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.

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