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.