Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Wind in the Walnuts

it has been a funny old Autumn thus far with a very warm September and October, still in shorts and t-shirts temperatures.
We decided to go on the hunt for Walnuts; hoping that the recent rain and blustery wind would have brought some down.
We had been very busy previously and not had time to check out our favourite trees before hand and so we didn't know what to expect.
On our arrival, it did not look so good, but we spotted a few broken branches on the grass, signs that the local kids had been trying to knock down nuts.
We soon tuned into the Walnuts and started to find them nestled amongst the tufts of greenery. We quickly filled our pockets, and when we put them al together at home, we ended up with about half a shoebox full.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Apple Day Mansbridge Community Orchand

Apple Day 2014 at the Community Orchard in Mansbridge, was a fantastic success, everyone contributed and we all had lots of fun.
We had a big crowd of people from all walks of life and everybody chipped in to get things going, we even had a couple of ukulele players supplying musical accompaniment.
Southampton Woodcraft Folk, who are keen supporters of the orchard, pitched tents and organised pickers, tables and presses. I lugged the big press and fruit mill and more pickers (afforded through funding from the Southampton Airport Community Fund).
Once everything was set up and organised, people were dispatched into the trees, with pickers, to collect fruit. They duly returned with buckets and bags loaded with apples and even some pears.
The fruit was then chopped and milled into pulpy pommace and emptied into the presses.
The levers of the presses were turned by the hands of many enthusiastic and strong children and as the screws turned, the golden juice began to flow.
The process continued until it eventually began to rain but after a couple of hours of exertion, everyone was pretty exhausted anyway, so we packed up all the kit and took it home to be hosed down and washed. Well, I was pretty wet anyway.
I don’t know how much free nectar we squeezed out of those lovely apples but my bucket had about 3 gallons in it at one point. This was reduced to about 2 pints by the time we got home. So, I guess everyone went home happy.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Apple Armageddon

It is October, it's still boiling hot in Southampton, and the Saints are flying high in the Premiership. They do say that you should make hay while the sun shines!
So, taking full advantage of the Autumnal warmth we decided to press some of the huge quantity of apples we had collected. Naturally I had initially filled my shed store, for the winter months.
The cider press was dusted off, no mean task as it is a beast of a machine; very heavy, angular and awkward. All the buckets and equipment had to be hosed down and sterilised. Finally, my trusty stainless steel Spear & Jackson No 9 spade was thoroughly cleaned and polished.
We used the spade as a speedy way of chopping up big bucket loads of ripe fruit, before smashing them to oblivion with a branch of cherry wood. These weapons of mass destruction were augmented by the hopper fed fruit mill.
Fortunately I had a good squad of strong, enthusiastic child volunteers to help me with the processing, and the juice was soon flowing freely. As normal I had to balance the amount of sweet nectar necked by the kids, against my desire to have plenty left to bottle.
This year we have invested in a Pasteuriser, which means our precious juice can be kept for a longer time than it would last in the fridge alone. The Children’s valiant efforts produced about 4.5 gallons, a fantastically tasty achievement.
After I had filled and pasteurised 12 bottles, there was still two gallons left, so that will  become cider - unless the kids find it first.
Apple juice-straight out of the press-is the best tasting treat of the Autumn and If you want to experience this delight, you should get on down to the Mansbridge Community Orchard Apple Day on the afternoon of 12th October 2014. Bring some bags or buckets to collect fruit in, and join in with the family based fun, in the Octavia Rd Open Space.
If you have any spare fruit from your garden bring it along and we will turn it into delicious juice. The Apple Day is an open air event, so wear robust clothing and footwear (wellies are de-rigeur).
N.B.This is an amateur/volunteer/community based event – everyone is responsible for their own health and safety and parents/guardians are accountable for their children.

Monday, 22 September 2014

An Apple a Day

If the age old adage is correct, and an Apple a Day does indeed keep the doctor away, we should now be OK through the next year!
Even Rosy On The Inside
We started to pick Apples with the aim of filling our shed based store for the Winter months. I also want to press a nice load of juice. The children were keen to climb/eat/pick, and this year they have been honing their catching skills too, which is handy.
Initially we visited the Flemming Park Red trees in the swimming pool car park; they were loaded with sweet rosy fruit that no one else was picking, we grabbed a good crop here. Next we whizzed over to Hedge End, where we literally filled our boots (or car boot to be precise). These two quick trips netted us about 60 Kgs! There’s still plenty left on the trees though.

This year I want to make cider again but we have also invested in a pasteuriser. So, this time we will be able to bottle up some of the delicious, freshly-pressed juice-based elixir to consume later in the year.

Apple juice will not normally keep for more than a few days unless it is pasteurised. It is possible to freeze it, but we only have a small freezer and that’s half filled with Blackberries!
Apple juice-straight out of the press-is the best tasting treat of the Autumn and If you want to experience this delight, you should get on down to the Mansbridge Community Orchard Apple Day on the afternoon of 12th October 2014. Bring some bags or buckets to collect fruit, and join in with the family based fun, in the Octavia Rd Open Space.

