Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Yuletide Traditions

Another Yuletide is looming fast and the stormy weather has been perfectly suitable. We have been busy with all the normal preparations and arrangements. We cut our own Christmas tree from a local quagmire (nursery) and this has been a fun, and inevitably muddy, tradition in our family for years. Then we spent about 2 days in the loft hunting for the lights, which were actually buried, deep in my son's bedroom.
Venus has been shining brightly in the East each morning. I'm far from superstitious, but I'm sure that this will be bringing love into our homes. Although, just in case, we did also pop out and harvest a big carrier bagful of mistletoe, to hang around the house. This also always makes a welcome gift to friend and neighbours.
I have also been siphoning & bottling this season's cider, and I'm pleased to report that it is tasting mighty fine already, and will only improve with time.  We are looking forward to adding some spices and mulling several bottles, to take to parties.
We also have 2 gallons of fine rose wine to bottle, this is the produce of our grape growing escapades this year. Obviously, this needs more time to mature but all the signs are good and I have high hopes for it being drinkable!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Sweet Chestnutting

As Autumn progresses, the storms start to blow in, and when the wind comes from the North, we begin to feel the cold again. We have picked most of our allotment goodies now,  the grapes have been pressed and the juice is now fermenting vigorously. 
The wind also brings exciting new things down from the trees for us to eat. Sweet Chestnuts are falling now, and you'll need to be swift to beat the squirrels
We squeeze the nuts out of their spiky husks, with our feet and collect the biggest ones to take home.
There are all sorts of things you can bake and cook using Sweet Chestnuts but we prefer to simply roast them over a fire or BBQ. On a chilly Autumnal evening, there is little that I enjoy more than sitting in the garden, watching for bats, while nibbling hot Chestnuts.
We had a lovely Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard. The fruit was plentiful, as was the juice. The sun did come out, we met new friends and caught up with some old ones too.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Harvest Moon

The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is once again upon us. A baleful harvest moon illuminated the evenings of the equinox weekend, and the traditional Autumnal storms came billowing in from the Atlantic. None of this prevented us from breaking out the Apple pressing kit. 
We had been harvesting loads of Apples and on the Saturday, we set about pressing them into 35 litres of juice; I filled my demijohns, and several gallons are now merrily bubbling away, tuning into cider. The remaining juice was pasteurised and bottled up, ready for the forthcoming year.
We also collected enough Pears for me to produce my essential annual stock of Chunky Pear and Walnut Chutney. We still had Walnuts and Hazel nuts left over from last year, and fresh ones are falling already, early, like so many other things this year.

It turns out that the 2018 weather was perfect for vineyards and it promises to be a special vintage - we harvested our own grapes from our allotment and produced several gallons of tangy juice, most of which will be fermented into a new rose wine, Chateau Vin du Witts Hill, perhaps.
Sweet Chestnuts also look like they will be falling soon, we will be out gathering, and competing for the largest, fattest fruits to bring home and roasting them on our fire as the cooler, darker evenings draw in.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Autumn Arrives

This year we have seen one of the longest and hottest Summers on record, but now, finally Autumn is upon us. We are having cooler mornings with dew on the grass, the wind is whipping up and the long awaited rain is arriving, cheering allotmenteers, gardeners and ducks alike.
We have been busy hunting down Hazlenuts, Apples and Pears, in all our familiar and favourite locations. 
It seems that all the lovely snow, bought to us here earlier this year via the Beast from the East, must have affected the pollinators and blossom of the trees because the fruit count is relatively low.

This massive and sustained Spring storm, followed by the long hot dry Summer may have caused the trees to change their normal patterns. Many trees also appear to have smaller than normal fruit that is ripening and dropping earlier than I would have expected.
I'm quite sure that there will be some trees that have managed to overcome the trials of the weather, but a cursory glance around our normal haunts shows a distinctly diminished harvest.
Having said this, we do know where a lot of trees are locally, over time we have located and monitored hundreds. As a result we are still managing to gather enough apples to store for the winter, press for juice and to create a good stock of cider.

Monday, 16 July 2018


The sizzling Summer in the UK has parched parks and over-mown lawns to a hay-like shade of beige. We have been struggling to prevent our allotment turning into a dessert. If we had more time, this would not be a problem, but we often find it difficult to visit more than once per week.
Our Blackberries are finally ripening along with summer Raspberries, Loganberries, Blueberries and Blackcurrants (yuk!) and they are abundant. 
Picking Blackberries this year is going to be so easy and unsurprisingly, a lot of fruit seems to be arriving early. Even Hazelnuts seem to be arriving sooner than they normally would and they seem to be very plentiful too.
This weekend we got on our bikes and visited our favourite Mulberry tree, which we would not normally expect to be ready yet, but sure enough, we found many sweet, juicy, red/black fruits awaiting us. 
That evening the children made the most delicious fruit salad, with Mellon, Raspberries, Strawberries, Mulberries and Blackberries (Topped off with vanilla Ice cream) just perfect for a sweltering hot summer evening.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Cherry, Honeysuckle, & Too Much Fizz

