Friday, 20 April 2018

Spring Blossom

Spring is definitely here now, and my lunchtime walks are filled with wonder. Everything seems to be happening at once. 
I spotted a lovely pair of kestrels, soaring above in the azure. I decided to take some photos to remember the day.
Blackthorn, spires blooming and towering skyward. Pretty but also prickly.
A delightful and very old ornamental Cherry blossoming by the roadside.
A healthy looking cluster of Plum blossom in a hedgerow.
Elder, buds breaking through already, getting ready to begin flowering any day soon.


Monday, 16 April 2018

Ransoms & Flapjack

The plum and blackthorn flowers are wilting, and being replaced by cherry blossom, cheerful daffodils are giving way to beautiful bluebells. When walking in local woodland, bright green leaves are beginning to fill the hedges and trees, and the dappled shade is punctuated by the pungent aroma of wild garlic and ransoms.
April showers had persuaded us to work on some long overdue decorating jobs. The house was still in chaos so the kids and I decided to take a break from the mess and put some of our stored nuts to use, by revisiting one of our favourite recipes for delicious flapjack
We had baskets of hazelnuts and Walnuts left over from last summer and often had cracking/nibbling sessions but this little lot had me sat down with the nut cracker listening to the radio for a quite a while. I find this quite relaxing.
Other than the shelling, the kids did all the baking, and after a couple of hours weighing, mixing and cooking, they had created a superbly scrumptious result.
We have also been experimenting with various Ransom/Wild Garlic recipes. After a quick trip to the local woods, the kids made some delicious Garlic Butter. This is ingenious and can be stored in the fridge, then spread upon toast to create instant Garlic Bread!
We also tried scrambled eggs with shredded Ransoms, this turned out to be a simple but delicious twist on the traditional healthy snack.  We then combined Ransom leaves with further Walnuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to make a very tasty Ransom Pesto to have with pasta. Our next project will be to pickle some Ransom Capers.
Meanwhile, the children have found an alternative use for our nut stash, hand-feeding an increasingly tame local squirrel!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

the Wight Stuff

Snow does not settle very often in Southampton, due to our proximity to the coast and possibly the extra geothermal energy that is used to generate heat for some parts of the city. However, the storm dubbed the Beast from the East did its best, closing many schools and roads. This left children free to sledge down the steepest hills and fill each others clothes with the freezing white stuff. Lovely!
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that most children will be fascinated by dinosaurs and fossils. My son has always been interested in gem stones and geodes. We visited the Isle of Wight, on a wet and windy March day, to try our hands at some amateur palaeontology. We had the added advantage of a brilliant guide from the Island Gems company.
Felicity, our guide, informed us about the unique geology of this part of the coast and then told us what we should look out for. The weather did not dampen out enjoyment one jot, and or the next two hours we wandered the beach, collecting interesting finds and checking them with Felicity. 
We found fossilised wood embedded with glittering Fool's Gold, dinosaur bones, shells, fish bones, sponges and even a piece of turtle shell (all fossilised). The highlight of the tour was probably the gigantic Iguanadon foot casts that littered the beach, but we could not take these home, unlike our personal hoards of fossils and geodes.
A couple of years ago we visited the Oceanography open day last year, where we met some friends of the forager, who had visited the Agglestone after reading about it here and they kindly directed us to a beach on the Island that is known for these sparkling gems. We did not have time to reach it this time, we had to visit a model village, but we will be returning with tents and hammers later this year.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Spring Snow Storms

I know very little about the distance between stars, or the motives of Pepys, but I can always smell the Summertime at the latest by early Spring. 
We are currently bracing ourselves for a big snow-storm, this morning it was -8 when I got on my bike to commute to work. There will be plenty of cold and frost yet to come but the signs are all there, among the flora and fauna.
Plum blossom is beginning to bloom on the branches and this is always my personal first sign of the approaching Spring.
This Winter I have been enjoying the occasional medicinal glass of last year's  Elderberry Port or Vin de Noix to stave of  any colds or other ills. 
The Cider is going down well too, although the Perry still needs a month or so more to age. The Mulberry Gin seems to be vanishing into the ether, evaporating my wife might suggest!
The Pear and Walnut Chutney, a huge personal favourite is still making a regular appearance in the fridge. It goes so well with cheese and perks up my lunchtime sandwiches a treat.
We still have bucket-loads of Hazelnuts and Walnuts left, despite my best efforts to nibble through our hoard during the chilly, dark evenings. So, I think we need to spend some time shelling a whole big load, and then make lots of flapjack and chocolate brownies. It shouldn't be too difficult to persuade the kids to help with that job...





Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Winter and the Hope of Spring

Winter is always a lean time for foragers and this Winter has been an especially wet and stormy one here in the UK. I seems as if it has not stopped raining for the last 6 months! Obviously, this is not actually true but it has been unusually damp for a long time and many rivers are swollen.
However, a wise person once said, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!" We have still been out and about in the landscape, enjoying the weather regardless of what it chucks at us.
We visited Stonehenge for the Winter Solstice, which was fascinating particularly as this is one of the only times when the public are allowed in amongst the stones, which are normally fenced off. The clear advantage of the Winter Solstice over the Summer Solstice is that you don't have to get up quite so early because sunrise is around 8:00. Although it still proved difficult to arrive on time - despite leaving home at 6:00 - because parking is very limited and all the surrounding roads are designated tow away zones. However, after some improvisation, fence climbing and nocturnal navigating, we did reach the stones just in time.
We visited a storm-swept, yet somehow beautifully peaceful Devon in late December. We spent our time exploring the breathtaking beaches in wellies and waterproofs, and watching the waves smashing into the shoreline and breaching the breakwaters.
The New Forest is a short distance from our city, Southampton, and, while we love to find new places to visit and wander, there are a few favourite places that we frequently find ourselves walking through with friends. the whole of the forest is like one giant boggy mire at the moment, so suitable clothing and footwear is essential. Often we find ourselves delicately picking our way from tussock to tuft, trying to avoid sinking from sight like some poor character from the Hound of the Baskerville's. I would not be surprised to discover that some of the tales written by Conan Doyle, who is buried nearby in Minstead, were inspired by the seriously muddy New Forest environment.
Now the crocuses are out, shining like jewels amongst the mud and frost, Ransoms & wild Garlic is beginning to show itself and the daffodils, forcing their way out of the soaking ground will soon be trumpeting in the green shoots of Springtime.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Ruby Red Rosehips

Some people decry foraging as dangerous but we have a simple rule that prevents any risk: Only pick or eat things that you recognise and know to be safe. Obvious really and astonishing that any doubters cannot think of that too. However, even taking fundamental precautions cannot save you from getting stung by Nettles, stabbed by thorns or twisting your ankle by stepping down an unseen rabbit hole.
My seasonal collaboration with the Unity brewing Co, helping to create a range of Saison Ales, seems to have led me into dangerous territory, right from the start.

  • For the Spring beer - Primtemps we needed to pick Stinging Nettles!
  • Next we gathered Elderflowers for the Summer brew - Ete (no fear there).
  • For the Autumn we chose Juniper Berries for the Automne Ale and these are always painfully prickly to pick.
  • Finally, to complete our first year together, I am fighting my way with frost bitten fingers, through scythe-like thorns, as I harvest Rosehips or Haws for the Winter beer - Hiver.

At this time of year, Rosehips are the jewels of the hedgerows. They are know for being packed with Vitamin C - ideal for fighting off infection and boosting the immune system, which is just as well because my hands been punctured so many times collecting them that I might soon need a transfusion myself.
Rosehips can also be used for creating syrups, cordials, jellies and even tea. In fact the Dog Rose was apparently so named because people believed that its application could help you to recover from rabies, if bitten by a mad dog. Of course, all bad school children know that the inner contents of these ruby red haws, can also create some of the nastiest itching powder on the planet!
Tradition holds that you should gather Rosehips after the first frost, the same advice is often given for Sloes because the structure of the fruit is broken down by the freezing temperature. By coincidence, I started picking Haws during my lunch hour after the coldest night of the year, my fingers were frozen but they picked easily and smelled fruity, so the Hiver Ale should be super tasty.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Christmas is Coming, Apparently!

Christmas is coming, apparently. I'm sure nobody had noticed, so, hopefully this post will be a timely reminder... Don't forget to make a note on the 25th (December) on your calendar. You might, for instance, want to consider some kind of preparation in advance.
I have been busy creating Sloe Gin; Sloes seemed thin on the ground this year but fortunately I stashed a load in the freezer earlier on. With gin, it occurs to me that we gathered the Juniper Berries during the Summer, so no one can accuse me of not planning in advance.
I harvested some Green Walnuts in June and this was the beginning of my Vin de Noix, which is now bottled and ready for those cold Winter nights. I added some spices this year to make it even more seasonal.
During July my son and I gathered a bucket-load of Elderberries and then kickstarted my Elderberry wine. This is the perfect archaic, alchemical brew for spicing up into Mulled wine for friends and festive gatherings. Mulled Cider also always goes down well at parties, and this has all now been safely bottled and stored.
My favourite Chunky Pear & Walnut Chutney makes a nice home-made gift and my wife has now added a batch of Sweet Chilli Jam to our cupboard bound cannon.
All that remains now is to forage some Mistletoe and create some Xmas door wreaths. Hopefully the family will be kept so busy making and distributing things that they won't even notice that their are no presents under the tree yet... Actually, that reminds me, we need a Christmas tree!