If you have any spare fruit from your garden bring it along and we will turn it into delicious juice. The Apple Day is an open air event, so wear robust clothing and footwear (wellies are de-rigeur).
N.B.This is an amateur/volunteer/community based event – everyone is responsible for their own health and safety and parents/guardians are accountable for their children.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Summer Summary

Hazelnuts are now starting to fall, so make like squirrels and get collecting. They come in many different shapes and sizes and only trial will tell which nuts hold the biggest kernels. I have my favourite trees but these nutritious little beauties are very common in hedges and woodland all over the UK.
Hazelnuts will keep very well in a dry place. So, if you don’t cook or eat all of them straight away, you can save some until Christmas. They will keep a lot longer than that too; I recently finished cracking my supply from last year, to make space for this year’s crop!
Apples and Pears are still ripening on the trees and they will soon be ready to pick. I have been scoping out my favourite local trees to see how well they are doing. When fruit trees supply a heavy crop one year, they tend to have a bit of a rest the following year, so it’s well worth checking before you make any plans.
In due course, we will be organising an Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard. This fun annual event is likely to be held in early October.
Other things to be thinking about at this time of year include Elderberries, Sloes and Medlars, all of which are plentiful and can be converted in to an array of delightful and delicious hedgerow treats.
Blackberries and Mulberries are still very abundant at the moment and you can always freeze any that you or your children do not greedily gobble up.
Crab Apples can be processed into a great many different preserves and drinks and there are loads available for free at the moment.
As Autumn begins, It’s always worth keeping an eye on the Sweet Chestnuts. It’s far too early to collect them yet, but it’s always good to bear these magnificent trees in mind.
Frosty days might seem a long way off at the moment, but the seasons still turn and keen observation of change is a key weapon in the forager's arsenal.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Mysteries of Dartmoor

No food in this post, unless you count our sandwiches, the Apples Hazelnuts and Walnuts will be ripe soon, but for now, two lovely walks... This Summer we were in Devon - and when in Devon - I always insist on visiting Dartmoor. I love to walk in the wildness of this place and I especially enjoy hunting for prehistoric Stone Circles. This year we managed to make two separate trips. Fortunately, the rings on Dartmoor have not been sanitised and fenced off, like Stonehenge. There is no visitor centre, you cannot arrive by coach, and you must scramble over rough terrain, in order to reach them.

First we marched over Whittenknowle Rocks and through the derelict Ditsworthy Warren House, before stopping to eat a picnic on a large rock. Then my intrepid son and I continued ahead, navigating our way through a bog and herd of huge cows in order to reach the ancient ritual area of Drizzlecombe.
At Drizzlecombe we explored the massive standing stones and mysterious stone rows that teem down the hillside from the remnants of a primitive settlementThe standing stones are impressive monuments and must have been very important. No one knows exactly why the rows were erected or what significance they held for the builders. Some, but by no means all, seem to be associated with burial mounds.
On our second outing, the objective was Scorhill Stone Circle, which turned out to be a popular destination. We met several other people hiking around carrying maps, and it wasn't too long before we located this fantastic ring.
Scorhill (pronounced Scorill) is a very evocative place; you could easily miss it as you dodge the ponies, cows and sheep down the rugged hillside path. However, once you arrive and spy the wonderfully jagged rocks sticking up like the fangs of some primordial monster, you know that you are in a very special place.
The sweeping panorama from this singular site is nothing short of majestic. From where we sat enjoying our sandwiches and coffee we could also see a smaller ring on a nearby hillside. The shades and tints of the landscape were stunning; the blue-grey sky against the dun horizon, purple heather mingled with the green and yellow of gorse and wild flowers.
The great granite-grey stones that form the ring stand like sentinels but what they guard, no one can know. It was very atmospheric, and I felt lucky to be there on such a stunning day. I sent the children scurrying off in opposite directions to count the stones and they predictably came back with different answers.
We spied several ancient stone clapper bridges down in the valley below us and we wandered down to explore these after eating our lunch.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Mulberry Madness

All Smiles at the Allotment
Mulberries are a gorgeously tasty sweet fruit and once you locate a tree, you will want to keep an eye on it and visit it regularly. The fruits sweeten as they darken and they will not all be ripe at the same time. 
Under the Mulberry Umbrella
Of course the darkest sweetest fruits, are also the softest and the blood red juice can tend to get everywhere and stain things, like fingers.
Guilty as Charged
We visited a favourite tree when on holiday in Devon. Then on our return to Sunny Southampton we picked a load off a local tree.  Before we entered the house again we checked the soles of our shoes (fortunately) and had to spend a while brushing the sticky berries off them, that could have made a dreadfully messy mess.
Come Back Next Week
The children they looked up a recipe for Blackberry and Apple Crumble, my favourite; we already had a load of Blackberries from the allotment. They used a mixture of Blackberries and Mulberries, along with some apples that we had picked earlier.
Tastes Better than it Looks!
I failed to take photos of the children cooking (probably a good thing in retrospect) but they actually did a fantastic job, rest assured the result was a feast for the taste buds. By the time did I remember the camera, there was barely anything left!