Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Ruby Red Rosehips

Some people decry foraging as dangerous but we have a simple rule that prevents any risk: Only pick or eat things that you recognise and know to be safe. Obvious really and astonishing that any doubters cannot think of that too. However, even taking fundamental precautions cannot save you from getting stung by Nettles, stabbed by thorns or twisting your ankle by stepping down an unseen rabbit hole.
My seasonal collaboration with the Unity brewing Co, helping to create a range of Saison Ales, seems to have led me into dangerous territory, right from the start.

  • For the Spring beer - Primtemps we needed to pick Stinging Nettles!
  • Next we gathered Elderflowers for the Summer brew - Ete (no fear there).
  • For the Autumn we chose Juniper Berries for the Automne Ale and these are always painfully prickly to pick.
  • Finally, to complete our first year together, I am fighting my way with frost bitten fingers, through scythe-like thorns, as I harvest Rosehips or Haws for the Winter beer - Hiver.

At this time of year, Rosehips are the jewels of the hedgerows. They are know for being packed with Vitamin C - ideal for fighting off infection and boosting the immune system, which is just as well because my hands been punctured so many times collecting them that I might soon need a transfusion myself.
Rosehips can also be used for creating syrups, cordials, jellies and even tea. In fact the Dog Rose was apparently so named because people believed that its application could help you to recover from rabies, if bitten by a mad dog. Of course, all bad school children know that the inner contents of these ruby red haws, can also create some of the nastiest itching powder on the planet!
Tradition holds that you should gather Rosehips after the first frost, the same advice is often given for Sloes because the structure of the fruit is broken down by the freezing temperature. By coincidence, I started picking Haws during my lunch hour after the coldest night of the year, my fingers were frozen but they picked easily and smelled fruity, so the Hiver Ale should be super tasty.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Christmas is Coming, Apparently!

Christmas is coming, apparently. I'm sure nobody had noticed, so, hopefully this post will be a timely reminder... Don't forget to make a note on the 25th (December) on your calendar. You might, for instance, want to consider some kind of preparation in advance.
I have been busy creating Sloe Gin; Sloes seemed thin on the ground this year but fortunately I stashed a load in the freezer earlier on. With gin, it occurs to me that we gathered the Juniper Berries during the Summer, so no one can accuse me of not planning in advance.
I harvested some Green Walnuts in June and this was the beginning of my Vin de Noix, which is now bottled and ready for those cold Winter nights. I added some spices this year to make it even more seasonal.
During July my son and I gathered a bucket-load of Elderberries and then kickstarted my Elderberry wine. This is the perfect archaic, alchemical brew for spicing up into Mulled wine for friends and festive gatherings. Mulled Cider also always goes down well at parties, and this has all now been safely bottled and stored.
My favourite Chunky Pear & Walnut Chutney makes a nice home-made gift and my wife has now added a batch of Sweet Chilli Jam to our cupboard bound cannon.
All that remains now is to forage some Mistletoe and create some Xmas door wreaths. Hopefully the family will be kept so busy making and distributing things that they won't even notice that their are no presents under the tree yet... Actually, that reminds me, we need a Christmas tree!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Chestnut Cases

Sweet Chestnuts are beginning to drop now and we have been out to stuff our pockets full of the biggest, freshest, shiniest, auburn/brown ones we could find.
Roasted Chestnuts are the perfect antidote to the sad feeling we can experience, as the nights draw in. Conkers are nice to find too but they cannot be eaten. Autumn should be celebrated for its vibrant colour and tempestuous weather changes.
I like to roast my nuts over a fire, normally I set one on the barbecue, I let the flames lick at the Chestnuts and blacken the shells, this makes then much easier to peal and remove the pithy skin beneath.
We are also making use of other things that we have gathered and stored in one way of another. Chocolate & Hazelnut Pear Upside-down cake, bit of a mouthful but a damn tasty one! This was a new recipe that we tried and it has been proclaimed an absolute winner.
However, the best thing about the Autumn, as always at this beautiful time year, has to be grabbing handfuls of dry leaves - throwing them in the faces of your unaware pesky children - and running off...


Don't forget to put the Urbane Forager book on your Xmas present lists!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Get Outdoors

Well, the clocks have gone back, we have had our first frost, Halloween is upon us and the kids have been getting creative with pumpkins.
It has been half term and we have not rested on our laurels - We started off with a walk from Woodhenge to Stonehenge, which was a beautiful and peaceful way to approach the awesome world heritage monument. The whole place is a great deal improved since the car park and road were removed.
Another day we visited Brownsea Island in Poole harbour, something we had not done before but will definitely do again. We walked around the island and the red squirrels were superb;  we literally had to drag the kids away when it was time for the last boat home.
Later in the week, we had yet more apples to press into juice. Fortunately the weather was with us and we got busy in the garden.

