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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Sniffs, snuffles and the restorative powers of Mister Knightley……

 

 

an afternoons foraging

This past week I’ve been all sniffs and snuffles, a bad head cold has left me feeling like I’ve got a head ful of cottonwool, I’ve felt so absolutely and utterly wretched and I’ve ended up taking comfort in making myself a poorly bed on the sofa where I’m surrounded by tissues, salves for my nose (which is so red I look like I’m auditioning to pull Santa’s sleigh) satsuma peelings, my favourite Austen heroes and cups of hot cordials to help ease my throat…..

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

I’m so thankful I made all the hedgerow syrups back in the Autumn, the elderberry and haw syrup is best taken cold like a cough mixture (it’s a bit too much like hot Ribenna for my tastes otherwise) but the amber coloured syrup made from rosehips, haws and crab apples is delicious stirred into a cup of hot water….just the thought of all those sun ripened berries in such glorious jewel like colours does me the world of good, and I’m happy to drink it even when I’m not feeling poorly, and I’m not sure how much this really helps but drinking it out of the prettiest cup when I’m feeling all snuffly and woollen headed makes it taste that much nicer too.

unwaxed lemons

Over the years I’ve found that when I get a cold I need to just let it run it’s course,  fruit teas and honey and lemon elixirs, steam inhalations, oil scented tissues help me get better gently …it’s not an over night  24 hour fix it but in the long run it seems to suit my system better.

ground almonds and sweet almond oil

I seem to spend half the day with my head over a bowl of steamy water which helps my ears from popping,  I’m a great believer in using essential oils and make a sniffs and snuffles synergistic blend of equal parts of eucalyptus, lavender and tea tree to use when I’m under the weather, then I use one drop of this in a steam bath, add a couple of drops in an oil diffuser, use it with a carrier oil as a chest and back rub or dropped onto tissues…it’s a nice soothing scent which doesn’t over whelm me….there’s a faint reminder of Vicks inhalers about it….

As well as home made remedies for feeling better I also tend to use only the gentlest home made beauty preparations too, anything too scented or scratchy makes my poor nose feel wretched and I find washing my face with a tea spoon or so of porridge oats in a little warm water to be very soothing, if I need to use anything a bit more lively then I make a scrub made from almond oil and a tea spoon of ground almonds, it doesn’t seem to irritate my delicate inflamed nose and helps exholifate away any sore patches that are peeling (man, I’m a right catch when I get a cold.)

Actually when I hold my head over the steam bath breathing in the “sniffs and snuffles” blend, I massage my face before hand-with a drop or so of a face oil I make up with rose and geranium rose essential oils, almond oil, jojoba oil, rosehip and argan oil.  Normally I just use this at night before bed or on a Sunday when I’m not going out anywhere, but when I have a cold it’s an extra treat for skin that’s all sore and dehydrated, it seems to helpstop  me looking a complete fright and at least feels a but like a pamper.

bernard on a blanket

The rest of the time I’m bundled under a blanket with my furry poppet never very far away, a bowl of Heinz tomato soup (yeah I could make a nicer home made one soup, but when I’m feeling really, really poorly this is what I want…no other brand, no other flavour…I don’t really care for it any other time) favourite books are close to hand and maybe some very easy peasy knitting…and when I can’t concentrate on reading or knitting then it’s box set time…having a cold and being confined to a poorly bed on the sofa is what they were made for…perhaps watching Colin Firth as Mister Darcey or Jonny Lee Miller as Mister Knightly would make me feel a little bit better……

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Christmas colds, soothing syrups and a knitty kitty….

hedgerow syrups for winter throats

Before I can even write anything I need to cough and blow my nose….and in a raspy old croak whisper that I’ve got a cold…my nose (or dose) is all stuffy, my ears are popping and I feel like a right cotton headed noodle head……this happens every year, my good intentions for being all organized seems to go out of the window and November and the start of December is an endless cycle of very early morning starts and late night sewing trying to get everything finished in time for fairs and commissions…..and inevitably it gets to the point where my body says “enough” and everything seems to just shut down….stupidly I ignored the warnings last weekend when my throat began feeling very sore and scratchy, this is always the first sign for me that I’m getting sickly….I guess I was so focused on getting things ready for my boyfriends parents visiting (gifts to make, wrap…biscuits and puddings to bake) and with Bernard being ill too that I just carried on regardless…..til Friday afternoon…..I was on my way to pick up the boy from the vets (a quick check up and he’s doing all nicely) when I just felt all faint and my energy leave me.

crocheted cosy

So for the past day or so I’ve been sipping fruit syrups that I made in the Autumn from foraging and clambering about in hedgerows looking like Catweazel…the syrups arel lovely stirred into a cup of hot water, and drinking soothing honey and lemon teas and have been getting through no-end of tissues as my nose won’t stop running ….most annoyingly, and you’ll know this if you are a regular reader or have ever met me, I am a chatter, mostly it’s just piffle and I can happily waffle on for ages….but for now I’m only able to manage a croaky old rasp…a bit like a dry leafed rustle…gradually it rises to an almost inaudible squeek (the neighbourhood dogs are no doubt running about wondering what the noise is) then dissappears.

