Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Have a Cool Yule

The Dark Season Cometh
I hope everyone is prepared for the festive season. we have been wrapping gifts and posting cards. I think that the mythical white Christmas is highly unlikely as the weather has been unseasonably warm, misty and generally dreary.
I keep spotting leafless trees, still filled with apples but now we do not have the time to harvest them. Having said that, yesterday I managed to press another gallon of Apple juice out of some remaining fruit, while listening to the Saints play on the radio. 
The Apples and Pears had been laying about in my shed for a month or two and looked a little worse for wear but they were soon battered into submission. This  juice will be left to turn into cider, in order to replenish our four gallon stock that will no doubt be slightly diminished over the holiday.
We have also cracked into some of our frozen Mulberries; I wanted to make Mulberry gin and advised my daughter, who had a cold and nasty sore throat, to create a medicinal Mulberry cordial. When mixed with lemon juice and honey, this delicious tinctuer quickly soothed the pain and brought her smile back.
We have gathered Mistletoe to share with friends and neighbours and the kids have been building wreaths, one to decorate our front door and one for Grandma's. We gathered all the necessary foliage with a quick visit to Deepdene, our local wood. This consists of Hazel whips, to create the circular frame, Ivy to weave around and tie the hazel in, evergreen leaves woven in for texture and bulk and finally holly with berries for added colour.
We will be having a fire in our garden on the Winter Solstice, weather permitting. It would be fun to find a stone circle to visit. Stonehenge is quite close, as is Avebury but the thought of getting there for dawn and then going on to work, is enough to persuade me that a few extra hours in bed might be more beneficial. I'm mainly looking forward to a weeks worth of holiday, a smattering of parties and some nice walks with family and friends.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Pre-Peared for Winter

As any busy parent will testify, you cannot always find the time to do the things you enjoy, even at the weekend. However, after a big storm, my son's midday football match was cancelled due to pitch flooding and his bedroom had only just been re-plastered, so we could not paint that. So, we decided to get out for a short wet, chilly walk in the New Forest.
I was on the lookout for Sloes, which seem to be in short supply this year but we ended up yomping about in boggy heath-land. So I simply enjoyed photographing the astonishing pallet of colour and texture present in the  sodden landscape.
We also managed to get up to our allotment, which has been a little neglected recently. My son planted his own Apple pip in a pot about 7 years ago. This seed germinated, grew steadily from a tiny twig into a small stick and then, in 2013 we finally transferred it to our allotment, where it continued to develop, until it out grew my own 6' height. 
A Brilliant Bowl Barrow

Every time an Apple pip is planted and allowed to grow into a tree, it creates a completely novel variety, with a unique fruitThis Spring we were delighted when it flowered for the first time and, when it finally bore fruit, it was crisp and sweet. There was only a few apples but what a great reward for his enduring patience.
On our return home we were treated to a roast dinner followed by Pear Tart Tatin, freshly baked from our stash of delicious Pears, which do need consuming.
Earlier in the week I had utilised a load more by knocking up a double batch of Pear and Walnut chutney in readiness for those cold Winter nights. It took ages to reduce and the house smelled of vinegar for a while but I'm sure it will be worth it.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Autumn Arrives

Autumn has arrived and with it the normal flurry of fruit and nut based foraging activity. Recently we have been collecting Sweet Chestnuts and toasting them in an old syrup tin inside our garden fire. Perfect for those chilly evenings as the dark season approaches.

