronger….while the jam/jelly bubbled wafts of November seemed to slowly rise up in the steam…..it’s all jumbled in together, slightly spicy, baked apples, bonfires, mouldy leaves (not what my jam smelt of but bringing up memories of kicking through big piles of them stacked up on pavements…)

I finally was very good and allowed the juice to slowly drip through the jelly bag into the waiting bowl below, as it was the last jelly being made I thought I should make at least one the “proper” way…no getting all impatient and squeezing the bag…drip drip drip…slow cooking at it’s finest…while the juice slowly driped, I slowly stitched, and as the stitches grew on my knitting needles, the juice filled up in the bowl…..and was it worth it…well I hadn’t made another quince and apple jelly to compare it with but in looks alone the jelly came out so clear and sparkling…like the most precious piece of flame coloured amber or a transulenct honey.  So maybe yes, for light coloured jellies then it’s worth it….the only problem with using wild fruits is the amount of foam and then fruity scum they produce.*

Quince and Wildling Jelly

(the basics which you can adapt…)

Chop up the quinces (I had about 500 g) and tumble them into a big pan, cover with water (I used about a litre of water), bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and allow the quince to gently simmer for about 30 mins.

Roughly chop your apples (I used about a kilo) and add to the simmering quinces, pour in about another litre of water and pop in a piece of cinnamon.  Allow the apples to soften (about 20 minutes or so) before turning off the heat and letting the fruity pulp cool.

Tip the fruity pulp into a big jelly bag (which you’ve soaked in water and wrung out just before using) and allow the juice to slowly drip drip drip into a waiting bowl below.  Try not to squeeze the bag.

Measure the collected liquid and for every litre of juice you want a kilo of sugar (I use white granulated)…on a very gentle heat allow the sugar to dissolve into the juice, once everything is a hot golden liquid, turn up the heat and keep stiriring while everything comes to a rolling boil….allow to bubble furiously for about 5 minutes, check for a set, remove the foamy scum and then pour into sterilised jars and seal.

This is a nice alternative to marmalade as a breakfast preserve, and I used some in little jam tarts which disappeared incredibly quickly.

*with the foamy scum, it’s best to remove it as it’s all filled with air and apparently stops your jam from keeping so well, but rather than chuck it, it can be microwaved for about 30 seconds or so and it tranforms back into jam…this can then be allowed to cool and served on scones or kept in the fridge for a day or so for toast  or used to fill pastry case tarts….(it won’t keep so it’s best eaten up quickly…like you need an excuse with home made jam).

Hedgerow syrups for sore winter throats…..

crab apples and haws

Most of the jellies I’ve made this year have been combinations of crab apples, haws and rosehips.  All of these grow in the hedgerows that dot and line the village I live in (it’s about a forty minute walk to the city so not far from excellent coffee and a brilliant local bookshop)…certainly within a couple of hundred metres from my front door I have the ingredients to make a beautiful fruity tasting breakfast preserve (it’s really quite orangey tasting and being full of rosehips I’ve convinced myself it’s a health food…bursting full of vitamin C)

wild rose hips

This year seems to be a bumper harvest year for the wild rosehips and although I saw them in flower I’m amazed at how many there are.

I’m very lucky because these all grow along the side of grass paths, and children’s play-areas, there are no cars nor are there fields being sprayed with goodness knows what so I feel very safe foraging here.  I try not to take too much from any one spot, even though I don’t see anyone else ever picking (I think I’m known as the girl with a basket* by some of my elderly neighbours) but there’s a lot of wildlife here, no end of squirrels, various little mice, birds and foxes, and where I have the ability to pop down the shops when I’m hungry the hedgerows really are their pantry, their life source over the cold months (especially now most winters aren’t properly cold enough for small animals to hibernate properly) so they really need those berries.

hips from an apple rose

Along with using wild rosehips I’ve also used apple rosehips, these are from some beautiful turkish delight scented roses that grow behind our house near a play- ground (there are so many little parks and places for small children to play it’s brilliant, though I always feel sorry for older children as there is nowhere really for them to hang out).  In the Summer months the rose bushes are a mass of wide open bright pink flowers, they really capture the sun and smell amazing.

