Friday, 26 June 2015

First Fruity Fun of the Year

On the way back from a walk in the New Forest a couple of weeks ago, I  spied a big roadside Cherry tree laden down with scarlet fruit. I made a mental note that the fruit was plentiful and nearly ripe. We revisited the tree a week later and found a few more plus a couple of nice little Walnut trees in the same location.
This triggered a reminder to visit our favourite trees that we always pick locally. The Children were armed to the teeth with containers and pickers as we marched over Cobden Bridge to St Deny's.
The first tree initially looked fantastic and my son was soon up in the branches, however, not many of the red Cherries were fully ripe. We decided that waiting another week would be best.
We trotted around the corner to some other trees that we know and were greeted by a tremendous treefull of super ripe, sweet, black fruit, which we set about harvesting as quickly as we could.
My daughter seemed to be scoffing more fruit into her mouth than into the punnets, I warned her about tummy-ache but could not grumble too much. If it wasn't fun, the children would not enjoy coming, and this was the first fruit picking expedition of the year, always an exciting time.
Despite my daughter's best efforts, we still managed to return to base camp with 4.5 Kilograms of big fat cherries. More than enough to keep us all happy for a while and plenty to make into some delicious cakes or puddings.
A quick check on the Tesco website prices cherries at at least £2.00 per 200g, even more for organic fruit, which I'm quite sure ours was. This little hoard took us about half an hour to gather and there is still a great more than that waiting for us next week.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Summertime Foraging Fun

Summer is finally establishing itself in Southampton. We went for a meandering walk with friends along the river beautiful Itchen. I was pleased to spot a nice looking apple tree by a car park in Shawford before we set off; I duly added this to the Falling Fruit map. The atmosphere was heady and the smell of Elderflowers hung heavily in the air.
The route took us up-river past Compton Lock, which is always a fabulous place for a fun swim. We used to cycle to this spot during teenage summer holidays. 
We passed under the M3 motorway and watched swooping swallows catching bugs under the bridge. Despite the wonderful countryside surrounding us, the kids seemed to enjoy being under the massive bridge and hung around here for some time. 
Then it was a short but extremely steep climb up the ancient hill fort of St Catherine’s with the sunshine hammering down from above. The view over Winchester and the water-meadows is truly spectacular. 
We saw several Walnut trees, some of which seem to have had the ends of the branches somehow damaged. People had been having fires on top of the hill amongst the beeches, which must be nice, but some idiots had been setting a fire in the bowl of one of the largest trees – It is difficult to believe the stupidity of this action.
I also noticed a couple of Juniper bushes clinging to the steep ramparts. I have seen Junipers at Figsbury, Danbury and Winchester Hill forts. We found Walnut trees at Badbury Rings as well as here. Walnut (and Apple) trees were introduced to Britain by the Romans and Juniper is thought to be the only native fir tree in the UK. These are curious connections, well worth wondering about.
After a picnic and a run around the mysterious Mismaze atop the hill, we set off back down the Itchen. After a sweltering ramble in the Summer sun, Compton Lock always seems an impossibly perfect place to cool your jets. Wild Swimming is all the rage now and the water is deep enough in places to invite leaping into the cold river for a frolic with the fishes.
The shock of the chilly water will certainly refresh you after a long hot walk but the children were soon shivering like leaves in the wind. We dried them off and set off for home, pausing only to grab a bag-full of Elderflower heads to create thirst quenching Cordial and Champagne on our return. 
We also spotted that cherries are ripening. At last, after all the stress of finishing the book, the free fruit foraging fun finally begins...

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Urbane Forager Book

ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7
The popular Urbane Forager community project and blog has now been running for five years around Southampton. To celebrate this achievement a new book has been produced explaining how everyone can enjoy locating and picking free fruit and nuts throughout their own cities and towns. The book is now available from all bookshops and on-line outlets.
ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7
However, a special quality, first edition run of 100 books has been printed for the launch party and other events, they can be signed by the author on request.
The inaugural event will be held in the Art House Café so, delicious food and thirst quenching drinks will be on hand to purchase as well as exquisite books. After this, any special books remaining will be available here.
ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7
There will be a brief introductory talk by the author, Alan Gibson before the signing. 
ISBN: 978-1-78507-300-7
Afterwards there will be a short walk around the local parks to identify some fruit trees and learn about mapping. This is a free, informal event and everyone is responsible for their own health and safetyFamilies and children are welcome, of course.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


