Friday, 29 January 2016

Blossom Sequence Mnemonic Competition

Now, there's a post title I didn't imagine ever writing, but you will be pleased to hear that there is a good reason for it. When Spring arrives, we always use blossom in the trees to help us easily locate and identify fruit trees. We then check back later to look for signs of maturing fruit.

To help remember the sequence that fruit trees bloom in we designed an acronym PBCAP (Plum, Blackthorn, Cherry, Apple, and Pear) Plum normally flowers around March (I have seen Plum blossom in January this year), the others follow in quick succession. The fruit of the Blackthorn is the Sloe so the B could be replaced with an S.
We remember this by using a mnemonic Perceived Blossom Calculates Abundant Produce but this is unwieldy. If you can think of a better one, send it in or write your comments below, the composer of the best will be duly announced and the lucky winner will receive a free copy of our beautiful book, the Urbane Forager: Fruit and Nuts for Free.
As a footnote I will remind readers that a mnemonic does not need to have anything to do with the subject matter, it only needs to be memorable. Richard Of York Fought Battle In Vain is a popular example for recalling colours of the rainbow or Naughty Elephants Spray Water for children learning the compass. So we could have Panthers Black Creep And Pounce or whatever

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Ice and Ancient Royalty

It had been raining hard, now it was freezing cold and the wind was howling, but a wise person once said that “there’s no such thing as Bad Weather, only inappropriate clothing!” With this in mind we layered up our clothing, got out our boots, waterproof jackets and trousers, located our hats and gloves and zipped out to the rain soaked bog that used to be the New Forest.
I always have a look at an Ordinance Survey map before we go for a walk. I normally try to find places along the route with quirky names, to amuse the children. My daughter once commented that I always take them to places named after the Devil, Hell or other gruesome things.* This is largely true but it’s not because I worship the Devil (I don’t).
On this little trip I  managed to find Deadman’s Hill, Claypits Bottom, Burnt Balls and the Butts (which did indeed made the kids laugh). I wanted to explore Studely Castle, the site of a royal hunting lodge. There are quite a few sites like this in the New Forest and they always seem to be in good locations - fit for a king, I guess. We did find the remains of the embankments and it commanded a great view. The children were duly pleased to know that kings had once tramped through the same sodden swamp that we had.
Once we got out of the woods the kids delighted in finding large sheets of ice, picking them out of puddles, then hurling them headlong to shatter, sending shimmering shards of ice, skittering across frozen water. Very entertaining! Their waterproof gloves were being sorely tested but it kept everyone happy and motivated to move on in the hunt for ice.
We only went as far as the Butts (a tumulus actually) before we felt the need for food and warmth, and started to think about heading home. Around here we found a nice frozen pond, which looked perilously dark and bottomless. We had to restrain the children from wading in too deep but it made a good full-stop for final ice smashing activities, before turning back along the boggy quagmire that was our path.

*As I explained to my daughter, this is due to the old Christian habit of renaming ancient pre-christian places of burial, worship or habitation as wicked or evil. Knowlton Henge is a classic example. Many churches were built on top of, or on the site of prehistoric antiquities, in an attempt to usurp the existing religious association. Twyford Church near Shawford was apparently built on top of a Stone Circle - and a Sarsen stone can still be found in the lane that leads up to it.  The Hell Stone is a Neolithic burial chamber and the Devil’s Coits is another Stone Circle.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

11¾ things to do before you're 50

This blog tends to focus on family activities, but that's because we have children. Obviously, there's no reason why singletons and couples cannot enjoy all the things we do too. Every now and then I think, why should the kids have all the fun? What about the hard working adults? Clearly, they deserve to enjoy themselves too.
With this in mind, I thought I would publish the Urbane Forager's guide to the 11¾ things to do before you're 50! Needless to say, you can still do them if you are older than 50.
For any children reading this, the before you're 50 bit means that you can help your parent's in the identification, mapping, picking and preparation of these various concoctions, the alchemy of fermentation is a fascinating science lesson. However, you should not try drinking alcohol until you are old enough; you would most likely think it tasted horrible anyway.
1. Notice the first blossom of the year in the hedgerows, this will be the Blackthorn (Sloes) and Plum trees, remember where it is and add the locations to the Falling Fruit map. Check back later to pick the fruit. Plums ripen around June/July but you will need to be much more patient with the Sloes.
2. Make Elderflower Champagne, cordial is a big favourite for the children too. The Elder bushes herald the onset of Summer around May/June, depending on global warming. Remember to use pressure-safe bottles! Also, remember where the bushes are and return later in the Summer for Elderberries.
3. Pick and eat Cherries straight off a tree. What could be better? Spot the Cherry blossom when it arrives after the Plum and Blackthorn, record the location on the Falling Fruit map. Cherries will be the first fruit to ripen in the UK and you will need to be quick because the birds like them too!