 

Luckily almost everything is done….I’ve one last commission, though it’s a big one…two supersized stockings for Peggy and Pearl (the little poppets I made the star quilts for back at the start of the year)…

paws for a kitty toy

At the moment I’m knitting a wee cardigan for “licky paws”…I’m using a lovely bright green colour but the yarn itself is acrylic as I couldn’t see any pure wool in my wool basket (however is often the way, once I started I then remembered a nice soft apple green I have from Jamiesons of Shetland but I figure I can knit up another cardigan for her over the holidays)……the yarn is rather squeeky and I miss the soft shuffly corduroy sound of knitting with wool.

I’ll try and take pictures once everything is ready, the light here isn’t great and I’m really just trying to get this all finishied to be posted tomorrow.

I’ve also got a little dress to sew up for licky paws to wear, I’ve drawn up a teeny version of the dottie angel dress so I’ll make that in the same tiny green floral print as one I made in my size (Eliza’s favourite colour is green so figured that would be the best choice for kitty clothing)….so for now I’m on the sofa, sipping fruit teas and knitting as fast as I can while watching old black and white films and soundign like a right old sick note.

 

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.

Sunshine in a jar or what’s this jar of yellow stuff for…..

a bowl of sunshine

For the past week there’s been a little glass jar sitting on our bathroom window sill filled with golden and bright calendula petals. My boyfriend knows me all too well to start asking “what’s this jar of yellow stuff for”…he knows when it’s ready I’ll tell him all about it.  However if he was of the enquiring mind I’d explain how I’m macerating some oil with calendula so that when I next make some hand balms for him to use when he’s been out in the garden, they’ll have a new and exciting ingredient in them.

calendula macerating in oil

I bought the calendula petals from a local herbalists and they’re just so sunshiny and golden yellow.

The petals are steeping (or macerating) in a blend of sweet almond and jojoba oil, and the warmth of the sun shining through the window helps the properties of the plant infuse through into the carrier oils…. (the window sill gets so hot that I have to take a lot of products off there in the Summer months or they go all funky)….After macerating the petals in oil for a fortnight, I’ll strain them through some fine muslin (cheesecloth), and then pour that same oil over a fresh batch of dry petals before leaving them for another couple of weeks…this means the oil gets a big double boost of calendula goodness.

Calendula is really good for hand balms as it’s nice and soothing on dry, chapped skin and helps to heal any small cuts and grazes (and after a day pottering and pulling about in the garden we both come in with gnarly looking old hands and fingers)…so I thought it would be a good addition to my Queen bee hand balm….

It’s also meant to be good in leg rubs if you suffer from varicose veins or achy legs and I’m now getting to that age when aches and pains, stiff knees and creaky old ankles are part and parcel of daily life.

In the past I’ve made a lovely infused oil with rosemary,thyme and lavender leaves* from the garden as a winter skin oil…I added it to some beeswax and coconut oil and it smelt wonderful, really uplifting and definitely bye bye dry knees and elbows.

*rather than use the flower heads I’ve dried some lavender leaves in the airing cupboard as it’s not so easy to buy those rather than the lavender flowers….

Pantry pampering and a treat for tired feet……

ground almonds and sweet almond oil

 

I’m still a bit snuffly and have “ear hiccups” but I think the head cold has finally begun to pack it’s bags…..while I’ve been feeling somewhat under the weather (and needing to spend a lot of time under a blanket on a make shift poorly bed) sewing small pieces of patchwork and watching an embarrassing amount of period dramas, I’ve been making some kitchen cupboard cosmetics or as I like to call them ….pantry pampers.  I have to be quite careful about which products I use on my face, especially when I’ve had a cold and my nose feels particularly delicate, however my skin and face always seems to benefit (and not break out in angry retaliation) and respond well when I’ve made face scrubs and washes from things I have in the kitchen cupboards.

My favourite face scrub smells more like a light Madeira sponge cake than something you’d think to put on your face.  It gently exfoliates while at the same time moisturizes so after washing off you can just pat your face and you’re ready to go…..it also helps remove all that horrible “post cold” lizard skin around your nose.

