Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Beautiful Beeches

Beautiful Beeches in the New Forest
As I mentioned in the Autumn Abridged entry, Rufus Stone is one of my favourite New Forest destinations around this time of year.

A Fallen Beech

This time we were surprised by how many green leaves and beech-masts were still clinging to the majestic trees but this only increased their splendour.
Beech Masts Drop Their Nuts In Autumn
You can eat beech nuts or use them to make oil but they are damn fiddly.
Many of the Trees Have Names and Messages Carved
A great many people have left their own marks on these great trees; almost every large trunk was festooned with names and dates. Traditional tagging I gues you could call it.

It's a Jungle Out There. Well, a Forest Anyway

It’s one of those places where you can choose to follow the tracks and paths. Or you can go off Piste a bit if you prefer, although you might find yourself trapped in a holly thicket or a boggy mire.

All Ready for Xmas
 The greeny gold of the beech was set off very nicely by the holly, which was loaded with berries, another potential sign of an impending cold winter. We had lunch at the Sir Walter Tyrrel (he who shot Rufus) pub and could have easily eaten outdoors it was so warm.
Feed Me Now!
My daughter makes friends easily (with animals) and was going around recruiting other children to help feed her Donkey.
Very Prickly
I wandered off and found a tangled thicket of prickly crab apple trees on the common opposite the pub.
Crab Apples
Then we wandered back and I set off to photograph my favourite trees in the fading light, whilst the kids continued with various climbing and balancing challenges.
Steady On
I like it when the late afternoon shallow sun, filters through the the trees creating contrasting shades.
The Shard
There are a lot of fallen giants here, as if some catastrophic event bought them down but they all add to the etherial beauty of the place.

Shattered Beauty

Some of the trees look like pale ghosts in the thin light.
Ghost Trees
Some of them just remind me of giant squids!

The Kraken Wakes!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Sloe Business

Sloes on a Blackthorn Bush

Sloes are currently everywhere in the hedgerows. I picked enough to make wine and gin in just half an hour. I wore my cycling gloves to allow faster picking with less pain.
Sloe Wine
It's Difficult to Photograph Wine Making and Make it Look Appealing
The sloes are immersed in boiling water with some raisins and then stirred each day for up to a week. After a couple of days the mixture turns a lovely thick deep red, this reminded me of making elderberry port but it did not require the lengthy boiling.

Especially When It Begins To Ferment
After a suitable period the previously activated yeast is added to the mix. It is then left in a warm place to get on with the process.
Time to Strain into a Demijon

Sloe Gin

There are lots of different recipes for Sloe Gin but the simplicity and cheek of this one (from appealed to me.
1.      Pick your sloes from blackthorn hedges in October or November when they are most ripe - probably after the first frosts.

Blue Black Beauties
2.      Take a litre bottle of gin, and drink half a litre.
Remove the Leaves Before Freezing

3.      Cut or prick the sloes and drop them into the half-empty bottle so that they displace the remaining gin to near the top.

4.      Add one wine goblet of sugar (approx 150g).
More Gin Required

5.       All you have to do now is turn or agitate the bottle daily for a week, then weekly for a month or two ... by which time it will be ready to drink (but it is really best kept until the next winter.
That Looks More Like It

Winter Warmers

Zesty Orange and Lemon
Now that it is starting to feel cold at night, I thought it might be a good idea to start making some Winter Warming Wines. I started off with an old favourite flavour of mine, Ginger. Not much foraging involved with this entry but the spirit is just the same.
Must Get A Lemon Squeezer Geezer
After pealing the zest off two oranges, two lemons the house was soon humming with exotic aromas and this was soon added to by my boiling the bruised and battered ginger in water and Demerara sugar.
Add the Rasins and Zest
I have made ginger wine before and it was very successful but I always feel a little bit mean when I smash the ginger root – I grew one once and it had lovely delicate leaves. I used the Head Chef’s stone pestle to prepare this.
We do not have a lemon squeezer apparently, so I cut the remaining skin off the fruit and sliced them into the mixture, this looked as agreeable as it smelled and I then proceeded to crush the juice out with my bare hands.
Smelling Rather Nice Now
In a dangerous manoeuvre I combined the boiling hot liquid with the fruity juice in a bucket and left it to cool down. When the mixture was luke-warm, I added the previously activated yeast and left it to ferment.
Fermenting Away Nicely
It is now bubbling away like a witches brew in my airing cupboard.

