Monday, 3 August 2015

Beautiful Backberries

The Head Chef has been working her magic again. Using the stockpile of Tayberries from our allotment, Strawberries and a load of Redcurrants from my Mum's garden, she created the quintessential Summer Pudding... Yum!
Fortunately, I managed to persuade her to omit the Blackcurrants that we also picked, but which I cannot abide and these were summarily transformed into several jars of jam.
By the time you have finished picking your plump plums, eaten your pies and stashed the jam, and chutney safely away in the larder, you will soon notice that there is a positive glut of beautiful Blackberries in the hedgerows near you.
Suddenly those prickly invasive briars and knobbly green fruit have become the source of everyone’s favourite seasonal fruit. The nation’s mind turns fondly toward towards picnics and Blackberry picking. During the Summer holidays, almost everyone becomes a forager, if only a short while.

At the same time, if you look closely, you will notice the emerald green Hazelnuts ripening in the Hazel bushes. They are well camouflaged, but if you lift the leaves, you will see them nestling amongst the foliage.
When you observe the squirrel nibbled shells on the pavement, you know that the time is nearing for harvesting these delicious - nutritious nuts. They should ripen toward the end of August - beginning of September. 
It is easy to gather vast amounts of ripe brown Hazelnuts, as long as you pay attention, identify the trees and remember where they are; they will keep well and can be used in many different ways.
Elderberries will be ripening around this time too. I normally make wine from them but there are many more recipes to be utilised and there is never a shortage of these shiny purple black beauties, as long as you get there before the blackbirds.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Millions of Mirabells

There was a whole lot of things to do this past weekend, a lot of events to take part in or watch and everyone was hoping for good weather. 
My son was camping with the cubs, my daughter was having an end of school BBQ with some friends, the Sky Ride was due in Southampton, there was a big canoe race in the Itchen river and we had decided to have a Plum Picknik and harvest some fruit with friends.
Fortunately, the Sun Gods chose to smile on us and it only rained a little in the evenings and during the night, which was very good for the parched grass. We got up early and zoomed down to Avenue Park in Stoneham. 
There we met several groups of friends who wanted to know where the plums were, they were not disappointed...
As soon as we entered to field you could see a carpet of bright yellow Mirabelle Plums under one tree and purple red Cherry Plums under the next. Closer inspection also revealed Greengages that bust, filling your mouth with juice and various other fruits all along the hedge. We set out the picnic rugs, while the kids gallivanted about filling various buckets and containers with tasty multi-coloured fruit.
We only took a couple of containers and have not yet decided what we are going to make from our golden hoard but other people said they would make chutney, plum jam, plum cake and even plum ice cream, which sounds positively intriguing!
After eating enough fresh fruit to last about a week, we scurried off back home to get on with the rest of our busy lives and as my daughter and I pedalled off over the bridge, canoes of every shape and size were slicing through the sun glistening water, up and down beneath us.
In case anyone missed the event and wonders if thee are any plums left - there are millions of Mirabelles, crate-loads of Cherry Plums and a positive glut of Greengages all along the hedgerows in the vicinity. 
According to my observations, it also looks like it is shaping up to be a record breaking year for Blackberries and Hazelnuts.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Plum Picknik

Everyone is invited to a, Plum /  Cherry-Plum / Mirabelle / Bullace / Greengage - Foraging Picknik (I don't care what they are all called, as long as they taste good). 
This event will take place this Sunday morning, in Avenue Park, Stoneham. Anyone who joins us, can also take in a visit to the lovely First World War shrine in the park.
The event is suitable for families or adults. The lovely plums here are plentiful, they taste great straight off the tree and would equally be great for baking, jam, chutney, pies, wine etc.
The Usual  (Plum) Suspects
Fruit pickers are handy, if you have them, but we can share and there will be plenty within reach or on the ground. You can always hold a blanket out and shake the branch. Bring suitable containers (buckets/baskets)  if you want to take some fruit home with you. It's always nice to bring some cake to share too.
This event will go ahead regardless of the weather ;-) so dress appropriately, bring a brolly in case or just come to see where the trees are and then come back when you have time.
Venue: Meet in the Cricket Pitch Car Park (almost opposite the Cricketers pub), Chestnut Avenue, Eastleigh - mind the bollards if you're driving.
Date: Sunday 19th July - this Sunday morning.
Time: 10.00 am (plenty of time for the Sky Ride later)
Cost: It's all FREE!

N.B. This is a casual event, everyone is responsible for their own (and their children's) health & safety. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

Plum Picking

When we first arrived at our current house, about 5 years ago, I was disappointed by the fact that the front garden had previously been replaced by an ugly concrete parking slab. The whole concept of converting gardens into parking for cars is anathema to me and I was determined to reclaim some of the original front garden. Eventually we found the resources to build a low wall, fill it with earth and plant some nice flowers, we also planted a small Cherry tree in the midst of the lush shrubbery.
This year our endeavours were proved worthwhile and we were rewarded with a decent harvest of very large delicious cherries, just as the other trees in the neighbourhood were running low on stocks.
Our allotment is also bearing fruit. The Tayberry bush was coming through with masses of huge flavoursome goodies, which I had to virtually fight the children over. The Blueberries are looking good too.
I have finally found time to bottle my batch of Elderflower champagne. I only hope that I have left it long enough, I don’t want a repeat of last year’s kitchen based fountain feature! I corked and caged the recycled bottles quite securely. It started off an opaque opal white but in a few days it soon settled down to be crystal clear.
During my lunch hour walks, I spotted a true abundance of plums and, upon closer inspection, it was apparent that some were already ripe. The purple/red fruit literally fell into my palm as I touched them, so I grabbed a couple of handfuls and scoffed them as I explored further in the area.
I have checked out the local trees, and I will shortly organise a Plum Picking Picknik. This will possibly be combined with a collaborative jam/chutney making workshop. If this idea sounds like the sort of day you would enjoy, keep a close eye on the Urbane Forager blog as it is likely to be announced at fairly short notice! 