Lemon, orange, bergamot and cypress are all nice essential oils to use in the morning as they help you feel all wakey and fresh, in the evening I like to use rose, neroli, chamomile or jasmine.  The evening oils are all a bit on the pricey side but are wonderful to use on the face and have a more calming effect on my mind rather than the perky “up and at them smelling” citrusy morning oils.

It’s important not to over do it when you are using essential oils, a little goes a long way and if you use them neat on the skin then they can irritate and inflame sensitive skin.  I tend to use this scrub more in the winter or when I have a cold, but it is still used a fair bit in the Summer, so to avoid being heavy handed with the oils I like to prepare a couple of bottles of different oil blends in advance so they are all ready to use…. just pour a little almond oil into a smaller bottle (a 30 ml or 50 ml will be about the right size) and then add a few drops of whatever essential oil I want to use….I often mix a few oils together so I get the benefit of them working together, they also smell wonderful.  Don’t forget to label it and keep out of sunlight.

 

Oil and almond face scrub

1 teaspoon of ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon of sweet almond oil (though I’ve used grapeseed oil before and that is a good substitute)

1 drop of essential oil of your choice

(or 1/2 a teaspoon of your prepared oil and then you won’t need to add any extra essential oil)

Into a small bowl, mix the oil with the almonds.  Carefully pat the mix on your face, avoiding around your eyes. Gently rub the mixture over your skin.  Wash off with handfuls of warm water until the scrub mix is all gone.  Pat your face dry with a towel.

 

When I have a cold my face often breaks out and I feel somewhat like a teenager again, I keep a tiny bottle (I use an old essential oil bottle as they are 5ml or 10 ml sized) and mix lavender and tea tree essential oils in equal parts, then apply 1 drop neat to the offending spot.  This is pretty much the only time I’d apply an oil neat to my skin and was a recipe given me by a friend who used to work in a Natural Beauty and Remedies shop. (the only other time is when my chilblains are bad or I have blisters from too much walking in shoes that rub, then I carefully dab on neat geranium essential oil and find this gives some much needed relief.

 

pestle and mortar, ground rice and rolled oats

 

If I don’t have any ground almonds to hand then I substitute porridge oats and some rice , I just put a desert spoon of each into a spice grinder and then give them a whizz for a few seconds so both are a nice fine powder…..this is also good to use if you have nut allergies.

 

Oat and Rice face scrub

1 teaspoon of ground oatmeal and rice (it’s easier to grind a desert spoon or so of each and then mix them together and keep in a jam jar)

1/2 teaspoon light oil (grapeseed is good if you have nut allergies)

1 drop of essential oil

(or if you have some prepared oil then use a 1/2 teaspoon of that and then you don’t have to add any extra essential oil)

Into a small bowl, mix the oil with the ground rice and oats.  Carefully pat the mix on your face, avoiding around your eyes. Gently rub the mixture over your skin.  Wash off with handfuls of warm water until the scrub mix is all gone.  Pat your face dry with a towel.

 

Tired feet treat

I find the oat and rice scrub also very good to use on my hands when they are particularly dry or tired feeling, and it’s also good to use on my feet and ankles, though then I like to make up double the amount and add a couple of drops of peppermint or tagettes essential oil to the blend.  (making up a bottle of almond oil/grapeseed oil and adding a little peppermint essential oil or tagettes is nice to have to hand as it makes for a good massage oil for feet after you’ve had a bath)

Something I find that always helps make me feel better when I’ve got a cold or just feel all tired after a day in town, is soaking my feet in a big bowl of warm water (I like it quite hot so keep a kettle nearby to top the water up) with some big flattish pebbles at the bottom.  I spread out a couple of big towels, then place the half dozen or so pebbles in the bottom of the bowl, then pour on the water and add whatever essential oils I’m using…(I like peppermint and lavender combined so just a couple of drops is enough, and geranium and lemon is another favourite blend)…..I can sit like that with my feet in the warm water ’til the cows come home…it’s so relaxing and I have nodded off like this on many occasions.  Once I’ve let my feet relax for about 15 minutes, I then use the foot scrub, rubbing it in around the ball and heel of each foot, and also rubbing it over each ankle.  Rinse it off and then dry thoroughly before putting on a pair of clean socks……I used to be friends with a rather manly gentleman, and when he stayed over and had had a really tough day at work, I’d prepare one of these foot bathes for him and the days troubles would just disappear (the first time I suggested it there was some eye rolling and a deep sigh but within minutes someone was all smiles and completely chilled out.)