Friday 30 September 2011

Never Trust A Golden Delicious

A couple of lovely poems on the subject of apples donated to the Urbane Forager by Shaun Keaveny and Murray Lachlan Young of BBC Radio 6 and prepared by Jack Howson.

Click on the picture of the apples and then download the file to your computer - I'll try to find a better way of embedding these little gems as soon as I can.

A Selection of Honest Apples from the Lost Orchard of Mansbridge
Thanks for making me smile boys.

If you are a mover or a shaker - please visit the new Campaign Page and get involved in the Campaign for a Community Orchard in Mansbridge.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Picknik # 3

St. Mary's Church -  Perfect Location For A Picknik
After the last Picknik's cut-down catastrophy, I was a little concerned that these enjoyable family events might lose some of their momentum but my doubts were unfounded.

Lots Of  Interesting Places

On our arrival we were promptly informed that the variety found here were named the Devils Apples, presumably due to their flame-red skin and flesh (well - let’s hope that’s the reason anyway).

And Here Is The Tree

St Mary’s church is the perfect location for weddings, praying or Apple Pickniks. It is a beautiful quiet, wooded spot out of the hubbub and traffic. My friend Diane had led us to this spot and we had the vicars blessing too; especially as naughty children had been abusing the lovely old church with fruit based projectiles.

Lovely Red Apples

We had a very good turn out with lots of small children running around the churchyard and hiding behind gravestones and bushes.
It's An Initiative Test
There was a nice cherry tree in the yard too and I even spotted a solitary pear on a small tree.
The Pear - I Picked It, Of Course
The buckets, bags and baskets gradually filled up amidst the friendly chatter and the crunching of apples being consumed; they were very sweet and quite ripe, so we must remember to come earlier next time.
This Might Just Work
Then, as we all trooped off down the lane to pick blackberries and check out the sloes we spotted some more apple trees, very much overgrown in the bushes.
That's A Cherry Tree Too
I decided to pop back for my picker and on my way spotted several more in the vicinity.
The Red Devil's at St. Mary's (ho ho!)
I picked a few samples from each tree and photographed them to document the evidence.
I do believe that we may have unearthed the Lost Orchard of Mansbridge and I will be reporting further on these findings in due course...

Monday 26 September 2011

Apple Attack

The autumnal equinox passed last week and for anyone harvesting apples this means that you are going to be busy. There was to be no exception for the Urbane Foraging family, not least because I wanted to stock up my apple store, arrange an Apple Picknik and pick and press enough apples to fill my second 5 Gallon barrel with cider.
I knew it was going to be very, very busy.

Half an Hour on the Little Common
To add to the logistical problems, the girl needed ballet classes and to be taken to a friend’s birthday party, the boy had to go to swimming lessons, Grandma was coming for lunch, I had promised to take the Head Chef out for a meal and we had all the normal weekend chores to perform.

Half an Hour on Woolston Foreshore

I did phone around to see if I could garner any support for the cider pressing but inevitably, everyone else was very busy too.

What am I Going to do With All This Fruit?

Call me crazy but when I set myself a target (even an optimistic one), I always try to attain it. So, with this in mind, my weekend actually started on Friday lunchtime; I borrowed the car and took my fruit picker to work.

Put Some In The Apple Store

During my lunch hour I gathered enough apples (from the Lost Orchard of Hedge End) to stock up my store and still had half a bucket load left over (about 10 Kgs) to supplement my cider making efforts.

Green/Yellow Apples from Hedge End

On Saturday morning, while my daughter danced, my son and I gathered a bucketload of apples from the big tree on Southampton Little Common. There is still a Huge amount of fruit left on this fabulous old tree.

Red/Yellow Knobbly Apples from Hedge End

Then, while my son swam, my daughter and I cropped another load from a lovely little tree covered in crunchy, deep-red eaters, from the foreshore near Woolston.

Red/Green Apples from Hedge End

Both of these were manic picking sessions, with only about half an hour to spare each time but together they produced about 40 Kgs – I estimated that we would need about 60 Kgs to make 5 Gallons of juice.

Green Apples from Hedge End

Saturday PM was the Apple Picknik # 3 - this will be reported separately here but I can say that we all had a great time and I took home over 10 Kgs, so I was still on target.

Red/Yellow Apples from Hedge End

During the Picknik, I also discovered the Lost Orchard of Mansbridge, which is another interesting story for the future.

Russety Apples from Hedge End

Saturday evening we went out for a well-deserved relaxing meal. By the time we walked home I realised how tired (and happy) I was from all my exertions and I slept very well.

Crunchy Red Eaters from Woolston

Walnut Wrangling

Folowers of the Urbane Forager keep saying to me things like,
“Apples/Pears, yada, yada, yada! When are you going to take us walnut picking?”
I’m paraphrasing of course but you get the gist.

