Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fruity Fascism

Cherry Blossom Gives Way To Daisies
I recently received an interesting comment from a foraging friend in South Africa, this spurred me into thought about the nature of the native, or aboriginal arboreality (perhaps).
“…Sadly here in SA we don't have fruit-trees, vines etc. in public places unlike the UK and all orchards are protected by razor wire or gun-shot! You live in a different world to me. Just about the only trees on roads etc. are oaks = acorns, not sure what you can do with them. They are on a witch hunt to get rid of all alien vegetation too, so have cut down beautiful old trees. You must realise most properties here are behind high security walls. Even parks are not safe to walk in alone. People get robbed hiking on the mountains etc...”
I know that we are very lucky in UK to live in such green and pleasant surroundings. Lots of my favourites, like cherries are native trees, and as a result, they are literally all over the place. Unfortunately for the safety and peace of foragers this does occasionally mean, beside the busy roads that criss-cross our allegedly tranquil landscape.
April Showers
But what really constitutes a native tree?
Apple trees and orchards are a part of English heritage but they were actually introduced by the Romans! Before that we only had crab apples, and I don’t know how that would have inspired Newton, or indeed changed the legend of William Tell. Yet, if someone were to suggest that we ought to get rid of all our alien apple trees, I would be most upset and consider it an act of arboreal Apartheid (no offence intended to my S. African friends) or Fruiticide perhaps.
(British) Bluebells - Lurking, Suspiciously - Somewhere Near You
On the other hand, I am all for reintroducing species that have been hunted into extinction. I think a few wild boar, wolves and bears would make a picnic more interesting and a walk in the woods or camping far more exciting!
This Spring I have heard a lot about the veritable armada of Spanish Bluebells, which are apparently invading our countryside – they are described as less delicate and less pretty than our native ones, other than they are not quite as good in some vaguely brutish way...
(Spanish) White Bluebells Coming over Here, Stealing Our Woods?
In the end, I think that invasive or alien species, as they are termed, are generally no more harmful than slang or txt language. It annoys the pedants, but that is never a bad thing.  Nature, as with language, is in a constant state of flux and change, things do get naturalised. It is fruitless to try to control nature; even gardens need ramshackle areas, left to be wild.
What Time Is It? Springtime!
If you really want a very flat, sterile, bland, moss and mole free lawn with no variation, weeds, animals or anomalies – then go and play golf, but I don’t think that is natural either.

My sister pointed me to this link about recent scientific proof that my theories are correct (I always suspected as much) a month or two after my writing this post...

Monday, 18 April 2011


So, what’s the point of all this?
Haven’t I got more important things to do?
Time’s precious enough as it is!
Taken by my friend Gary in his back garden
Sure, time is precious, so I spend as much time as possible doing stuff I love, like climbing trees with my kids. I love it, they love it. Just connecting with nature, making sure they know stuff like fruit grows on trees!

Pussy Willow - you can't eat this but it looks great!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I write this on a computer and use the internet to reach you. I record all the fruit trees that I spot on a Google map and you can call me on my mobile phone, but I also have an idea what time high tide is tomorrow - and I know that plum blossom tastes like marzipan.
More from Gary's nice garden
In the same way, it does not matter much to me if the Earth orbits the Sun or the Sun orbits the Earth as long as Day follows Night follows Day and Autumn follows Summer, follows Spring, follows Winter….
Blackthorn gives us very pretty flowers and then Sloes for Sloe Gin
I'm not a big fan of supermarkets, even though I use them occasionally. They don’t have seasons, or souls or any mystery, only promotions. There’s no sense of wonder in unwrapping the cellophane from a pepper, even if it was picked last week by a peasant in Morocco. Lazy marketing is becoming more ubiquitous, and it is not benign.

When the gift becomes an afterthought, the person you give it to becomes someone you have not considered properly. We should make our cards, not buy them in the petrol station on the way home. Granted, I’d take a diamond encrusted Rolex over a biscuit, but you know what I mean.
A lovely Mother's Day painting by Gary's friend
A tree full of apples takes a year to grow and ripen, and when you have watched, and waited for it – you sure as hell will savour them. I love giving food as a gift and even better being given it as a gift. Last year I gave my friend Jill some pears when she visited, and this year she gave me a pot of pear jelly made from them – it was sweet, sticky and didn’t last long!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White

Today was another day not to be stuck in the office, so I made the most of my short sleeved shirt and camera during my lunch break.
I have been waiting for one of the cherry trees just outside to bloom fully, mainly because it looks pink and frilly, and I had the Modern Romance song, stuck firmly in my head.  I shot it in bright sunlight against the backdrop of an Industrial building. I’m not a great photographer but this jumped out when I got it home.