It's that time of the year again. As Spring seamlessly segues into Summer, the Elder trees are brightening the hedges with their jaunty ivory white floral clouds. At the Urbane Forager project Elderflowers are the first thing we pick in the year. Elder is followed closely by Cherries and then Plums.
We use these citrusy blooms to produce thirst quenching cordial, a perennial favourite with the children and effervescent Champagne which definitely excites the adult pallet.
Both recipes are simple, as long as you pay sufficient attention to two important points.
  • Firstly, the blooms of the Elder smell of bright summer sun in the morning but tend to smell a bit like cat's wee in the evening, so pick them in the morning and process them while still fresh!
  • Secondly, when making fizzy drinks, always use pressure safe bottles! Sparking wine is safely surrounded by 1 Kilogram of glass for a very good reason. We save and sterilize Cava bottles from Christmas and birthday celebrations. We then buy fresh corks and cages to secure our own brew, even then I have to keep a close eye on the proceedings to prevent pressure-washing the kitchen with a Champagne fountain.
Elderflower Cordial - an easy to make summer classic.
  • 3 lemons, sliced 
  • 10 Elderflower heads 
  • 500g sugar 
  • 3L water 
  • 1 Large bowl or saucepan
  • Filter paper or muslin 
  1. Put the sugar in the container and pour over a pint of boiling water. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. 
  2. Then add the remaining 2 litres of cold water and a leave until cold. 
  3. Add the sliced lemons, giving each a good squeeze and then add the elderflower heads. 
  4. Leave for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
  5. Pour through the muslin or filter paper into bottles.
Refrigerated it will keep for a few weeks. Frozen (in plastic bottles) it will last a lot longer.
Delicious Elderflower Champagne (English Fizz for pedants)
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • 7 Large Elderflower heads
  • 500g sugar
  • 6L water
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 Large container
  • Filter paper or muslin (I use a sieve and jelly bag)
  1. First fully dissolve the sugar in a pint of boiling water. 
  2. Then pour the solution into your container and add 5 litres of cold water, followed by the lemon slices (squeezed as you go), Elderflower heads and vinegar.
  3. Cover the mixture and leave for 48 hours, stirring occasionally. 
  4. When ready, filter the mixture (I used a sieve, jelly bag & funnel) into strong bottles (plastic or glass, but able to withstand high pressure), close firmly, and leave.
  5. It is a good idea to release some of the air occasionally to prevent explosions. 
The champagne will be ready in about two weeks. It is alleged to improve with time, but nobody has managed to leave it that long yet...
It's totally delicious!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Young Fruit and Elderflower

I have been very busy during my lunch hour trips around Segensworth, and fortunately the weather has been welcoming. I have been keeping tabs on where the various fruit trees are located, tagging them as they blossomed on the Falling Fruit map. Here, you can see that I have surrounded the grim grey industrial estate with an abundance of fabulous fruit trees.

When you use this method during the Spring, you always need to revisit the sites to be sure that young fruits are following the flowers. It can be difficult to spot immature fruit initially, because it is camouflaged very effectively by the green leaves.
Apple Blossom

It's a little early yet to tell whether the army of Apple trees that I have spotted will eventually produce good fruit. many of them may turn out to be Crab Apples, which can also be used in many interesting ways.
Elder Flower

At the Urbane Forager, the first things we pick each year are Elder-flowers. We make cool Cordial and chaotic Champagne from these delicately scented ivory blooms.

Elderflower drinks are soon followed by waves of sweet, dark Cherries, and then bucket loads of multi-coloured wild plums. Hopefully, Summer will be in full swing by this time
It always pays to be as well prepared and you can do this too by utilising our free Seasonal id Cheat Sheets. These handy aids have also been redesigned and included in the forthcoming Urbane Forager book.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Ransom Pesto

My friend Carolin wanted to make Wild Garlic pesto. In my lunch-hour I gathered a healthy handful of fresh Ransoms she did the rest and took the photos...
This is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe but, needless to say, others are available...

  1. 50g shelled walnuts
  2. About 75g wild garlic leaves and stems, washed and roughly chopped
  3. 35g parmesan (or other hard, mature cheese), finely grated
  4. Finely grated zest of ½ lemon, plus a good squeeze of lemon juice
  5. 100-150ml extra-virgin olive oil
  6. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put the nuts in an ovenproof dish and toast for five to eight minutes, checking from time to time because they burn easily. Leave to cool.
Put the toasted nuts in a food processor, along with the wild garlic, parmesan and lemon zest. Blitz to a paste, then, with the motor running, slowly add the oil until you have a thick, sloppy purée. Scrape this into a bowl, add a squeeze of lemon and season to taste. This pesto will keep in a jar in the fridge for a few days.

The children found it a tad spicy, apparently, but the adults loved it. So, dish out portions with due consideration.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Beautiful Blubells, Wild Garlic

Bluebells have been springing up everywhere for the last week or two, carpeting sun dappled woodland with their eerie hue.
A Woodland Apple Tree with Bluebells

We have started to notice masses of Wild Garlic and Ransoms in the woods and alongside footpaths (you can often smell Wild Garlic before you see it). When we were in sunny Devon recently, it seemed to be growing everywhere like weeds. Here there is another variant known locally as the Triangular Leek.
Wild Garlic
We found two separate types and they were thoroughly tested by our children. They both agreed that the broad leaved Ransoms did not taste as strong as the more succulent Wild Garlic. Both the leaves and flowers are suitable for using in various recipes, but you should never dig up the bulbs.
Ransoms and Bluebells
I always associate the arrival of Bluebells with  Wild Garlic and Ransoms because they flower at the same time and grow in a similar habitat, it's not unusual to find them side by side.
Bluebells near Segensworth

We have finished putting the final touches to the new Urbane Forager book and will soon have an approximate release date for you. Also, I will probably update this post soon to give a date for the Mansbridge Community Orchard blossom walk. Currently pencilled in for Sunday 10th at 2:00 pm. So, pay attention at the back!
One Swallow Doth Not a Summer Make