Monday, 22 September 2014

An Apple a Day

If the age old adage is correct, and an Apple a Day does indeed keep the doctor away, we should now be OK through the next year!
Even Rosy On The Inside
We started to pick Apples with the aim of filling our shed based store for the Winter months. I also want to press a nice load of juice. The children were keen to climb/eat/pick, and this year they have been honing their catching skills too, which is handy.
Initially we visited the Flemming Park Red trees in the swimming pool car park; they were loaded with sweet rosy fruit that no one else was picking, we grabbed a good crop here. Next we whizzed over to Hedge End, where we literally filled our boots (or car boot to be precise). These two quick trips netted us about 60 Kgs! There’s still plenty left on the trees though.

This year I want to make cider again but we have also invested in a pasteuriser. So, this time we will be able to bottle up some of the delicious, freshly-pressed juice-based elixir to consume later in the year.

Apple juice will not normally keep for more than a few days unless it is pasteurised. It is possible to freeze it, but we only have a small freezer and that’s half filled with Blackberries!
Apple juice-straight out of the press-is the best tasting treat of the Autumn and If you want to experience this delight, you should get on down to the Mansbridge Community Orchard Apple Day on the afternoon of 12th October 2014. Bring some bags or buckets to collect fruit, and join in with the family based fun, in the Octavia Rd Open Space.

If you have any spare fruit from your garden bring it along and we will turn it into delicious juice. The Apple Day is an open air event, so wear robust clothing and footwear (wellies are de-rigeur).
N.B.This is an amateur/volunteer/community based event – everyone is responsible for their own health and safety and parents/guardians are accountable for their children.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Summer Summary

Hazelnuts are now starting to fall, so make like squirrels and get collecting. They come in many different shapes and sizes and only trial will tell which nuts hold the biggest kernels. I have my favourite trees but these nutritious little beauties are very common in hedges and woodland all over the UK.
Hazelnuts will keep very well in a dry place. So, if you don’t cook or eat all of them straight away, you can save some until Christmas. They will keep a lot longer than that too; I recently finished cracking my supply from last year, to make space for this year’s crop!
Apples and Pears are still ripening on the trees and they will soon be ready to pick. I have been scoping out my favourite local trees to see how well they are doing. When fruit trees supply a heavy crop one year, they tend to have a bit of a rest the following year, so it’s well worth checking before you make any plans.
In due course, we will be organising an Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard. This fun annual event is likely to be held in early October.
Other things to be thinking about at this time of year include Elderberries, Sloes and Medlars, all of which are plentiful and can be converted in to an array of delightful and delicious hedgerow treats.
Blackberries and Mulberries are still very abundant at the moment and you can always freeze any that you or your children do not greedily gobble up.
Crab Apples can be processed into a great many different preserves and drinks and there are loads available for free at the moment.
As Autumn begins, It’s always worth keeping an eye on the Sweet Chestnuts. It’s far too early to collect them yet, but it’s always good to bear these magnificent trees in mind.
Frosty days might seem a long way off at the moment, but the seasons still turn and keen observation of change is a key weapon in the forager's arsenal.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Mysteries of Dartmoor

No food in this post, unless you count our sandwiches, the Apples Hazelnuts and Walnuts will be ripe soon, but for now, two lovely walks... This Summer we were in Devon - and when in Devon - I always insist on visiting Dartmoor. I love to walk in the wildness of this place and I especially enjoy hunting for prehistoric Stone Circles. This year we managed to make two separate trips. Fortunately, the rings on Dartmoor have not been sanitised and fenced off, like Stonehenge. There is no visitor centre, you cannot arrive by coach, and you must scramble over rough terrain, in order to reach them.

First we marched over Whittenknowle Rocks and through the derelict Ditsworthy Warren House, before stopping to eat a picnic on a large rock. Then my intrepid son and I continued ahead, navigating our way through a bog and herd of huge cows in order to reach the ancient ritual area of Drizzlecombe.
At Drizzlecombe we explored the massive standing stones and mysterious stone rows that teem down the hillside from the remnants of a primitive settlementThe standing stones are impressive monuments and must have been very important. No one knows exactly why the rows were erected or what significance they held for the builders. Some, but by no means all, seem to be associated with burial mounds.
On our second outing, the objective was Scorhill Stone Circle, which turned out to be a popular destination. We met several other people hiking around carrying maps, and it wasn't too long before we located this fantastic ring.
Scorhill (pronounced Scorill) is a very evocative place; you could easily miss it as you dodge the ponies, cows and sheep down the rugged hillside path. However, once you arrive and spy the wonderfully jagged rocks sticking up like the fangs of some primordial monster, you know that you are in a very special place.
The sweeping panorama from this singular site is nothing short of majestic. From where we sat enjoying our sandwiches and coffee we could also see a smaller ring on a nearby hillside. The shades and tints of the landscape were stunning; the blue-grey sky against the dun horizon, purple heather mingled with the green and yellow of gorse and wild flowers.
The great granite-grey stones that form the ring stand like sentinels but what they guard, no one can know. It was very atmospheric, and I felt lucky to be there on such a stunning day. I sent the children scurrying off in opposite directions to count the stones and they predictably came back with different answers.
We spied several ancient stone clapper bridges down in the valley below us and we wandered down to explore these after eating our lunch.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Mulberry Madness