Wow, I feel like a pro!
It looked equally stunning against the bright blue sky.

None to shabby either.
I was hoping to find some apple blossom peeping through; I wanted to photograph some for a section on tree identification on the Urbane Forager website and had noticed the tiny pink buds last week. It was a fairly long walk but I figured I could make the round trip in the hour, even given a few dalliances.

Pink and Closed
I was not to be disappointed.

White When Open
I even located a gigantic new apple tree that I had never noticed before, next to a cherry (see Perez Prado / Mack David lyric below). Both were covered in full white blossom.
Blooming Heck!

While I was taking a close up of a flower, I spotted (ho ho) a tiny ladybird running in and out; I managed to photograph him eventually.

Almost too good to be true
On the walk back to work I noticed that the perfume of cherry trees actually does smell a bit like the fruit tastes. I also shot another frilly (but this time white) cherry, which looked rather nice illuminated from the back by the sun.

White and Frilly
Then sadly it was back to the grindstone.

Now though it is Friday evening, I am alone with a glass of red wine and the prospect of a sunny weekend reclines languidly ahead...

It's cherry pink and apple blossom white
When your true lover comes your way
It's cherry pink and apple blossom white
The poets say

The story goes that once a cherry tree
Beside an apple tree did grow
And there a boy once met his bride to be
Long long ago

The boy looked into her eyes, it was a sight to enthrall
The breezes joined in their sighs, the blossoms started to fall
And as they gently carressed, the lovers looked up to find
The branches of the two trees were intertwined

And that is why the poets always write
If there's a new moon bright above
It's cherry pink and apple blossom white
When you're in love

Thursday, 7 April 2011

It All Depends How You Look - Part Two

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!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Wasp Wars & Purple Wine Explosions

One of my earliest attempts at creating foragers wine involved wild damsons, and they turned out to be very wild indeed.
As young lads, we often used to play in the local woods, which involved a quick trip across the local railway branch line, fording the Monks Brook, walking through a cow field and hopping over a style - there was our place of boyhood adventure. There we built dens and tree houses, frightened pheasants with home-made spears, caught lizards, slow worms and grass snakes (we all now know that you should never do this) and fought wars with crab-apples and catapults.
A Lovely Grass Snake
Late one spring, we discovered the foundation ruins of a small building, we called it the Gravediggers cottage; it was probably just a couple of bricks left on the ground.  Next to it we found a damson tree bearing unripe fruit. We planned all kinds of ways to use this purple hoard once it had ripened; including, giving them to mum to make stuff out of, and inevitably… Damson wine of our own recipe.
As spring crept toward summer and we watched for signs of ripe fruit dropping, other, uninvited guests came to join the party, WASPS! The stripy blighters had deliberately built an underground nest, right beneath our tree.  To make matters worse, they were eating OUR damsons. 
Yellow Jackets at Four 'O' Clock!
 That's OK, we've got 2 hours then.
Despite the striped no-fly-exclusion-zone the insects established around OUR tree! The next day we declared war and visited teenage shock and awe upon the wasps, I think we all got stung at least once but we did manage to liberate our tree in the end.
The Damson wine did eventually get made and it cleared to a beautiful pinkish-purple hue, somewhat akin to methylated spirits. Fortunately, it tasted better than meths. I admit that it may have tasted sweeter due to our recent victory but it was sparkling too, fizzing with Champagne like bubbles. If only we had had the foresight to store it in Champagne bottles
Looks Explosive...
Luckily for all concerned the explosion occurred at night; glass shards embedded themselves in the plaster of the dining room walls and ceiling, and the mess was very messy. You live and hopefully, you learn from your mistakes but my interest in wine making did not stop with damsons; I went on to make others including ginger, elderberry, rice and even water wine. The latter was purely to satisfy my curiosity and personal messianic complex, using only tap water, sugar, and yeast. Needless to say, it tasted quite vile and I never did manage that other thing with the loaves and fishes either.
I should point out that this terrible tale of anarchy, chaos and destruction occurred about 35 years ago, I am now older and wiser. We know, for instance, that wasps play an equally important part in the role of ecology as butterflies and we should not attack or kill them (even to protect a fruity purple hoard).
Summer Fruit Liqueur - Beware!
Now, back to the future and last year I made green walnut schnapps, which now tastes lovely despite looking like used engine oil. I also made a summer fruit liqueur, employing vodka, raspberries, blackberries and other foraged things - it is a beautiful red colour and is dangerously delicious...