We have been out gathering big, juicy, beautiful Cherries. The ones in the picture above are not yet ripe, they will turn dark red and almost black when they are sweetest and ready to harvest. However, if you want to be sure of beating the birds, you might want to pick them when they are dark red and ripen them in the safety of your windowsill. 
Apparently there is a different sort of Carbon Dioxide crisis now. This one due to a shortage not an excess. Well I can tell you that we have more than enough for now. I have been venting off my  supercharged Elderflower Champage. Normally I can manage this safely, but just occasionally, I fail to re-clip the stopper quickly enough -  with some entertaining results.
I have also been out collecting Honeysuckle, to help with flavouring the latest batch of Unity brewing Co. seasonal ale. My kids love these flowers and suck the nectar out of the backs.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Elder Flower & Other Forage

Summer finally seems to have arrived. The hedgerows are heady with the smell of Elderflower and we have been busy bottling our cordial and champagne.
Elder Flower
We also collected a load for the Unity Brewing Co, to flavour their, Été  Summer Saison range
Elder Flower
This year, I have also been investigating some other, non fruit, forage. Expanding my knowledge base has been a good thing to work on during the Spring.
Jack by the Hedge 
Jack by the Hedge is one of my favourite plants to nibble on while out walking. Its leaves have a lovely peppery taste, perfect for pepping up a salad, and is actually related to mustard. When they ripen, the seeds explode out of the pods on touching.
Jack by the Hedge 
I have also identified Horseradish in the wild, which will add an exciting new dimension to our cooking and diet. The root of this plant is spicy enough to make your eyes water, as well as your mouth.
Leaves of Horseradish

Last year a friend wanted to obtain Angelica root, to help flavour some gin. Understanding this plant meant that I needed to investigate the Umbelliferous, carrot family (Apiaceae) further. 
Alexanders and Cow Parsley
This is very common hedgerow group is made up of many similar but subtly different plants. Alexanders, Ground Elder, Hog Weed and Cow Parsley can all add tasty dietary variations
Water Hemlock Dropwort
However, picking and consuming them, at all, is complicated by surprisingly common and lethally toxic Hemlock varieties. For this reason, it is best to learn to identify these plants by their various traits over a whole cycle of seasons, before picking them (using at least three id points), or eating any at all. The main thing that you understand by doing this, is how little you actually know. I was genuinely astonished at how common Hemlock was.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Ransom Capers

Although we are often looking out for blossom, as a way of identifying useful fruit trees at this time of year, the first thing we pick is Wild Garlic. Last year we were lucky enough to dine in the Riverford Field Kitchen and, amongst the other delights we were served tasty Wild Garlic Capers with our meal. 
Of course, we decided to have a go at making our own. First we picked plenty of fresh seed heads from Ransoms, in a damp valley of the ancient woods, close to where we live. Wild Garlic is the gift that keeps on giving, you can eat the leaves, then the flowers, then the seeds! 
A week or so before, I had a go at pickling Ransom and Wild Garlic flower buds, I had heard about this process before. I ate a fresh one, still in its sheath, after one of the children dared me. It was very tasty, so we will see what they are like pickled, later.
While picking our Ransom flower/seed heads, we also spotted a vast amount of Skunk Cabbage, which is a strange and interesting swamp loving plant. Apparently it was used by native american Indians for various herbal purposes and to eat, when food was scarce, we left it well alone.
To make the ransom capers, is quite a lengthy process. Initially, we separated the seed heads from the main stalks, then, after getting home we removed the individual seeds from the heads, each one packs a zingy garlic punch and that night, I put a handful into a home-made pasta sauce, as surprise taste bombs.
  1. The Capers initially need to be sealed into clean jars with plenty of salt layered amongst the seeds.
  2. After a period of about three weeks to a month - you can use a sieve to wash the salt away and then gently dry them on a towel.
  3. Once dried you can re-bottle the capers, immersed in vinegar, using small sterilised pickling jars. 
  4. Now you will need to wait for a further two to three months until they are ready to eat.
Who knows, they may make nice Christmas gifts for the more patient pickler.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

A Quick Quiz

I have decided to post a little quiz, to help keep all you readers tuned in, until the Elderflower arrives with the start of Summer.
A keen sense of observation is the main weapon in the foragers arsenal; so here are a couple of questions for anyone hungry for esoteric knowledge and hoping to find a good spot for future fruitfulness...

Take a good, long, careful look at the following two photos, does this look like a good spot for foraging?
Photo 1
 Is there anything here that might indicate forthcoming fruitfulness?
Photo 2
If you have looked and are still not sure what to search for, here's a clue... It's not always the foliage that tells the truth of the tale.

Spoiler Alert!

Look below for the answer...

Last year, in the moth of July, this pathway was over hung by a huge amount of delicious, multi coloured plums
There was such an abundance of fruit that one branch was bent so far that it eventually snapped under the weight, You can still see the sawn off branch, but this was not the answer to the question or the clue...
Many of these juicy fruits fell onto the pavement, where they were crushed by passers by, nobody cleared away the squashed fruit
The acidic fruit juice leaked all over the pathway and, over time, the surface of the tarmac has become bleached as a result of this continuous seasonal exposure. Now have a look back at the first two photographs and the markings will seem obvious.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Spring Blossom

Spring is definitely here now, and my lunchtime walks are filled with wonder. Everything seems to be happening at once. 
I spotted a lovely pair of kestrels, soaring above in the azure. I decided to take some photos to remember the day.
Blackthorn, spires blooming and towering skyward. Pretty but also prickly.
A delightful and very old ornamental Cherry blossoming by the roadside.
A healthy looking cluster of Plum blossom in a hedgerow.
Elder, buds breaking through already, getting ready to begin flowering any day soon.