4. Observe Apple and Pear blossom while the Cherry blossom is turning into immature fruit. Note the locations on the Falling fruit map (can you detect a theme building here?). Nothing beats climbing up and picking Apples fresh from the trees; they obviously make the most delicious and healthy snacks and will keep for months. You can also press the apples into  the best tasting juice or turn it into gallons of cider for virtually no cost whatsoever.
5. Have a competition to see who can pick the most Blackberries. Blackberries grow almost everywhere but it's nice to get out of the city if you can. Everyone can stuff there juice smeared faces with fabulous fruit and when you return you can freeze the remainder or use them to make fantastic vodka and gin based liquors, fabulous to break out later on after a Summer BBQ.

6. Find a Mulberry tree, if you cannot find one, plant one. I try not to tell anyone where my favourite Mulberry trees are; it's good to keep some tree locations secret. The kids go crazy over this sweet sticky fruit and I always Mulberry Gin (can you see another theme developing) along with various puddings. I still have some in the freezer...

7. Make Elderberry wine. The berries will be abundant around August and making this archaic and intoxicating brew is a very simple and satisfying process; you can watch it bubbling away and then save it until it matures. I always use some to make bottles Mulled wine around Christmas, always a good thing to take to parties, along with the mince pies.
8. Find a Walnut tree; there's bound to be some somewhere in your vicinity. Walnuts ripen along with Hazelnuts around September but you can pick exotic smelling Green Walnuts earlier (in June) if you want to try pickling, making Schnapps or Vin de Noix.

9. Gather a great load of big, fat Chestnuts and roast them over a fire, we use a BBQ or chimenia because of our small garden. It's a great way to warm up and celebrate Autumn. Also roast Chestnuts make an ideal accompaniment to fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night. Don't forget to prick them first!

10. Make Sloe Gin. A very simple process, resulting in a fantastically plummy tasting liquor that is just the ticket for those chilly, dark Winter nights and also make the perfect Christmas gift for family and friends.
11. Bring the love into your house! Find and cut a big bunch of Mistletoe. Actually, it is easy to find and more complicated/dangerous to collect but with a little ingenuity and improvisation it is possible. Your loved ones will hopefully be delighted and you can give some to friends and neighbours too.

¾. Upcycle the left-over gin-soaked Sloes that you used to make your Sloe gin (10) use some to spice up your Mulled Elderberry (7) wine or to include in your home-made Christmas Plum (1) pudding.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Battered Britain

For the last two months the UK has been overcast, extremely windy and very, very wet. It was officially the wettest, warmest December ever. We have hardly glimpsed the sun and yet it has still been unseasonably warm (the last time I said that we had snow the following week). The North and West has undoubtedly had the worst of the weather but floods and damage have been widespread.
However, a wise person once said, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” So, we have still been out exploring, wrapped up in waterproofs and Wellington-boots. I have been even been gathering apples in January (!) I found them on the ground beneath a tree but they were still quite edible.
Charmouth, The Dark Area is the Landslip
We visited Devon during the Xmas break and witnessed some spectacular seas as they battered the South. Fossil hunters were out in force along the Jurassic coast, where storms have been causing massive landslides. A huge section of cliff collapsed across the beach, causing considerable danger but also bringing out new finds for the enthusiasts. I even filmed a miniature landslip in action.
Even sunny Southampton has had more than its share of storms, the wind at times has been ferocious and the rain torrential. Many local rivers have burst their banks and flooded the surrounding areas but thankfully the majority of the residential areas have been spared.
I'm not going to make any predictions about the signs of Spring, we haven't even seen any signs of Winter yet!