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

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday strolls and dappled shade lanes…..

meadow july 2016

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

grassy and green

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

tufted vetch and meadowsweet july 2016

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

on way to mill

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

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

honey bees and bramble blossom

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

bracken

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

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

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

 

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

and the assistant helps out

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

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

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

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

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

making cordial

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

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

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

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

ETA…It’s really important to store the cordial in a cold place as if it gets warm it will ferment, which means that the glass bottles can explode, and you’ll be cleaning up sticky syrup til the cows come home…so if you don’t have room to keep this in the fridge, perhaps pour the cordial into ice cube trays or small plastic bottles and store it in the freezer.

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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