Thursday, 28 July 2011

Ode to Blackberries

The school holidays are now in full swing. Consequently I have not so much time for writing or posting. Besides, blackberries are here early this year, so no one should have time to read it. Wherever you all are, you should be outside picking and eating blackberries right now.

Go Outside Now!
For some people blackberries are the start and finish of foraging - my hope is that between them and my blog, we can encourage more people to venture a bit further out into the fun world of free food. For now though, instead of me rambling about brambles, here are some poetic proclamations on the subject…
Eaten By The Handfull
Blackberry Eating by Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.
Blackberry Flowers
Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Yum - Starting to Ripen Now
Busy as I am, I can always find time to write a poem or lyric for you, so here is my own personal paean to these dark jewels of the hedgerow…

Blackberry Wine – by the Urbane Forager (2011)

Down the lane the Blackberries run.
The bittersweet pang, of your blood on my tongue.
Favourite flavours, temptation - too good
And it’s all staring down from the hedge by the wood.
You promised that you would not hurt me this time
Still the sting in my digits remains in the wine.
Always there is something about which to warn;
The hotter the sun, the deeper the thorn.
A worthy opponent, with briars to joust;
I want to crush you - to juice in my mouth.
In the green of the field, in the glare that can stun;
I long to pluck you - outside in the sun.
Your barb in my fingers, the pain in my palm
That stain it still lingers, your extract and balm.
Eden emergent, the edge of a stream,
Verdant the verge in the dark of the dream.

My own poetry, I couldn't possibly comment on...
What Do You Think?
Edit from August 30th 2013... 
Post dedicated to Seamus Heaney who  passed away on this day.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Nice Pear

After my whistle-stop tour of the firm apples and pert plums near my work place, my mind turns to another voluptuous shape – the pendulous pear. I located another tree this week. I don’t think I am going to have too much competition collecting the fruit of this one because you need a boat to reach it (unless you want to wade through the mud at low tide).
These Pears Grow by the River
We know at least four other trees locally, all laden with fat, juicy pears; they won’t be ripe for a couple of months but like a good boy scout, I'm always pre-peared (ho ho).
These Nice Round Pears Came From Pear Tree Green!
It’s quite easy to spot fruit trees when they are heavy with fruit; the branches bend down and droop in a recognisable way. This also helps to make picking the fruit more simple when it ripens. As you remove the fruit though, the branches become lighter and they may spring back up out of reach - so you will need a picking tool. I have a couple of these and a small one for the children. I also made a couple myself (see the Phantom Limb Fruit Picker) and they have proved to be invaluable, especially when it comes to cherries apples and pears, which tend to grow on tall trees.
More Pears Ripening
It never ceases to amaze me that you can find trees full of delicious pears, hanging around on public ground, just waiting to be picked. I think I may try pressing some in my cider press this year, pear juice is lovely and it can be frozen too. Having said this, another good way of preserving the juice would be to make Perry! Last year we made 8 gallons of tasty Cider and I’m starting to think that September/October will be very busy months for us this year.
These Ones Are Delicious - We Had Loads Last Year

Monday, 18 July 2011

Chunky Chutney

We finally got round to making some Chutney the other night. I tried to think of a witty headline but the only word that rhymed was Putney (do correct me if I'm mistaken) and that's not funny at all. We used Delia’s Stalwart recipe called Old Dowerhouse Chutney. I’m sure there’s a pub quiz expert out there that can tell me what a Dowerhouse is too, but here we are primarily concerned with food and its making.
Stoned Plums
This recipe is really easy - I stoned the wild plums and cut up an appropriate amount of unripe apples, which my mum had thinned from her tree. Then I left the rest to the head cook, simple! Sarah prepared the rest of the ingredients and cooked it for ages – the house reeked of vinegar, it probably helped to clean the inside of the windows too.

I Predict A Riot of Colour, Texture and Flavour

We wanted it quite chunky apparently; and I must say it looked fantastic in the big brass pan. Then we put it in old (but clean) jam-jars. Now we have to be patient for a couple of months as it cures/matures or something.
The Finishing Touches

The finishing touches were supplied by the children, they make the best and most imaginative labels, many of which are nigh-on indecipherable by time we get to eat the produce (actually, that's not fair at all) but the pictures do help a lot.

