Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Sloe TV

It is that time of year again, when we start to think about gathering Sloes. In Celtic folklore, the Blackthorn occupies a dark and possibly even sinister area concerning Samhain (the precursor to Halloween), and facing your own mortality. Certainly, once the leaves come off the trees, they can have a somewhat foreboding skeletal look about them.
You can make many interesting things out of the wood of the Blackthorn tree but the most popular use for the Sloe Berry is deliciously plummy Sloe GinYou should get your Sloe Gin started by mid November, if you want to have it ready in time for Xmas. It can make a very welcome gift, especially if you store it in decorative bottles. Lore states that you should ideally wait until the first frost, before you pick them. After this time these highly astringent fruits apparently ripen and taste sweeter.
Obviously, the name of the Blackthorn contains a barely veiled warning, it can be a prickly business, but picking these bloomy blue/black babies brings its own reward. To make Sloe Gin, simply immerse your Sloes in Gin, add some sugar, to bring out the Sloe juice. Leave the mixture to steep for at least a month giving the jar a regular shake (every day for the first week, then every week for the following month or so). Some people recommend piercing the sloes with a thorn first but my experimentation has shown this to be unnecessary. 
I picked mine during lunch-time walks and ferried them home each day in my sandwich box. I already knew where the bushes were because I had spotted to Blackthorn blossom in the hedgerows in March. I filled a large Kilner-jar with berries and then topped it up with gin and a little sugar. I taste it regularly, just to check, then filter off the debris before decanting it into bottles. All that is then required are some decorative labels.
To get a bit more product from your efforts, another top tip, is to reuse the gin soaked sloes by pouring red wine over them. Leaving them to soak further, produces a fortified wine, ideal for the winter months. I like experimenting, and can't see any good reason for not giving this idea a go.

Don't forget to put, the Urbane Forager book on your Christmas present list. 
Order your copy now!
You can buy this lovely book for your friends and family from all good book-stores or Amazon.
Author: Alan Gibson
ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7

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Thursday, 26 November 2015

Russet, Rufus, Red, Green and Gold

We always enjoy Autumnal walks in the New Forest and one of our favourite places to visit at this time of year is Rufus Stone.
The towering Beech trees stand like sentinels, possible witnesses to the "accidental" slaying of King William the Second (Known as Rufus for his red hair) by Sir Walter Tyrell. Hunting mistakes do seem to be a common theme in medieval regicide.
We checked out the memorial plaque but we were not here for a history lesson so much as to wander amongst the mist wreathed splendour of the forest.
Every inch of the mossy, boggy landscape beneath our feet seemed turned to bronze by the falling leaves, while those remaining on the trees shimmered in the gentle wind.
A thin dappled sunlight glimmered through after our lunch time picnic, bringing an ethereal beauty to the russet and green glow
I don't know how many miles we walked, it must have been at least five but nobody seemed to notice the distance as we wondered at the view.
The children kept pace with us for most of the time and there was very little questioning about how far we still had to go. They were kept busy working out how to jump streams and negotiate bogs.
I think we timed it just about perfectly, both with regard to the time of year and the duration/distance of the walk because everyone still seemed deeply satisfied on our return. I even had the opportunity to gather another bag-full of Sloes.
Don't forget to put, the Urbane Forager book on your Christmas present list. 
Order your copy now!
You can buy this lovely book for your friends and family from all good book-stores or Amazon.
Author: Alan Gibson

ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7
The best Urbane Forager images are now on Pinterest. Please follow & share.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Exciting Events

We are organising a free community walk with Clare Diaper.
The last walk we did was a huge success, so please share this info to help promote the event.
We meet at 1:30 pm Sun 29th November, at the St Denys train station (Car park of Great South Western pub).
We will walk through St Denys and over Cobden bridge into Riverside Park with the potential to carry on along the Itchen river to Mansbridge, depending on the available light.
I will be pointing out lots of fruit trees that I know in this area including Cherry, Apple, Plum, Crab Apple, Pear and even Mistletoe in my guise as the Urbane Forager.
Clare will be talking about climate change and the potential for river levels to rise as a result. The walk is free and anyone can come but it may involve some rough terrain, so people should dress appropriately and be responsible for their own safety.
If anyone would like to purchase copies of the Urbane Forager book on the day, please notify me in advance through here or on alan@wingchun.org.uk and I will bring some along.
Please put this date in your diary and come along to discover some exciting new things about our lovely city.

Another interesting event is the, Goswell and Milne Midwinter Pop Up Supper Club. This takes place on 5th Dec 7:30 pm at the Art House Cafe. Tickets for this event can be obtained here.

The best Urbane Forager images are now on Pinterest. Please follow us there too & spread the word.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Organic Fruit & Nuts For Free

Regular readers of this blog will know by now that we pick a colossal amount of Apples (as well as other fruit and nuts) from public ground around the city and all of it is available for free, but only for those willing to seek it out and collect it.
You might be tempted to think that because we harvest so much, there will be none left for everyone else who is interested, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is still a great quantity of fruit out there, waiting to be picked.
With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to show just some of the trees that we have not picked any fruit from. They are ripe and waiting to be harvested, or ready to drop on the ground and be heartily consumed by Mother Nature (which is also good). In these times of enforced austerity, where we are constantly bombarded with news of food poverty and food banks, I have been known to make bold proclamations about the democratisation of food.
Mostly what we do is explore our environment and then pick free fresh fruit and nuts because they are available and to prevent it being wasted. It is nice to be outdoors and we do have a great deal of free fun. However, despite the huge amounts that we pick, there is still far, far too much for us. This is why we want to engage and inspire other people, to do similar things. WE aim to enable anyone else to do the same for themselves; hence the open access global fruit map and free Seasonal id Sheets.
We are fortunate to have steady employment and often buy food in the shops, like everyone else but we will not be buying Apples, Pears, BlackberriesHazelnuts, Walnuts, Apple Juice etc. this Winter, because we have stacks stored away. It does surprise me when I see people crushing fresh fruit under the wheels of there large vehicles, as they queue in dense polluting traffic in order to get to the overcrowded, overpriced sterile environment of the supermarkets.
These people could be out in a field, enjoying the open air and gathering organic Fruit and Nuts for Free, but the fact that they are not, means that there is always plenty left for those who are making the effort to forage.