My daughter and I had harvested 110 Kgs from a friend's trees, the Sunday before and we  managed to fill about 40 more bottles with the golden nectar to store for use throughout the year.

Finally, we capped off the weeks exertions with a trip from Studland Bay to Old Harry rocks, by kayak, with St Deny's Sailing and Rowing Club (a very fine institution). It was a bit windy and quite a long journey but it was exhilarating.

I probably need a bit of a rest now but with kids about, I doubt I will get one any time soon!
Don't forget to put the Urbane Forager book on your Xmas present lists!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Bite Sized Beauties

My son reminded me that we had not yet visited the Mayor's Pear tree on Peartree Green this year. So we zipped on up there and, sure enough, the small tree was loaded with ripe fruit.
These are some form of Asian Pear, we love them and visit each year. We reached up and picked ourselves a bag full of these bite sized, pendulous treats.
My children call them "Snack Pears" - to small to be practical for cooking but  sweet, crunchy and juicy. Last year we harvested several kilos and I made a gallon of delicious perry.
The house is now well stocked, with enough to last us through half term. Although, we may pop back to re-stock before the season is over, if our supplies are consumed too quickly.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Mansbridge Apple Day 2017 Community Orchard

As we waited patiently to see what the weather would do, on our Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard, my daughter and I baked a scrumptious seasonal Apple Cake to take along. 
We did eventually set the start time back a couple of hours, to dodge the rain and this did catch a couple of people out but fortunately, they all came back later and stayed on until the end of the day. 
Despite the grey skies, damp ground and dripping trees, we had a good turn out, with lots of new, local children joining in. The trees were filled with fruit, as they always are and teams of pickers were shuttling back and forth between the trees and the tables.
At the Southampton Woodcraft Folk base camp, apples were being enthusiastically sliced, diced and chopped up into smaller segments, which were then tipped into the scratting mills, pulped down and tipped into the various cider press baskets.
Then the press screws were turned down and the tastiest golden nectar began to flow by the gallon. People were dodging between the presses filling bottles, various containers or cups and glugging back the delicious apple juice. 
Altogether it was a very successful and fun day for everyone concerned; some people even found time to gather some walnuts from the massive tree nearby (I collected five kilos, in twenty minutes, the day before). 
According to some sources, it was said that in the 'golden age,' when men lived upon acorns the gods lived upon Walnuts, hence the name of Juglans, or Jupiter's nuts.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Walnuts & Wooden Rain

Who can identify all of the tasty-looking Autumnal treats on the above tray? This is a selection of the items that I took along for my recent talk to the Highfield Women's Institute and, between them, they were able to identify all.
We have been focusing on gathering Walnuts recently, the green hulls have been splitting open and ejecting the nuts, like a delightful wooden rain. The children and I cycle about the neighbourhood harvesting them.
We can gather a surprising amount and add them to our bursting hazelnut hoard. The nuts will keep for a good few months if kept well ventilated and dry and we make all kinds of delicious things from them throughout the Winter/Spring months.
I have also recently gathered my first Chestnuts of the year, from an early shedding tree, near where I work. It is not really time for them to fall yet but seasonal variations are always to be expected.
My Cider has begun fermenting, it seems to be getting pretty over-enthusiastic and erupting through the bubblers in curious volcanic-looking sculptures in the kitchen.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Blackberry & Apple Crumble Season

Autumn seems to have arrived and with it (in our household) the traditional rush to harvest a good crop of local apples to be put to various good uses throughout the forthcoming year.
Some apples seemed to ripening early this season but others seemed to be quite small for the time of year. Our policy has been to pick the biggest ones and leave any runty remainders, to see whether they fatten up at all after the September rain.
My initial priority is always to fill the apple store in my shed with my favourites, beautiful unblemished fruit that will keep us in apples until march next year.
Of course, we always look forward to a regular sequence of, delicious Blackberry and Apple crumbles too.
After the shed store is filled, it comes down to - more a matter of quantity than quality. We are looking for a good weight of various types of apples to smash and crush down into about 50 litres of the tastiest juice and scrumptious cider.
In our first week this September, we collected well over 150 Kgs of fresh free fruit. By the time you read this, it will be around 200 Kgs.
People who see me as some kind of an expert in the field, frequently ask me if I am able to identify all the different types of apples. Well, the truth in my eyes is that that this process is more easily accomplished than they seem to think. 
My daughter is the official Apple Tester. She takes a bite - if her face lights up with a smile, it is an delicious eater - if she pulls a sour face, it is for cooking... Simple!
Important Diary Dates

  • I will be giving a talk to Highfield Women's Institute, about the Urbane Forager project on Monday September 25th.
  • 2017 Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard is initially programmed for Sunday 1st October. Keep an eye on this blog or on our social media for updates/changes. Dates can be subject to change at short notice, according to local weather conditions.