Friday, 29 January 2016

Blossom Sequence Mnemonic Competition

Now, there's a post title I didn't imagine ever writing, but you will be pleased to hear that there is a good reason for it. When Spring arrives, we always use blossom in the trees to help us easily locate and identify fruit trees. We then check back later to look for signs of maturing fruit.

To help remember the sequence that fruit trees bloom in we designed an acronym PBCAP (Plum, Blackthorn, Cherry, Apple, and Pear) Plum normally flowers around March (I have seen Plum blossom in January this year), the others follow in quick succession. The fruit of the Blackthorn is the Sloe so the B could be replaced with an S.
We remember this by using a mnemonic Perceived Blossom Calculates Abundant Produce but this is unwieldy. If you can think of a better one, send it in or write your comments below, the composer of the best will be duly announced and the lucky winner will receive a free copy of our beautiful book, the Urbane Forager: Fruit and Nuts for Free.
As a footnote I will remind readers that a mnemonic does not need to have anything to do with the subject matter, it only needs to be memorable. Richard Of York Fought Battle In Vain is a popular example for recalling colours of the rainbow or Naughty Elephants Spray Water for children learning the compass. So we could have Panthers Black Creep And Pounce or whatever

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Ice and Ancient Royalty

It had been raining hard, now it was freezing cold and the wind was howling, but a wise person once said that “there’s no such thing as Bad Weather, only inappropriate clothing!” With this in mind we layered up our clothing, got out our boots, waterproof jackets and trousers, located our hats and gloves and zipped out to the rain soaked bog that used to be the New Forest.
I always have a look at an Ordinance Survey map before we go for a walk. I normally try to find places along the route with quirky names, to amuse the children. My daughter once commented that I always take them to places named after the Devil, Hell or other gruesome things.* This is largely true but it’s not because I worship the Devil (I don’t).
On this little trip I  managed to find Deadman’s Hill, Claypits Bottom, Burnt Balls and the Butts (which did indeed made the kids laugh). I wanted to explore Studely Castle, the site of a royal hunting lodge. There are quite a few sites like this in the New Forest and they always seem to be in good locations - fit for a king, I guess. We did find the remains of the embankments and it commanded a great view. The children were duly pleased to know that kings had once tramped through the same sodden swamp that we had.
Once we got out of the woods the kids delighted in finding large sheets of ice, picking them out of puddles, then hurling them headlong to shatter, sending shimmering shards of ice, skittering across frozen water. Very entertaining! Their waterproof gloves were being sorely tested but it kept everyone happy and motivated to move on in the hunt for ice.
We only went as far as the Butts (a tumulus actually) before we felt the need for food and warmth, and started to think about heading home. Around here we found a nice frozen pond, which looked perilously dark and bottomless. We had to restrain the children from wading in too deep but it made a good full-stop for final ice smashing activities, before turning back along the boggy quagmire that was our path.

*As I explained to my daughter, this is due to the old Christian habit of renaming ancient pre-christian places of burial, worship or habitation as wicked or evil. Knowlton Henge is a classic example. Many churches were built on top of, or on the site of prehistoric antiquities, in an attempt to usurp the existing religious association. Twyford Church near Shawford was apparently built on top of a Stone Circle - and a Sarsen stone can still be found in the lane that leads up to it.  The Hell Stone is a Neolithic burial chamber and the Devil’s Coits is another Stone Circle.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

11¾ things to do before you're 50

This blog tends to focus on family activities, but that's because we have children. Obviously, there's no reason why singletons and couples cannot enjoy all the things we do too. Every now and then I think, why should the kids have all the fun? What about the hard working adults? Clearly, they deserve to enjoy themselves too.
With this in mind, I thought I would publish the Urbane Forager's guide to the 11¾ things to do before you're 50! Needless to say, you can still do them if you are older than 50.
For any children reading this, the before you're 50 bit means that you can help your parent's in the identification, mapping, picking and preparation of these various concoctions, the alchemy of fermentation is a fascinating science lesson. However, you should not try drinking alcohol until you are old enough; you would most likely think it tasted horrible anyway.
1. Notice the first blossom of the year in the hedgerows, this will be the Blackthorn (Sloes) and Plum trees, remember where it is and add the locations to the Falling Fruit map. Check back later to pick the fruit. Plums ripen around June/July but you will need to be much more patient with the Sloes.
2. Make Elderflower Champagne, cordial is a big favourite for the children too. The Elder bushes herald the onset of Summer around May/June, depending on global warming. Remember to use pressure-safe bottles! Also, remember where the bushes are and return later in the Summer for Elderberries.
3. Pick and eat Cherries straight off a tree. What could be better? Spot the Cherry blossom when it arrives after the Plum and Blackthorn, record the location on the Falling Fruit map. Cherries will be the first fruit to ripen in the UK and you will need to be quick because the birds like them too!