Don't forget to put, the Urbane Forager book on your Christmas present list. 
Order your copy now!
You can buy this lovely book for your friends and family from all good book-stores or Amazon.
Author: Alan Gibson
ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7

We now have our best images on Pinterest. Please follow & share.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015


In the Urbane Forager's calendar October and November means it's time to gather Sweet Chestnuts. Autumn is always our favourite time for walks out in the New Forest but Chestnut trees can be found in many places within the city too and often it is easier to spot them when they fall onto the pavement. 
You can carefully remove the spiny hulls with your shoes or boots and it is always special when the shiny mahogany brown nuts pop out - you are the first person to ever witness this magical moment.
We only collect the largest, fattest of the nuts we find. We always try to find the one tree in an area, which provides the biggest nuts and they we comb the area to find and collect the cream of the crop to take home and roast. You can freeze your hoard if you wish to preserve them for later.
We pierce and roast our chestnuts over a small fire or BBQ but you can do them in an oven (always make a small cut in each shell prior to cooking or they will explode). I find that the flames help to burn the shells and pith, making them more easy to peal, which can be a really tricky job. Roast Chestnuts are the perfect accompaniment to a chilly Autumn night or to nibble while watching fireworks on Guy Fawkes night.
It is easy to make all kinds of things out of Chestnuts, even flour to bake with; clearly you need patience to peel off all the shells and pithy skin. My Mum used to cook Chestnut Tarts (like jam tarts but filled with Chestnut purée) as an Autumnal treat. This year I made a "Chestnut roasting tin" so that we could also cook them in the hot ashes of our garden fire chimney.
Don't forget to put, the Urbane Forager book on your Christmas present list. 
You can buy this lovely book for your friends and family from all good book-stores or even Amazon.
the Urbane Forager: Fruit and Nuts for Free
Author: Alan Gibson
ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Vine to Wine

While doing our walk over Peartree Green and also at the Apple Day we met John and Pixie; they mentioned that they had too many grapes growing in their Southampton garden. They wanted help harvesting their hoard of fruit before it dropped all over the garden.
They did warn me that there was a lot and so I popped over. It was only when I saw the size of the vine did I realise the scale of what was required, but I set about picking as many as I could, before having to pick the kids up, after their swimming lessons.
I managed to fill my big bucket and as the weather was nice we set about crushing and pressing the fruit that same afternoon. It was a sticky job but a very tasty one non the less.
We added Uncle Loz's white allotment grapes, while we were at it. They were a bit sweeter than the dark ones from our friend's vine.
I pasteurised several bottles and set the rest off to brew into wine, it is bubbling away merrily now but there's no way of telling what it will taste like until it has finished fermenting. I am already very pleased with my cider this year, it's definitely my best batch so far.
We also put a couple of pints of grape juice aside to turn into Grape Jelly. I haven't tried this yet but it looks very promising.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Pear and Walnut Chutney

Not the "Supermoon" - Pear Tarte Tartin
We had a surfeit of foraged Walnuts and Pears clogging up my shed and the kitchen. I was aware the Walnuts would keep but knew that the Pears would need to be used up quite soon and, no matter how delicious it is, there's only so much Chocolate Pear Upside-Down CakePear Tarte Tartin & Pear and Mulberry Crumble that can be consumed before bringing on fear of a heart attack! 
Chocolate Pear Upside-Down Cake
I made a winning Chunky Pear and Walnut Chutney back in 2011, but it was a bit too chunky for sandwiches. This time I chopped everything a bit finer and made twice the amount. It looks quite different and spreads nicely and importantly it actually does taste just as good my original attempt.
Peeled Apples, Pears and Onions
  • 1.2 Kg. Pears
  • 225g Cooking Apples
  • 400g Sugar
  • 450ml Cider Vinegar
  • 225g Onions
  • 120g Walnuts, Chopped
  • 1 Orange
  • 275g Sultanas
  • 1.5 tsp. Cinnamon (ground)
  1. Peel and core the pears and apples. Cut them and the onions into small chunks. Put the fruit and the vinegar together into a large preserving pan and stir. Slowly bring the mixture to the boil and then reduce the heat to simmer gently for 30 - 40 mins, stirring it occasionally to prevent any sticking.
  2. Meanwhile, thinly grate the zest off the outside of the orange and set this aside. Also, gently toast the walnuts in a non-stick pan over a low heat, until they become slightly paler. 
  3. Place the sultanas in a bowl and the squeeze all the juice of the orange over the sultanas and leave to soak. 
  4. After the fruit and vinegar has reduced, add the sugar, sultanas, orange juice, and zest into the preserving pan and heat gently while stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Finally, add the toasted walnuts and the cinnamon to the chutney.
  5. Simmer gently for a further 30 - 40 mins stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  6. Spoon the chutney into pre-sterilised jars, seal and store in a cool dark place. 
This delicious chutney should be properly ready in about a month and should keep for a year. It will make a uniquely zesty, home-made, Xmas gift and will undoubtedly add a little spice to your food during the Winter months.