There are still plenty of delicious Apples in the trees and we have been out gathering extra stocks for Apple Bobbing and other All Hallows/Guy Fawkes based events and activities.
We have picked close to 300Kgs of Apples this year, a new family record but there are still lots of trees, filled with fruit, out there that we have not tapped into. Remember that the later Apples tend to be harder, more dense and these fruits will be better for keeping throughout the Winter. Our store is already over-flowing.
The colours of Autumn are always a pleasure to behold and this is a great time for a walk in the woods in order to fully appreciate the russet/red/gold spectrum that is waiting for us, out in the wilds.
Crab Apples are still available for collecting in their thousands, they can be red, yellow or green. There is of course a true bounty of wonderful preserves and drinks that can be made with Crab Apples.
Whilst we wonder at the mists and mellow fruitfulness of our Autumnal world, the leaves are turning to gold and falling, flickering from the darkening branches, spiralling down to the roots that poke through the ground like bones of the earth. 
Each yellow/brown leaf is a wonder in its-self and it is all too easy to miss this beauty. So, take the time to appreciate the detail. Pause your busy life. Go out for a wander (not a march), You do not need a car, you do not need a plan; even the city holds beauty in its roadsides and parks.
And don't forget those Apples! There are loads left and they are free for the taking. Check out the Falling Fruit map and zoom in to your area. This picture here was taken in the Makro Supermarket car park in late October and we have already had about 30 Kgs off this tree. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

the Feast of All Hallows

Over the past month, we have been so busy with Apples, Pears, Walnuts and Hazelnuts and everything else that I have hardly had time to update the blog. 
I have also been busy rehearsing reading the Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe for the Feast of All Hallows, a scary family event (mostly) taking place in and around haunted Rownhams House, in Southampton.
There will be Theatre (a short production of Mary Shelly and the Monster), Music (from some Shimmering Bees), a Pumpkin Parade, Food, Apple Bobbing, Roast Chestnuts, a Bar, a Disco and of course me, reading the Raven.
Enjoy the harvest season and celebrate Halloween/All Souls/All Saints/Samhain in whichever way suits you.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Many Apples of Mansbridge

As soon as October arrived, the temperature dropped. This is normal but this year it felt like someone had thrown a switch. However, when Apple Day @ Mansbridge Community Orchard came around, the sun was shining and the sky azure.
As soon as we had set up the equipment, the local children were asking what were we going to be doing. Once we had explained, they quickly recruited themselves into the communal effort.
The stages of this process are very simple...
  1. Picking, grab the apples, fill the bags and return to base.
  2. Slicing, chop the apples into segments and remove any really rotten parts.
  3. Scratting, milling the apple slices into a finer pulp
  4. Pressing, turning the screw on the cider press and watching the golden nectar flowing into the bucket.
  5. Drinking, glugging down cups full of  gorgeous Apple juice & filling containers to take home.
I even found time to scurry off and harvest a huge bag of Pears. We will combine these with some of the Walnuts we have collected to make Pear & Walnut chutney - unless they get used up making Pear Chocolate Upside-down Cake!

We have been holding seasonal Apple based community events for five years now and every year we have more fun and involve more people. 
Our message is simple; the fruit is out there, you simply need to locate it, pick it and process it (or eat it straight off the trees). It is not difficult, it is fun and anyone can do it.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Autumn + Apples + Friends = Fun

September and October are crazy season for many families, with the holidays over, children back to school and the Autumn creeping in to remind us that Winter is on the way. 

For Urbane Forager family this busy period is exacerbated by the fact that we have a huge amount of fruit and nuts to gather and process. It can be difficult to find the time, what with work, shortening days, the after school clubs etc. It can also be hard work; we have already picked and processed over 200 Kgs of apples for example, but it is always fun and it is all free.

We have had two afternoon sessions of pressing apples in the garden with friends and this year we were fortunate to have the loan of a weatherproof gazebo for the day. Once the brief but essential health and safety talk is over, the small army of juice-fuelled children takes over the process and, once they get going, they require only a minimum amount of supervision.

Over these two events, we managed to produce about 50 litres of the most gorgeous apple juice, some of which will be Pasteurised and bottled for drinking/keeping and some of which will become refreshing, golden cider, for consumption throughout the year.