Monday, 6 July 2015

My Cherie Amour

Who doesn't like Cherries? Everyone in our family does and we have been champing at the bit, waiting for the moment when they ripen and are ready to pick because this signals the start of our Summer of fabulous, fresh, free fruit foraging in the city.
We walked back to our favourite local cherry tree this week. Last week the fruit still looked a bit red, but on this attempt, we marched over Cobden bridge and our timing was perfect. The tree was laden with fat, juicy, sweet, black cherries.
Some friends came along with us and I don’t know how much they gathered but it did not take us more than half an hour to fill our own containers with 5 Kgs of perfect fruit. We did pick more than that but consumed a fair bit en route.
We still had quite a lot left from last week, so the Head Chef pitted and boiled down a big load into compote. This turned out to be a perfect midsummer pudding with soft, smooth vanilla ice-cream. The remainder was frozen to use at a later date.
I also added quite a lot to a big jar of vodka and this now smells like a curiously tantalizing mix of Cherry and Almonds/Marzipan. I have a good feeling about the final result.  I also think that when we filter the fruit out – that too will be rather popular with the adults, over ice cream, naturally.
Looking at the trees, I think it will soon be a very good year for Cherry Plums too. Anyone for a Plum Picknik?

Friday, 26 June 2015

First Fruity Fun of the Year

On the way back from a walk in the New Forest a couple of weeks ago, I  spied a big roadside Cherry tree laden down with scarlet fruit. I made a mental note that the fruit was plentiful and nearly ripe. We revisited the tree a week later and found a few more plus a couple of nice little Walnut trees in the same location.
This triggered a reminder to visit our favourite trees that we always pick locally. The Children were armed to the teeth with containers and pickers as we marched over Cobden Bridge to St Deny's.
The first tree initially looked fantastic and my son was soon up in the branches, however, not many of the red Cherries were fully ripe. We decided that waiting another week would be best.
We trotted around the corner to some other trees that we know and were greeted by a tremendous treefull of super ripe, sweet, black fruit, which we set about harvesting as quickly as we could.
My daughter seemed to be scoffing more fruit into her mouth than into the punnets, I warned her about tummy-ache but could not grumble too much. If it wasn't fun, the children would not enjoy coming, and this was the first fruit picking expedition of the year, always an exciting time.
Despite my daughter's best efforts, we still managed to return to base camp with 4.5 Kilograms of big fat cherries. More than enough to keep us all happy for a while and plenty to make into some delicious cakes or puddings.
A quick check on the Tesco website prices cherries at at least £2.00 per 200g, even more for organic fruit, which I'm quite sure ours was. This little hoard took us about half an hour to gather and there is still a great more than that waiting for us next week.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Summertime Foraging Fun

Summer is finally establishing itself in Southampton. We went for a meandering walk with friends along the river beautiful Itchen. I was pleased to spot a nice looking apple tree by a car park in Shawford before we set off; I duly added this to the Falling Fruit map. The atmosphere was heady and the smell of Elderflowers hung heavily in the air.
The route took us up-river past Compton Lock, which is always a fabulous place for a fun swim. We used to cycle to this spot during teenage summer holidays. 
We passed under the M3 motorway and watched swooping swallows catching bugs under the bridge. Despite the wonderful countryside surrounding us, the kids seemed to enjoy being under the massive bridge and hung around here for some time. 
Then it was a short but extremely steep climb up the ancient hill fort of St Catherine’s with the sunshine hammering down from above. The view over Winchester and the water-meadows is truly spectacular. 
We saw several Walnut trees, some of which seem to have had the ends of the branches somehow damaged. People had been having fires on top of the hill amongst the beeches, which must be nice, but some idiots had been setting a fire in the bowl of one of the largest trees – It is difficult to believe the stupidity of this action.
I also noticed a couple of Juniper bushes clinging to the steep ramparts. I have seen Junipers at Figsbury, Danbury and Winchester Hill forts. We found Walnut trees at Badbury Rings as well as here. Walnut (and Apple) trees were introduced to Britain by the Romans and Juniper is thought to be the only native fir tree in the UK. These are curious connections, well worth wondering about.
After a picnic and a run around the mysterious Mismaze atop the hill, we set off back down the Itchen. After a sweltering ramble in the Summer sun, Compton Lock always seems an impossibly perfect place to cool your jets. Wild Swimming is all the rage now and the water is deep enough in places to invite leaping into the cold river for a frolic with the fishes.
The shock of the chilly water will certainly refresh you after a long hot walk but the children were soon shivering like leaves in the wind. We dried them off and set off for home, pausing only to grab a bag-full of Elderflower heads to create thirst quenching Cordial and Champagne on our return. 
We also spotted that cherries are ripening. At last, after all the stress of finishing the book, the free fruit foraging fun finally begins...