All Smiles at the Allotment
Mulberries are a gorgeously tasty sweet fruit and once you locate a tree, you will want to keep an eye on it and visit it regularly. The fruits sweeten as they darken and they will not all be ripe at the same time. 
Under the Mulberry Umbrella
Of course the darkest sweetest fruits, are also the softest and the blood red juice can tend to get everywhere and stain things, like fingers.
Guilty as Charged
We visited a favourite tree when on holiday in Devon. Then on our return to Sunny Southampton we picked a load off a local tree.  Before we entered the house again we checked the soles of our shoes (fortunately) and had to spend a while brushing the sticky berries off them, that could have made a dreadfully messy mess.
Come Back Next Week
The children they looked up a recipe for Blackberry and Apple Crumble, my favourite; we already had a load of Blackberries from the allotment. They used a mixture of Blackberries and Mulberries, along with some apples that we had picked earlier.
Tastes Better than it Looks!
I failed to take photos of the children cooking (probably a good thing in retrospect) but they actually did a fantastic job, rest assured the result was a feast for the taste buds. By the time did I remember the camera, there was barely anything left!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Hazelnuts = Happiness

Hazelnuts are a very healthy food; they can be used in many ways and recipes are easy to find. We tend to eat them just on their own or mixed with Walnuts and raisins as a healthy snack. We made delicious Hazelnut Chocolate Spread one year, which proved very popular indeed with my daughter.
I heard a BBC R4 report recently, stating that Hazelnuts are in short supply this year because the harvest has failed... in Turkey... However, if you are in the UK August/September, these super-food nuts are ripening on a bush near you gratis and they look particularly abundant this year
The signs are easy to spot, if you know what you are looking for… The Squirrels will always come early to the table and the first signs will be nibbled green shells scattering the pavements.
You can pick and eat hazelnuts when they are still green, but we prefer to wait until they are brown and falling of their own accord.
Often there will be lots on the ground after a windy or rainy day but if they are wet, you will need to dry them out, if you do not plan to eat them straight away, otherwise they will go moldy.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Blackberry Beginnings

For most of the year the bramble is seen as a cruel and invasive weed; it will grow almost anywhere, at an astonishing rate. It is capable of shredding clothing, piercing shoes and cutting soft skin to ribbons.
On our allotment there is a huge briar patch, which I thought needed taming. However, when I attempted to subdue the area and cut the brambles back with a scythe, it retaliated by growing massive stinging nettles, wrapped with bind weed. We have now come to a territorial agreement.
However, as August rears its sunny head and the school holidays arrive, people cease cursing the brambles, and start to talk fondly about Blackberry picking.
For many people the annual tradition of Blackberrying is as far as they get with foraging. For some though, it is only the beginning; the start of an exciting and multifaceted food-based adventure.
Blackberries always taste fantastic straight off the bush, they can be baked into an array of scrummy pies, cakes and puddings, and they make lovely Jams or Wine. If you don’t have the time for cooking right now, they can always be frozen and stored to use later in the year.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Plentiful Plums

Our Plum Picknik was an outstanding success, I can confidently say that we all enjoyed ourselves and everyone took home plenty of scrumptious fruit! This is just as well because soon the whole area, including this lovely spot and the cricket pitch, is due to be "developed." The last vestiges of our valuable green space are steadily being destroyed and we all need to fight against this!
At the Picknik, we had a lovely time, the weather was fantastic, several families and individuals turned up with various implements and containers.
We set about gathering as many of the multi-coloured wild plums as we could and buckets and boxes were soon swelling with bright fruit.
We deployed young hands, children on shoulders, apple pickers, picnic blankets and some local kids even joined in by booting footballs into the trees.
There was so much abundance within easy reach that the buckets were quickly getting too heavy for the youngest children to carry.
The Plums were sweet to eat, straight off the trees, but people were also planning a vast hoard of scrumptious puddings, pies and cakes; there was enough to last a long time and still plenty left on the trees for later. If you want some, get down there soon, they might not be there next year!
By Sunday evening day my wife was making jars of delicious plum jam and by Tuesday, I was simmering a pot of gorgeous Spicy Yellow Plum Chutney over the stove with the remaining fruit.
I'm looking forward to our next event, and seeing everyone's photos of this one, even the ones where I get pelted with overripe plums, by the children...