4. Observe Apple and Pear blossom while the Cherry blossom is turning into immature fruit. Note the locations on the Falling fruit map (can you detect a theme building here?). Nothing beats climbing up and picking Apples fresh from the trees; they obviously make the most delicious and healthy snacks and will keep for months. You can also press the apples into  the best tasting juice or turn it into gallons of cider for virtually no cost whatsoever.
5. Have a competition to see who can pick the most Blackberries. Blackberries grow almost everywhere but it's nice to get out of the city if you can. Everyone can stuff there juice smeared faces with fabulous fruit and when you return you can freeze the remainder or use them to make fantastic vodka and gin based liquors, fabulous to break out later on after a Summer BBQ.

6. Find a Mulberry tree, if you cannot find one, plant one. I try not to tell anyone where my favourite Mulberry trees are; it's good to keep some tree locations secret. The kids go crazy over this sweet sticky fruit and I always Mulberry Gin (can you see another theme developing) along with various puddings. I still have some in the freezer...

7. Make Elderberry wine. The berries will be abundant around August and making this archaic and intoxicating brew is a very simple and satisfying process; you can watch it bubbling away and then save it until it matures. I always use some to make bottles Mulled wine around Christmas, always a good thing to take to parties, along with the mince pies.
8. Find a Walnut tree; there's bound to be some somewhere in your vicinity. Walnuts ripen along with Hazelnuts around September but you can pick exotic smelling Green Walnuts earlier (in June) if you want to try pickling, making Schnapps or Vin de Noix.

9. Gather a great load of big, fat Chestnuts and roast them over a fire, we use a BBQ or chimenia because of our small garden. It's a great way to warm up and celebrate Autumn. Also roast Chestnuts make an ideal accompaniment to fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night. Don't forget to prick them first!

10. Make Sloe Gin. A very simple process, resulting in a fantastically plummy tasting liquor that is just the ticket for those chilly, dark Winter nights and also make the perfect Christmas gift for family and friends.
11. Bring the love into your house! Find and cut a big bunch of Mistletoe. Actually, it is easy to find and more complicated/dangerous to collect but with a little ingenuity and improvisation it is possible. Your loved ones will hopefully be delighted and you can give some to friends and neighbours too.

¾. Upcycle the left-over gin-soaked Sloes that you used to make your Sloe gin (10) use some to spice up your Mulled Elderberry (7) wine or to include in your home-made Christmas Plum (1) pudding.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Battered Britain

For the last two months the UK has been overcast, extremely windy and very, very wet. It was officially the wettest, warmest December ever. We have hardly glimpsed the sun and yet it has still been unseasonably warm (the last time I said that we had snow the following week). The North and West has undoubtedly had the worst of the weather but floods and damage have been widespread.
However, a wise person once said, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” So, we have still been out exploring, wrapped up in waterproofs and Wellington-boots. I have been even been gathering apples in January (!) I found them on the ground beneath a tree but they were still quite edible.
Charmouth, The Dark Area is the Landslip
We visited Devon during the Xmas break and witnessed some spectacular seas as they battered the South. Fossil hunters were out in force along the Jurassic coast, where storms have been causing massive landslides. A huge section of cliff collapsed across the beach, causing considerable danger but also bringing out new finds for the enthusiasts. I even filmed a miniature landslip in action.
Even sunny Southampton has had more than its share of storms, the wind at times has been ferocious and the rain torrential. Many local rivers have burst their banks and flooded the surrounding areas but thankfully the majority of the residential areas have been spared.
I'm not going to make any predictions about the signs of Spring, we haven't even seen any signs of Winter yet!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Super Solstice, Cool Yule & Natural New Year