Once Autumn starts creeping up, the petals have fallen and the hips have swollen and become round and fat, about  the size of cherry tomatoes.  I try to just pick the firm ones though a few softer ones seem to end up in the bowl as well as the odd ladybug.

an afternoons foraging

There were still loads of elderberries about when I picked these (from the same trees where I picked the flowers for cordial back at the end of the spring)..my walking stick (a bargain from the charity shop and I rarely go foraging without it) comes in very handy, helping me to pull down the higher branches which are covered with heavy heads of black elderberries.

Elderberries are anti-viral and are high in vitamin C so are a really good addition to any winter syrup recipes.

a hedgerow harvest

Along with the elderberries there are also a couple of nicely placed rowan trees nearby so a few bunches of orangey coloured berries were also picked to add a little more flavour and depth to the syrup.

Like the rosehips and elderberries, rowan berries are high in Vitamin C and are very good for the immune system.

a very wee fellow

It’s not only the odd ladybug that travels home with me when I’ve been foraging, when I was picking over the elderberries I found this wee fellow.

the smallest snail I've ever seen

Now I know he’s going to grow up all big and fat and eat my nice winter greens but he was the tiniest little snail I think I’ve ever seen and I just didn’t have the heart to squash him (or fling him over the fence) instead he was carefully placed near the compost bin where there is plenty of greenery (but not our Kale or sprouting broccoli)

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

Making the syrup took a couple of days (I spent nearly a day preparing all the fruit, topping and tailing the rosehips, pinching out the scubby ends of the haws, carefully removing the elderberries (which I found easier not using a fork…)..at this point having the radio on was a big help as it is a bit of a thankless task and seems to take ages.

I half followed a rosehip syrup recipe but used a little less water as I was using apples and elderberries and they have a lot of their own juice.  The fruit simmered until everything was soft, then it’s strained twice before it’s bought to a boil with sugar.

Winter Syrup

Hedgerow fruit (rosehips, haws, rowan, elderberries and crab apples/wildings)

Granulated sugar

Method

Wash and dry your fruit.  Top and tail the rose hips.  Remove the scrubby bottoms of any haws.  Quarter any crab apples (chop smaller any large ones), remove all the stalks from the elderberries.

Weigh your fruit.

I prefer to use mostly rosehips, then haws, rowan berries, elderberries and crab apples in no particular order, just as they are picked.

Weigh the rosehips, haws and rowan berries.  These want to make up the main bulk of the fruit.

For every 100g  of these you want to add a 100ml of water.

With the apples and elderberries, for every 100g of those then add 65ml of water.

Simmer the red fruits first for about half an hour so that they soften before adding the apples and elderberries and their required water.

Simmer for a further half an hour until everything is soft and mushy.

Empty the fruit pulp into a jelly bag (or old pillowcase) and allow the juice to drip for an hour or so. (I’m a bag squeezer, whether you squeeze is up to you)

Empty the pulp and weigh it, for every kilo of mixed fruit pulp you want to use about a litre of water.  Put the pulp and water into a clean pan and bring to a simmer, let it cook gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and empty into a jelly bag. Allow the juice to strain through for an hour or so. (again it’s up to you whether you squeeze the bag when it’s stopped dripping.)

Combine the two liquids and measure.

For every litre of liquid you want 500g of white granulated sugar.

In a clean pan bring the liquid to a gentle boil, carefully add the sugar.

Gently heat so the sugar completely dissolves before turning up the heat and bringing to a rolling boil and let roll for about 7 mins.

Turn off, remove any scum that appears and pour into sterilized preserving bottles.

If you run out of preserving bottles then add more sugar, bring the syrup back to a rolling boil and cook until it thickens up as it will then become a jelly and pour into sterilized jam jars.

Store in a dark cupboard away from the light.  The syrup will keep for some months but once opened keep in the fridge and use within 10 days.

I love the colour of the syrups, even if I didn’t know they were full of goodness and Vitamin C, I think just looking at those amber, jewel like oranges and that rich dark claret coloured syrup would do me the wole world of good if I was feeling peaky or under the weather.

The syrup can be taken to relieve sore wintry cough throats (a few neat spoonfuls throughout the day), but also as a cordial with water, as a hot drink with warm water, it can be stirred into yoghurt for breakfast or whisked into cream and made into wintry fruit fools.  It’s also nice poured over apples before they’re covered with a crumble topping and baked in an oven.

The best places I found for preserving bottles were my local ironmongers (the cheapest shop for Kilner products) and also my local Lakeland Plastics where the sloe gin bottles were only £4 and they hold 500ml.

Once the bottles had cooled I stuck on lables as I know I’ll never remember which syrups were which otherwise.