Walnuts are very healthy to eat and according to nutritional scientists, they are the king of antioxidant supplying food stuffs. They can be used in a myriad of recipes (including a forager’s family favourite - Chocolate Brownies). In the Middle-Ages, Europeans believed walnuts would prevent illnesses, witchery, malevolence, and even ward off lightning.
It Is A Very Big Walnut Tree
My daughter and I zoomed over to our favourite tree, to check out the seasonal scene and YES, the walnuts were ripe, at last they are dropping! This is a huge tree, bang in the middle of town and you will always get competition from the local children when picking walnuts; there were plenty of sticks on the ground which had been previously used to throw up. Last year we collected about 16Kgs of walnuts in two quick trips to this tree.
Fill Your Boots - Well OK, Hat Then
We bagged a quick basket-full but there are still piles more up there just waiting to ripen or for a good wind to give them a good shake-down.
Ripe Walnuts
The big tree is not on my map at the moment J but some other walnut trees are. This one is in the middle of a residential area – so probably not good for a big gang to descend upon. There are many other walnut trees about the place, you need to be able to recognise their distinctive leaf pattern (a bit similar to ash) and then keep your eyes open to locate them, unless you notice the crunching of shells underfoot. I have seen them in Chandlers Ford and of course in Walnut Avenue in Swaythling.
Walnuts and Plenty of Them
However, if anyone is interested in a Walnut Picknik– I think I know the perfect venue. I need to check first but sign up here if you wish to enlist – be warned though it will require a steep walk up a grassy Iron Age hillfort...

Green Tomato Chutney

The Head Chef decided to make Green Tomato Chutney with the unripe produce from the mini vegetable patch in our garden. Combined with apples we had picked, onions, raisins, a bunch of spices and the inevitable vinegar.
Ready, Steady, Chop!
After a mountain of pealing and chopping I got the opportunity to take some lovely, crisp, in-pot photos.


Soon the whole house smelled of boiling vinegar.

Stirred Not Shaken

Then it’s into the sterilised jars.
Finally the best label competition followed by waiting for a couple of months for the chutney to mature.
Oh, It's So Hard To Judge
Guess what all my family will be getting for presents this Xmas…

Yahoo Chutney,Thanks Santa...

Tuesday 20 September 2011


Furry Tentacles
You may have noticed recently, the wonderful, furry, tentacle like flowers adorning Sweet Chestnut trees in the summer.
A Compact Chestnut Tree Flowering In July
They have now turned into the familiar spiky nut cases, although they will not be ripe for a month or so yet.
Scientifically Proven to be One of The Most Prickly Things Known To Man
While we are on the subject of Nutcases...
I found this following little nugget on the internet regarding the "homoeopathic uses" for the flowers of the Sweet Chestnut…
“The flower essence
Sweet chestnut is the remedy for those who feel so stressed, even tortured, that they have reached the limits of their endurance and feel in a state of utter despair. The mind and the body are completely exhausted from uncomplainingly fighting difficulties, cither mental or physical, until a sense of hopeless­ness and complete darkness sets in. In this ‘dark night of the soul’ sufferers may come face to face with themselves and this may prove the catalyst for entering a new stage in life.
The intensity of suffering may push us on to the threshold of inner transformation, and to another level of consciousness. Sweet chestnut helps during such crises in our lives; it enhances the process of transformation that is possible in such a state of despair and helps to prevent us from simply going to pieces and deriving little or no benefit from the experience.”
Why, Thank you - Internet, for supplying us with such appalling English and so much drivel…
We All Know What We Do With These...
You will be pleased to hear that the Urbane Forager will be avoiding this kind of gibberish; and when they duly arrive around October, we will be roasting our chestnuts over an open fire in the traditional way.
That's Better!
Don't Forget To Slit Them First Though
Incidentally, did you know that the Greeks, apparently, call chestnuts Zeus’s Acorns?

Picknik Aborted Due To Fruiticide!

In my guise, as the Urbane Forager, I organise free local fruit picking group activities. I was looking forward to an event aimed at picking an abundant source of apples next to the big Asda roundabout in Chandlers Ford.
I gaffer-taped my fruit picker to my bike and cycled the few miles down to the previously arranged meeting point. On the way I checked out a walnut tree and there were a few down, so I quickly gathered them up.

Anyone For Jousting

When I arrived at the location I was puzzled because I could not see the huge apple tree, laden with fruit that I had spotted from the road the month before. I gazed about, to see if I had somehow been mistaken and found only a Crab Apple tree.

Too Small!

Then I noticed (what at first glance looked like) a lot of windfall apples on the ground… Then I saw masses, piles of apples all over the ground… Then, with a mounting sense of horror, I saw the freshly sawn STUMP!

