Thursday, 14 February 2019

Signs of Spring

As I ride my bike to work, through the February weather every day, I notice changes, over time, in the roadside foliage. I think about what might be growing there in a few months and I make a mental note to check back on my prospects in the Summer.
Winter & Spring is always a lean time for foragers, especially those of the Urbane persuasion. So to entertain myself during the cold dark periods I like to test out my home made drinks and preserves to see how they are maturing. I was delighted with my Ransom Capers
My Elderberry Wine seems effective at staving off the colds, the Walnuts and Hazelnuts are great for baking or simply nibbling, the Cider and Apple juice is still lovely, and the Grape wine has matured into a perfectly tolerable rose. 
So, to keep you amused during the Winter/Spring months, Dear Reader, here is a fun quiz, to get you thinking about the hedgerows in your own area...
  1. Identify the tree & flower images on this page
  2. Work out if they will deliver anything edible. 
  3. Work out the time of year that you would harvest and produce.
  4. Plan what you could make from the available bounty.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Yuletide Traditions

Another Yuletide is looming fast and the stormy weather has been perfectly suitable. We have been busy with all the normal preparations and arrangements. We cut our own Christmas tree from a local quagmire (nursery) and this has been a fun, and inevitably muddy, tradition in our family for years. Then we spent about 2 days in the loft hunting for the lights, which were actually buried, deep in my son's bedroom.
Venus has been shining brightly in the East each morning. I'm far from superstitious, but I'm sure that this will be bringing love into our homes. Although, just in case, we did also pop out and harvest a big carrier bagful of mistletoe, to hang around the house. This also always makes a welcome gift to friend and neighbours.
I have also been siphoning & bottling this season's cider, and I'm pleased to report that it is tasting mighty fine already, and will only improve with time.  We are looking forward to adding some spices and mulling several bottles, to take to parties.
We also have 2 gallons of fine rose wine to bottle, this is the produce of our grape growing escapades this year. Obviously, this needs more time to mature but all the signs are good and I have high hopes for it being drinkable!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Sweet Chestnutting

As Autumn progresses, the storms start to blow in, and when the wind comes from the North, we begin to feel the cold again. We have picked most of our allotment goodies now,  the grapes have been pressed and the juice is now fermenting vigorously. 
The wind also brings exciting new things down from the trees for us to eat. Sweet Chestnuts are falling now, and you'll need to be swift to beat the squirrels
We squeeze the nuts out of their spiky husks, with our feet and collect the biggest ones to take home.
There are all sorts of things you can bake and cook using Sweet Chestnuts but we prefer to simply roast them over a fire or BBQ. On a chilly Autumnal evening, there is little that I enjoy more than sitting in the garden, watching for bats, while nibbling hot Chestnuts.
We had a lovely Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard. The fruit was plentiful, as was the juice. The sun did come out, we met new friends and caught up with some old ones too.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Harvest Moon

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is once again upon us. A baleful harvest moon illuminated the evenings of the equinox weekend, and the traditional Autumnal storms came billowing in from the Atlantic. None of this prevented us from breaking out the Apple pressing kit. 
We had been harvesting loads of Apples and on the Saturday, we set about pressing them into 35 litres of juice; I filled my demijohns, and several gallons are now merrily bubbling away, tuning into cider. The remaining juice was pasteurised and bottled up, ready for the forthcoming year.
We also collected enough Pears for me to produce my essential annual stock of Chunky Pear and Walnut Chutney. We still had Walnuts and Hazel nuts left over from last year, and fresh ones are falling already, early, like so many other things this year.

It turns out that the 2018 weather was perfect for vineyards and it promises to be a special vintage - we harvested our own grapes from our allotment and produced several gallons of tangy juice, most of which will be fermented into a new rose wine, Chateau Vin du Witts Hill, perhaps.
Sweet Chestnuts also look like they will be falling soon, we will be out gathering, and competing for the largest, fattest fruits to bring home and roasting them on our fire as the cooler, darker evenings draw in.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Autumn Arrives

This year we have seen one of the longest and hottest Summers on record, but now, finally Autumn is upon us. We are having cooler mornings with dew on the grass, the wind is whipping up and the long awaited rain is arriving, cheering allotmenteers, gardeners and ducks alike.
We have been busy hunting down Hazlenuts, Apples and Pears, in all our familiar and favourite locations. 
It seems that all the lovely snow, bought to us here earlier this year via the Beast from the East, must have affected the pollinators and blossom of the trees because the fruit count is relatively low.

This massive and sustained Spring storm, followed by the long hot dry Summer may have caused the trees to change their normal patterns. Many trees also appear to have smaller than normal fruit that is ripening and dropping earlier than I would have expected.
I'm quite sure that there will be some trees that have managed to overcome the trials of the weather, but a cursory glance around our normal haunts shows a distinctly diminished harvest.
Having said this, we do know where a lot of trees are locally, over time we have located and monitored hundreds. As a result we are still managing to gather enough apples to store for the winter, press for juice and to create a good stock of cider.

Monday, 16 July 2018


The sizzling Summer in the UK has parched parks and over-mown lawns to a hay-like shade of beige. We have been struggling to prevent our allotment turning into a dessert. If we had more time, this would not be a problem, but we often find it difficult to visit more than once per week.
Our Blackberries are finally ripening along with summer Raspberries, Loganberries, Blueberries and Blackcurrants (yuk!) and they are abundant. 
Picking Blackberries this year is going to be so easy and unsurprisingly, a lot of fruit seems to be arriving early. Even Hazelnuts seem to be arriving sooner than they normally would and they seem to be very plentiful too.
This weekend we got on our bikes and visited our favourite Mulberry tree, which we would not normally expect to be ready yet, but sure enough, we found many sweet, juicy, red/black fruits awaiting us. 
That evening the children made the most delicious fruit salad, with Mellon, Raspberries, Strawberries, Mulberries and Blackberries (Topped off with vanilla Ice cream) just perfect for a sweltering hot summer evening.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Cherry, Honeysuckle, & Too Much Fizz

We have been out gathering big, juicy, beautiful Cherries. The ones in the picture above are not yet ripe, they will turn dark red and almost black when they are sweetest and ready to harvest. However, if you want to be sure of beating the birds, you might want to pick them when they are dark red and ripen them in the safety of your windowsill. 
Apparently there is a different sort of Carbon Dioxide crisis now. This one due to a shortage not an excess. Well I can tell you that we have more than enough for now. I have been venting off my  supercharged Elderflower Champage. Normally I can manage this safely, but just occasionally, I fail to re-clip the stopper quickly enough -  with some entertaining results.
I have also been out collecting Honeysuckle, to help with flavouring the latest batch of Unity brewing Co. seasonal ale. My kids love these flowers and suck the nectar out of the backs.