Now Just Be Patient!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Lunchtime Lunatic

I'm quite sure that my work mates think I'm nuts, so here's confirmation for them...
Apple Trees
I popped out this lunchtime (on my bike) in an attempt to capture some of the variety and abundance of fruit in the area.
First Came The Apples
Apple Trees
I wanted to check on the local apple trees for progress and plum trees for picking.
I was not disappointed.
The apple trees looked just great.
They were loaded.
Red Apples
So many different types...
Green Apples
They taste just as different as they look.
Green Apple
Every apple pip that grows, will result in a new and interesting variety of apple tree.
Green Apples
Which is a very good reason to experiment.
Red Apples on a Branch
Then came the plums.

Red ones.
Cherry like ones.
Yellow Plums
Purple grape like ones with a dusky bloom.
Purple Plums
Very jucy yellow/greengages that burst in your mouth.
Firm fleshed speckled ones.
Speckled Plum
A veritable cornucopia.
Peachy Plums
How long did it take me to take all these photographs and sample the plums?
Yellow Plums
Half a lunch hour!
Cherry Like Plums
The cherries have mostly finished now but there was a similar variety and amount here last month.
Traditional Plums

Walnut Whip-Round

I seem to be inexplicably tuned into walnut trees at the moment. It must have been something to do with my recent blog entry. I'm now seeing them everywhere I go, they do look distinctive though and have a unique leaf pattern. It's strange, I though these trees were exotic and now I realise that they are fairly common - I just didn't recognise them before.

As I mentioned in the post Cider Inside 'Er Insides There are also walnut trees in Walnut Avenue (Swathling), although you can only collect nuts from the trees on public ground unles you get permission.There are also trees in Chandlers Ford and I know at least one in the Southampton parks.

Walnuts On The Tree

Most people only eat walnuts at Xmas, but they are a very healthy food and can be used in all sorts of cakes and breads. Our last batch has kept very well (they must be kept dry) and we still have a few left from our 2010 haul.

Yet More Apple Trees

I noticed a lot of apple trees in the wayside too and frequently saw flashes of yellow and red plums in the hedgerows, which just goes to show that the area where I live and work is not some kind of freakish Garden of Eden...

You need to look - but you also need to see!
Walnuts and Their Singular Leaves

I had to travel to Bury St. Edmunds this weekend (no, I didn't cycle). On the way out I noticed an immature tree on the airport roundabout. We stopped on the A11 for a break and there was a huge walnut tree over hanging the car park. On arrival at our destination in Bury, we had a short walk to stretch our legs and I spied yet another big tree laden with fruit.
These Walnuts Have Their Own Guard Horse

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Local, Seasonal, Fiscally Enjoyable and Easy

We often get articles in the media telling us we should be, Shopping Locally, Eating Seasonably and worrying about oil but how many people are prepared to put up with (what can seem like) the inconvenience of achieving these very commendable objectives? I suspect that the answer is very, very few. However, it does not follow that we should not make an effort, and at least see what is practicably possible, in-between the strata of our busy lives.
Free Plums
I believe that if we spent a bit less time living our lives vicariously through electronic media (says he blogging), we would have enough spare time to do something real. I’m not suggesting you chuck your iphones through the telly; but just one hour less TV or media each night (for instance) would effectively give you another working day per week in which to do something different.
Free Cherries
Of course, no one will change their lifestyle simply because someone said that they ought to; these things have become habitual and deeply ingrained in our culture. Having said this, my kids enjoy picking fruit and the benefits of doing this as a hobby are many. I don’t really think of how much money I’m saving, when I’m in a sunny field shaking cherries out of a tree, but if you add up the cost you can soon see the amount of cash it is possible to save. Bear in mind that a Kilo of fruit tends to cost at least £2.00.
Free Walnuts
Last year we were really just getting started but we still collected…
Apples                 Over 100Kgs
Pears                   About 40Kgs
Walnuts               16Kgs
Hazelnuts            3Kgs
Cherries               Over 7Kgs
Plums                  Over 8Kgs
You don’t need to be a scientist to work out that this saves enough to pay a few bills, but the most important thing, is the fun we have doing it as a family.

Nuts oh Hazel Nuts

This year we are getting far greater yields. We have been utilising the freezer better and are learning about how to preserve and store the excess that we get. Plums are a current case in point, there are simply too many of them for us to deal with. I wish someone else would help us and make use of them, simply so that this resource is not wasted. So, if you like plums, get down to the cricket pitch (opposite the Cricketers Arms pub) in Chestnut Avenue and fill yer boots, or possibly a basket might be more appropriate.
Crab Apples - Free

There are lots more on Botley Rd, Hedge End on the fields off Stoneham Lane and on Chesil Beach nature reserve, in Bitterne Manor all in or near Southampton…

Sloes - Free, although the Gin I'm going to put them in will not be...