Christmas is coming and thanks to our virtually Paleo diet (that bit is probably a lie), we hopefully won't get too fat.
We chopped down and decorated a small tree; the children gathered plenty of greenery and made a wreath for the front door.
We also harvested enough mistletoe to bring the love into our house during the Halcyon days and well into the New Year. We spread plenty around our neighbours and friends too.
I have been very industrious in my bottling of Sloe Gin, Taybury Gin, Mullberry Gin and Cherry Vodka. It all looks very stylish in neat square little bottles.
Meanwhile my wife was making mincemeat with the children and we soon had a tray filled with hot mince pies to add to the mix, this made the house smell very seasonal.
I made several bottles of Mulled Wine. This time I used 2013 Elderberry Port as a base and poured it over the Sloes that were left after bottling the Sloe Gin. I added some nutmeg, cinnamon, all spice and cloves and left it to soak for a couple of weeks. I then strained off the resultant potent brew and bottled it.
This archaic alchemical potion won't just warm the cockles of the heart, it will blow the bloody doors off it! Perfect with Mince Pies when visiting friends...

Have a Super Solstice a Cool Yule and a Happy New Year! x0x0
Now, That's a Christmas Tree!
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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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

We Made Our Own Fliping Nutella

My daughter is a fan of Nutella and spreads it on everything, including her face sometime. Seeing as we had collected a vast amount of Hazelnuts, it seemed an obvious idea to make our own.
We Made This... Ta Da!
I made "nutella" once before and destroyed the drive cog on our blender in the process. I'm sure it was on the way out anyway...
We found several different methods but in the end, we chose one that used ingredients that we either had in the cupboards or could easily obtain locally.
Don't Burn Your Fingers and Don't Eat Too Many Before Weighing
This time we used a recipe from Oh Nuts! and everyone agreed that it tasted even better than the real thing. Plus not a drop of palm oil was used, so no need to apologise to the environment... By the time you read this, I'm sure we will be well into the making of our next batch.

Whisk and Whisk...

  • 2.5 oz (about 2/3 cups) roasted unsalted hazelnuts
  • 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 oz (about 1/2 cup) plain chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp honey. We used some donated by friends of the Urbane Forager.
  • a food processor

French Foragers Honey From Friends

  1. The first step is to toast the hazelnuts.  Toasting nuts adds a depth of flavour that’s important to the finished product. It also makes it easier to remove any remaining skins. So place your nuts in a preheated 200 degree C oven, and toast them until they’re brown and fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Be sure to stir them every 3-4 minutes to keep them from burning. Once they’re toasted, remove the skins then set them aside until they’re no longer hot.
  2. The food processor is going to do most of the work in this recipe. Start by adding the cooled, toasted hazelnuts to the processor bowl. Turn the food processor on, and after a minute or two you’ll be left with very finely ground hazelnuts. Wonderful for sprinkling on pastries, but that’s not what we’re going for, so keep processing. After another minute, the nuts will start to clump together around the blade, and you’ll find you have a smooth paste. Add a touch of salt, and you've create a tasty hazelnut butter! But we want nutella, so turn that processor back on…
  3. Nice...
    After about 5 minutes, your hazelnuts should be processed into a liquid. Scrape down the sides and the blade and process until there are no lumps remaining. Set the hazelnuts aside while you prepare the chocolate portion of the recipe.
  4. The chocolate will need to be melted, so we used the double boiler method on the stove-top. Whichever method you choose, combine the chopped chocolate, condensed milk, and honey in a bowl.
  5. If you’re using a double boiler, put the bowl on a pan of simmering water on the stove-top, and heat it, stirring frequently, until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. If you’re using the microwave, be sure to stir the mix after every 30 seconds to prevent overheating, and stop once everything is melted together.
  6. Messy Marbling
    Now you've barely done any work and the nutella’s almost finished. It’s magic! The final step is to add the warm chocolate mix to the bowl of the food processor that contains the liquefied hazelnuts.
  7. Process the mix for 1-2 minutes more, until it smooths out, loses a little graininess, and gets shiny. The more you mix, the stiffer the nutella gets, so be sure to stop while it is still nice and spreadable.
  8. We then added the mixture to clean, previously used (and we like to think), Up-cycled Nutella jars.
  9. Ta Da!
    Into Jars (Before Eating)
    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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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 (alternatively, sling them in the freezer). After this 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 help bring out the 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, I'm using Elderberry Port from 2013). 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 a go. I then intend to take this a stage further by using the resultant brew to make mulled wine!

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.