The Naked Stump and Piles of Apples

Someone had cut down this lovely big apple tree in its moment of prime – full of glorious ripe apples. The piles of apples were now smashed and rotting on the ground; the buzzing of wasps was loud in my ears, or was that my indignation, my outrage...

What A Dreadful Waste!

The government tells us that we should eat our five a day.
They tell us to worry about national food security.
We are told we should not waste food.
I rang the Eastleigh borough council tree services department but they had no knowledge of any work being done here recently. I was shocked again, when they told me that a local woman had recently applied for a nearby apple tree to be cut down, because children had been throwing apples! This might be a reason for reprimanding/punishing children but is surely not a motive for cutting down mature fruit trees.

We Cannot Use These

I do understand that there might have been a good reason for cutting down the tree; if it had blown down in the recent wind, then we were simply unlucky with our timing but if it was cut down for other reasons, I would like to know why - and also why the apples were not harvested and put to good use first (I could have made gallons of cider out of them, for instance).
There is rarely a good reason for wasting this much food – there would have been several hundred kilograms off apples on this tree prior to its being felled.

Ruby Reds

On the positive side of things, I spotted several new trees on my journey home and checked out a lovely apple tree in Swathling, which my friend Diane had mentioned to me. It had delicious, juicy, ruby apples that had pinkish/red flesh when you bit them – Just like the apples at Fleming Park Sports Centre in Eastleigh.

Right Through!
I have got permission to pick them on Saturday afternoon, so I propose a Picknik around 2.00pm. Followers of the Urbane Forager will be notified of the location tomorrow.

Monday 19 September 2011

Apple Avalanche Leads To Cider Tsunami

All those lovely apples, which are hanging off the trees at this time of year, need to be picked over the next month and stored away in your sheds and outhouses. They will keep for several months if wrapped in newspaper or otherwise prevented from touching each other.

Uncle Lozzer - Chief Chopper

I’m fortunate enough to have an old Apple Store, which is a kind of skeleton chest of drawers. My son and I eat a lot of apples but we do not intend to be buying any from the shops this year; this year’s harvest should see us through to about March with any luck.
Chopped Apples Ready For Smashing

There are still lots of apple trees laden with ripe fruit though and if we do not use them, they will only go to waste. It makes perfect sense to crop now and make good use of fruit in any way we can; making cider out of apple juice preserves it very well and it is a very satisfying process…

Children Crushing The Pre-Chopped Fruit - Hard Work But Fun

It is also a very simple process but this does not mean that there is no hard work to be done; I had set an ambitious target of Five Gallons of Juice because that is the capacity of my barrels. So we needed to process about 50-60Kgs (3 builders bucketsful) of apples and that is an awful lot of chopping, smashing and pressing.

Actually, This Looks/Tastes More Interesting

Fortunately, I had the help of my two enthusiastic children, who enjoy smashing things anyway and love apple juice. Their Uncle Loz was on hand to lend essential extra muscle and to expertly wield the very sharp knife.

Darn Those Pesky Kids, I know I'm Going To Ache Tomorrow

After a fairly short while of pulping the apples, the children tired and became more interested in the cider press and the nectar running out of it. So I took over duties on the timber while Loz continued to chop the relentless supply of fruit.

The Juice Begins To Flow, Even Before Pressing

It is very exciting when the juice starts to flow and it tastes far better than anything you can get in the shops. But, when you see the first couple of centimetres at the bottom of the bucket, you begin to realise just how far you still have to go.

Pure Nectar!

Rain nearly stopped play halfway through, due to a sudden violent storm and the weather probably added a couple of centimetres to the mix and I think the drink will have to be called Thunder and Lightning Cider now .

Messy, Tasty, Hard-Work and Fun
I was exhausted by the time we reached our mark and aching from every muscle and sinew; I didn’t weigh that length of wood but I lifted it thousands of times. I still have another 5 Gallon barrel to fill, so next time we may just need to recruit an extra couple of able-bodied volunteers. Don't all rush at once...
The Turn of the Screw - Go-Girl, Put Your Back Into It

Here then, is the Urbane Forager’s Guide to the Cider Press…

·         Pick apples – a mixture of varieties is best to begin with.
·         Wash apples - bung a Campden tablet or two in the bucket first.
·         Chop apples – removing any bad bits (no need to peel or core).
·         Smash apples - into pulp using a piece of timber.
·         Press Pulp - into juice.
o   Add teaspoon of Pectinase (optional but helps clearing).
o   Kill natural yeast – add cider yeast (optional but less risky).
o   Add sugar (not required, unless you want to make alcohol content stronger).
·         Ferment juice in a covered bucket.
·         Transfer cider into a suitable barrel or bottle and allow to settle.
·         Drink!
o   Wassailing (you really should thank the trees that supplied your apples and it’s always provident to obey arcane wisdom and folklore where cider is concerned).

Take Cover and Make Sure Those Children Are Well Earthed