Walnuts have also been falling and we have been collecting these too from our favourite trees. I will combine these nutritious nuts with delicious Pears, harvested from the Mansbridge Community Orchard, to make enough of Pear and Walnut Chutney to last the year.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Community Apple Day

Apple juice, straight from the press, is the best tasting treat of the Autumn (followed closely by Blackberry & Apple crumble). 
If you want to experience this wonder, get yourselves down to the Mansbridge Community Orchard Apple Day
This event will take place on the afternoon of 9th October 2016 from about 2:00 pm.  Bring some stout bags or buckets to collect fruit, and join in with the family-based fun, on 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, do wear robust clothing and footwear (wellies/hiking boots are de-rigeur).
N.B.This is an amateur/volunteer/community based event – as such everyone is responsible for their own health and safety and parents/guardians are accountable for their children.
Remember to order a copy of the Urbane Forager book (now also available for Kindle) as a Christmas gift for your friends and family.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Apple Experts

Around this time of year, it is not unusual to spot families picking blackberries from the hedgerows. Occasionally you may see someone collecting hazelnuts off the floor or from a tree; you might even see a person thrashing away with a stick at a wall of brambles or stinging nettles, attempting to improve access to a solitary apple tree.
But how can you tell when the apples on the tree will ripen?
You do get Summer Apples, they will ripen in late August, they tend to be softer, sweeter and can be eaten straight off the tree but they will not keep or cook well. We have picked a few in readiness for pressing into juice.
More common Autumnal Apples will ripen in late September or October. The simplest way to check them for ripeness is to cut an Apple in half and inspect the pips; if they are brown or black, the fruit is ripe, if they are white, green or yellow it is unripe.
Some apples will naturally fall from the tree prior to the bulk ripening, especially if it has been windy; this is quite normal and you can assist nature by picking off any under-developed, diseased or vaguely runty fruit. By doing this, you help the tree, by allowing it to put its valuable energy resources into the better quality fruit, which will fatten up as a result. Each tree will produce a certain weight of fruit – it can be fewer larger Apples or lots of smaller ones.
People do ask me how to identify Apple types and specific heritage varieties but to be frank; I leave this kind of thing to the “Experts” or pedants as I prefer to call them. Every time an Apple pip grows into a tree, it develops a completely new type of fruit, a totally new variety is born (How exciting!).  The original Granny Smith tree still lives and all other Granny Smith fruit is grown from cuttings grafted onto root-stock. Crab Apples are actually the only native UK Apples; the others were introduced by the Romans, along with a few other things!

To me the most important Apple questions are these…
Followed closely by…
If not…

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Juniper = Gin

The weather was sizzling on the August Bank Holiday and we wanted to go somewhere nice for a day out but any beach within easy reach would be clogged and the journey back in a hot car would clearly be a nightmare. We decided eventually to go for a walk and picnic at delightful Danebury Ring (an Iron Age hill-fort).
I bought a bucket to collect Elderberries and containers for Raspberries and Juniper berries, which I knew from previous experience existed here. As it turned out, there was not enough Elderberries available and the Raspberries were not ready either. I gave up on the original plan and continued my search for Juniper.
On my route around the embankments I heard a deep humming buzz, "Bees!" I thought... Sure enough, after tuning in my ears to the sound, I located a large beech tree with a bee's nest hidden behind a hole in the trunk. Hundreds of bees were busily buzzing in and out and all around the entrance. I crept up close, took a photo and then scurried off to continue my search.
Juniper berries are primary botanical in the manufacture of gin and they lend it the distinctive aroma and flavour. As I had recently struck up a relationship with award-winning local artisan distillery, Twisted Nose, I thought I would gather a few berries to take back for experimentation and comparative purposes.
The Juniper is a fascinating tree and Juniper groves always look slightly eerie; it is the only fir native to the UK and survives only on very specific soil types, which  happens to suit the ancient downs, in the South. I have seen it on several of the hill forts we frequent. The berries (which are actually miniature fir-cones) ripen in a three yearly sequence and you get ripe and unripe berries on the same tree. This, along with horribly spiky, needle-like leaves, makes collecting them in any quantity very difficult and painful.
Soon my fingers were throbbing painfully and I resorted to using my penknife to avoid further injury, there must be an easier way. However, the sun was still shining and the kids were off playing on a rope swing somewhere in the nearby trees, so I persevered. Eventually I collected enough berries to fill my small container and reported back to the picnic rug.