I might also try Rhubarb Wine, if I can collect enough from the garden…

Monday, 17 October 2011

Poached Pears

These will be perfect to pop open on a cold winter night, then heat up and serve with a little ice cream and a biscuit.

• Pears (I used the ones from near the school this time).
• 2 Oranges
• Cinnamon Stick
• Wooden chopping board
• Sugar syrup (you'll make your own)
• Kilner type preserving jars
• Potato peeler
• Sharp knife
A Lovely Pair of Oranges
  1. Thinly peel the zest off the oranges.
  2. Get a large bowl and squeeze the 2 oranges into it. This is where you'll place the pears after you've peeled and cored them -- it prevents them from browning and adds flavour.
  3. Using the potato peeler, peel the pears.
  4. Cut the pears in half and then quarters or more removing the cores and stalks as you go.
  5. Place each pear into the bowl of orange juice as you move on to your next pear, making sure that they get covered.
Poaching The Pears

Make the Sugar Syrup
The amount you make will depend on how many pears you started with but the ratio is approximately 2 cups of sugar to every 4 cups of water. Mix the required amount in a large pan with the surface skin (zest) of the oranges and the cinnamon stick, stir over a low flame. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase your heat to high and bring the mixture to boil. You can start this part when you are about halfway through the pear prep - it will then be ready when you finish.
Cover in Syrup in Sterilised Preserving Jars
Bottling the Pears
  1. When the sugar syrup boils, put your pear slices in and bring it back to the boil. Poach the pears for about 15 mins or until they begin to turn translucent.
  2. Once your jars are sterilised and hot – I used a water bath in the oven and ended up with a kitchen sauna - carefully pack them with the hot pears.
  3. Then top up the jars with hot syrup. Make sure the pears are fully covered. I added a  small amount of the orange zest to each jar at this stage.
  4. Carefully close the lids and seal them securely.
  5. Some folk turn the jars upside down for ten minutes to help them seal.
  6. Then wipe the jars down and leave them on the wooden board to cool down.
  7. I Can't Wait To Try These

Then wait until a suitably cold winter's night...

Finally, add the labels and store.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Sloe, Sloe, Quince, Quince, Sloe

After the very successful Picknik #3, in the lovely churchyard of St Mary’s in Swaythling, Gary (the vicar) asked if we would like to come and pick Quinces from the Vicarage garden. My only previous experience of these very traditional fruits was a jar of ancient quince jelly I found in the kitchen cupboard. It was made by my mum about ten years ago but my daughter would eat it with a spoon given half a chance.

A Ripe Quince On The Vicarage Tree
I wondered if there was any connection between the name of this fruit and the word quintessential but my learned friend Roy informs me that this word is derived from the fifth element – Earth, Water, Fire and Air being the first four. Of course, we know a little bit more about science these days but it is always good to bone up on your alchemical knowledge. 
A Quintet of Quintessential Quinces
I tried typing “turning quinces into gold” into a search engine and this turned up that the fragrant fruit was highly regarded by the Greeks. It was probably the golden apple that Paris gave to Aphrodite as a symbol of love. However, it goes on to describe their taste as astringent and gritty; I’m not quite sure what the romantic implications of that might be and I have no idea what Aphrodite did with her quince.
Cook Before Eating
Another traditional hedgerow berry that is currently available is the Sloe. Sloes are the blue, black fruit of the Blackthorn bush/tree, very common in hedges and very plentiful this year. Many people like to pick these bloomy boys to make Sloe Gin, in preparation for the Christmas and long winter nights. I have decided to attempt making Sloe wine this year, although if we have enough left over, I can think of no better excuse for buying a bottle of gin.
Sloes in September
Sloes are too dry and sour to eat off the bush (good for a dare though as my daughter will testify), but they taste lovely and plumy when preserved.  You can add flavour with orange zest, cloves, cinnamon or almond essence. Normally you pick them after the first frost as this helps the process. Alternatively, you can sling them in the freezer to cheat the seasons – especially as the winter seems a bit late this year.