Monday, 4 July 2011

Green Walnuts

It’s always best to leave most of the walnuts until they ripen, in the traditional way. They will keep for half a year or longer in their shells as long as you keep them in a cool dry place. We used them to make chocolate brownies, lots of other cakes and a very healthy trail mix.
A Ripe Walnut, Ready to Drop
Everything about Walnuts seems to require an unfeasibly large reservoir of patience. If you pickle them now, it is a three week process and then they should be ready in six months, just in time for Xmas. If you make Walnut Schnapps, it should be ready in about a year (or five). So it may be a nice present for Xmas next year at best.
Good Things (Walnut Schnapps) Come To Those Who Wait
 You can make Pickled Green Walnuts from the unripe fruit, preferably around June, as long as the hard nut has not yet formed. They are known as the King of Pickles. I don’t know why this is; I made some last year and they were not even vaguely princely. Always wear rubber gloves when preparing green walnuts otherwise the juice, which is a natural dye, will stain your hands and clothes brown.
Green Walnuts - They Smell Exotic Too

1.8kg fresh young walnuts
215g salt
950ml malt vinegar
470g packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly grated root ginger

1.            Pierce each one of the young walnuts all over with a sharp fork or darning needle. Place the walnuts into a bowl and fill with enough water to cover. Stir in the salt to make brine. Put a plate on top, to make sure they are submerged and soak the walnuts for a week. Drain the mixture and make the brine again. Soak for another week.
2.            After the second week, drain the walnuts and lay them out on racks to dry in a sunny place. In 3-5 days they will turn black. Once they have all turned black, they are ready to pickle.
3.            In a large saucepan, stir together the malt vinegar, dark brown sugar, allspice, cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Bring to boil and then add the walnuts. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

4.            Spoon the walnuts into sterile jars and fill with the syrup to within 1 cm of the top. Seal with lids and rings. Store in the refrigerator or sterilise in a hot water bath for 10 minutes before cooling to room temperature and storing in a cool dark cupboard.
I also made some Walnut Schnapps. In Denmark this is seen as the very best type of Schnapps and it certainly is a singular liqueur. It starts life as a strange looking, emerald infusion, which gradually turns a deeper green.
The Early Stages of a Lengthy Process
Later it changes into an oily black/brown liquid and the final stages it turns a deep mahogany brown.
  • Cut 5-6 large unripe walnuts (picked around July) in quarters.
  • Put them in a clean glass jar with tight-fitting lid.
  • Cover well with clear, unflavoured vodka - 40% (80 proof). Leave some air above the vodka.
  • Steep for 5 months - in a dark place at room temperature,
    18-20°C (64-68°F).
  • From time to time, or at least once a month, shake lightly with the lid off the jar - or stir with a spoon - to allow some oxydation.
  • Strain and filter your infusion into a clean glass bottle or jar with tight-fitting lid.
  • Store for at least 7 months in a dark place at room temperature before serving.
N.B. The longer you store your walnut schnapps - up to 5 years or even longer - the better it gets.
  • Finally filter once more.
Always Wear Rubber Gloves!
The taste changes radically as the drink matures and (after about a year) it ends up as a tasty after dinner dram, something to be nipped sparingly with good friends. If it tastes too strong, it can be diluted up to ten times with more of the plain vodka base, according to taste but you will need to leave it a couple of weeks further to properly infuse.

Having said all of this, and tried a few ideas; I think you should leave walnuts on the tree to ripen. They are much nicer and you can do far more with them this way.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Brilliant Blackberries

Most people have tried picking blackberries at some point and many still go on annual expeditions with their families. The good news is that they will be here again very soon. The blossom and unripe fruit is already all over the place, the briars beginning to reach out over pavements announcing their presence.
Look Out! You'll Have Someone's Eye Out With That
I spotted my first ripe one of the season yesterday; a single, solitary shiny blackberry in a clump of pink and green fruits. I picked it instinctively and popped it into my mouth...
Blackberry Flowers are Everywhere You Look Now
Possibly, I was a tad premature, it wasn’t quite ripe but it was worth it. As the sweet/sour juice hit the back of my mouth and my tongue turned purple, I was reminded of the feast that is shortly to arrive.
This Looks Like a Good Spot!
So, get your picnic baskets out, pack some extra Tupperware to fill and bring home everyone’s favourite forage. But why stop at blackberries? Follow the Urbane Forager and you will learn how to find much more local fruit for free. If anyone wants to organise or join us on a casual foraging trip, please do get in contact via the Urbane Forager Community Website.
Nearly There Now!
We will be picking more plums this weekend, I suspect…