Wednesday, 26 August 2015

More Magical Mulberries

In the meantime I revisited our old favourite Mulberry tree while it was still fruiting, with a friend. We used different methods to pick the tasty succulent berries. Initially we just reached up and gathered what we could from ground level, but as normal we could see larger darker fruit, annoyingly just out of reach.
So we spread out an old sheet over the ground and then gave the thinner branches a good shake. This method was fairly useful, if somewhat indiscriminate and the Mulberries were easy to spot as they fell.
It was a very enjoyable time and out containers were quickly filled to the brim and beyond. Obviously we had to eat some before we could gently squeeze the lids on. Then we cycled off contented and coated in sweet sticky juice.
When I got home, I decided to freeze my delicious hoard and decide how to use them later. I laid them out on baking trays before slotting them into the freezer, then bagged them up later. This means you can choose exactly how many you want to use at any time later on.
Hopkins made a smashing smoothie with some of her Mulberries - the recipe follows...
  • 1 frozen banana 
  • 1 Handful of mulberries
  • 2 cm fresh ginger (grated)
  • 1 cup rice milk (or any other milk) 

Blackberries are particularly abundant at the moment and Hazel nuts will soon be dropping too. We made our first Bramble and Apple crumble of the year - hopefully there will be many more to come.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Dial M for Mulberry

The morning was muggy, or was it Tuesday? I get confused...
The slim blonde dame in blue hat was staring at me through her fingers. She looked like she might be hiding something - her hands were dripping with a sticky red claret-like liquid
It looked like it should be a clear cut case.
Then I noticed that the girl had an accomplice, loitering nearby. He was a small chap who looked like he had not eaten for a week. He was sporting a blue hat too but I was not sure if that was significant. Their getaway vehicles were well oiled and between the two of them they looked guilty as sin.
Someone whispered the word Mulberry but what did that mean? Could it be some kind of code or a clue?
Later that night I asked Uncle Google if he knew anything about Mr Mulberry. 
He related mysterious tales about silk worms, the orient and trees that bleed. A distant memory about the unlucky kimono flashed through my mind. However, after mulling it over, I was convinced this was just a red herring. 
I seemed to be going round and round...
Then I remembered a post I once saw about a sticky sweet juicy fruit - somewhere halfway between a Raspberry and a Blackberry that grows on a tree called the Mulberry.
Apparently, these two suspicious characters had located all the Southampton Mulberry trees on a secret map and then raided them on stealth-bikes. By the time you read this, their blue hats and juice smeared faces will have vanished into the ether

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?