Ripe Sloes in October

Autumn Abridged

When we have an Indian summer, autumn seems to be brief but beautiful. This is especially true if there has been more sunshine than rain, which turns the golden leaves into an inevitable muddy pulp.

Lots of Lovely Leaves

We always enjoy this time of year; both our children have their birthdays in this season and we all like to get outdoors for long chilly walks. A favourite place of mine is Rufus Stone in the New Forest, where towering beech trees shed their bronzed leaves on top of the ancient mossy floor. Some of these wizened trees may even have witnessed the death of King Rufus (William 2), his breast pierced by an arrow as he hunted deer near this spot.
Rufus Stone - Stunning Beech Trees
Just Imagine How Big That Fallen Giant Was

·         Chestnuts – Still falling in some places but the season will be short this year. Roast them in the oven or better still on an open fire. Chestnuts don’t keep well unless you freeze them. Don’t forget to slit the skins first.


·         Apples – Some still on the trees. Later, more firm varieties will keep better through the winter. Store un-bruised, firm apples in a cool place like a shed or outhouse; they must be kept not touching. Wrapping them with newspaper in greengrocers boxes will suffice. Some varieties will keep through winter. Eat/cook the softer earlier fruit first. Turning them into cider preserves them well – until you drink it…

The Hedge End Hidden Orchard Apple Matrix

·         Pears – Mostly finished now. Pears do not keep as well as apples, although I still have a few which taste good. It’s normally best to bottle or stew pears – or turn them into perry.

A Bucket Full of Itchen River Pears

·         Walnuts – Last year we got 16 Kgs but we were not so lucky this year. You need to be on your toes as they tend to drop all at once and children love collecting them off the streets. They will keep well, as long as you make sure they are kept dry. Hang them in string bags or nets to allow ventilation.

Let's Get Cracking

·         Hazelnuts – We had a huge amount this year, thanks to the timely intervention of a storm. Hazelnuts keep well, if dried thoroughly and stored in a similar way to walnuts.

Nuts Oh Hazelnuts!

·         Blackberries – Lore has it that you should never pick blackberries after the feast of St. Michaelmas (29th of September). This is because the Devil has spat on them! Apparently, when St Michael cast Lucifer down, he landed in a bramble bush, which scratched him (as they do) he was so cross that he cursed, stamped and spat on them. Traditionally you can eat a goose on this day instead and maybe stuff it with your freshly picked chestnuts.

Darn Those Brambles

·         Quince – I have included this golden apple because the kind Vicar of Swaythling Parish invited us to gather the remainder from his garden. We will be donating them to Grandma I expect, who will turn them into something tasty soon.
Quintessential Quinces
·         Sloes – Traditionally, you pick these after the first frost; so I’m saving them for my winter section. Otherwise I will have very little to talk about…
Slow Down

Monday, 10 October 2011

Chestnuts Roasting on a Pot Bellied BBQ

Apparently the second Ice Age is coming. Weather lore has it that when acorns cover the ground in October, snow will cover the land by Christmas. At the Urbane Forager, we say  that you know it is autumn (even if you are still wearing shorts), when you can smell roasting chestnuts.
First, get your fire/BBQ burning well - you know the score, dry tinder then small sticks first, piled over scrunched paper in a wig-wam shape. Followed by, well in this case more small dry sticks - you dont want it burning all night do you?
Once you have a good fire blazing away, add your chestnuts - let the flames lick at the shells, this helps to remove the pith later.
The nuts soon start to sweat and sizzle - I hope you cut them first or they will beging to explode about now... Turn them over until they look black all over or start to spit, whistle and bubble. This will not take very long.
Remove the blackened husks from Dante's inferno. Metal BBQ type tongs might be better than your delicate fingers at this point. It looks bad I know but it will be OK (probably)...
Peel off the burnt shells (let them cool a tad first), remove any pith you can get at and there you have it/them. The Head Chef insists on adding salt at this point but personally I think they taste fine as nature intened, only cooked.

Some people do eat sweet chestnuts raw but I don't.