Friday, 24 June 2022

Red & Ready Summer Berries

Visiting my allotment I realised it was time to start harvesting my Summer berries. I started with the Raspberries, which always taste divine, straight off the plant.
Then I moved onto the tart little Redcurrants, which always add a bit of bite to the sweeter fruits in puddings and also help when making jam.
Then it was the Tayberries, as long as my thumb on occasions, and always a tad more risky to pick due to their fine thorns..
Finally my favourites, the lusty Loganberry, tasty sharp, sweet and large. The only drawback is that they can get over-ripe quite quickly.

I also picked some Blueberries because they were getting ripe, before returning triumphant with my large box of soft fruit, ready to be scoffed with ice cream or added to muesli for breakfast.
As I arrived home I realised that I also needed to begin harvesting my Cherries. On close inspection, I realised that something had been eating them before they were fully ripe...
I laid in wait to discover the culprit...


Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Reflections on the Fruity Constancy of Autumn

Normal is not a word that we will be using easily any time soon. The global pandemic has touched everyone probably, in numerous different ways. For me the biggest changes in the past two years have been, losing my elderly parents, and being made redundant after 15 years in one job. These two things were not directly linked to COVID-19, but they occurred during this period and added to my emotional stress levels. However, because of the pandemic, I did quickly find temporary employment, in a state of the art Coronavirus saliva testing laboratory, this was exciting, challenging, interesting and lasted for nearly a year. 
One aspect of my life that changed directly as a result of the virus was being unable to coach and train Wing Chun (Chinese kung fu), my hobby for over 30 years. I think the most significant thing that I missed was the social aspect of running a sports club. Being in frequent close proximity to people, who's company you enjoy and trust, while taking part in physical activity and learning, is tremendously beneficial to mental states and wellbeing. While we were unable to train together, I set up an online Qigong course to help people to reduce personal stress and control anxiety, while learning this solo art.
In many ways, being outside often, walking, observing nature and actively partaking in the seasonal changes, has been a consistent balm to my stress and anxiety levels during this difficult time and being aware of the ordinary changes, constantly reminds me that change is not only healthy but also is actually the only normal there can ever be.
Lots and Lots of Lovely Apples
Our children have now grown into teenagers, so their wants and needs are ever changing, but I'm pleased to say that they are still very happy to come apple picking with me in Autumn.
The Processing Begins with the Stainless Steel Spade

The kids and I along with my friend Andy picked about 300 Kgs of apples this Autumn, a really tasty haul. Lugging the heavy bags of colourful fruit up to the back of my garden, was quite enough exercise for one day.
The Delicious Juice begins to Pour
Then, one sunny weekend, Andy and I smashed, bashed, crushed and juiced the piles of apples and produced around 60 litres of delicious apple juice. It was a hard work,. but a nice (not to mention productive) way to spend the day. After our hard grafting we stored the juice in various buckets and jars in the garden shed, where it soon began to ferment into 60 litres of tasty cider. We aim to reduce this volume soon, it's taking up a lot of room in my shed!
Quite a Lot of Cider!
I also collected a good load of delicious yellow plums, which my daughter was more than happy to consume.

In November I started new employment, as a research technician at Southampton university. While wandering about during lunch hours, I kept an eye on the Medlar tree, situated near the Physics building, where I now work.
I have meddled with Medlars before, making wine and jelly but fancied something different this year. I gave a load to my friend Matt, who made nettle beer with me earlier in the year, and he produced a delightfully fruity Medlar Ale. I covered some Medlars with gin, in jars to supplement our Christmas Sloe Gin. We picked bags of Sloes during a much needed break on the Isle of Wight, and I can now testify that Medlar liquor is just as fruity as Sloe Gin, with a unique and distinctly different flavour and colour.

With my remaining Medlars, I produced Medlar fruit cheese or fruit leathers (as the recipe named them). Personally I don't think they bear any resemblance to cheese or leather, they are sweet, deliciously moist, very fruity, and they also keep remarkably well.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Foraging and Qigong Walks - National Park City Status

Autumn is always a busy time, and we have already harvested over 100 kgs of apples, that's around 40 litres of juice (quite enough cider for the year), but we will be picking a whole lot more soon. 
I recently lead two, very enjoyable, foraging walks around Southampton, one in Mansbridge and the other on Peartree Green targeting National Park City status for our lovely city. 
I will also be leading a morning, Walk with Qigong, for beginners, on Sunday 17th October, on Southampton Common.
Qigong (pronounced chi – gong) is a system of breathing, mindfulness and movement exercises that underlie many Chinese martial arts. It is similar to Tai Chi and has proven health benefits – it is enormously helpful to those in sedentary occupations, helping with posture and back strain, it is a fantastic method of stress and anxiety reduction, and has overall health benefits of improving cognitive skills such as concentration and attention, flexibility and balance.

We are fortunate to have many beautiful parks in our city. Practising Qigong outdoors enables us to mindfully connect with nature; spending time in green spaces is increasingly recognised as positive for wellbeing, and it also benefits eye health, particularly for those spending long hours looking at screens.
If interested, click on the link below for further details and to purchase a ticket. This is a funded event, so very reasonably priced.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Pandemic ll the 3rd Wave

 We Live in Interesting Times, Still!

We still take lots of lovely walks; the Devil's jumps' are a series of Bronze Age burial mounds, on the South Downs. They align with the setting sun at Midsummer (if it's not too cloudy). So, this was my Father's day walk/picnic.

However, simple fruity foraging trips are just as bountiful and popular as ever.

In the normal order of things we began collecting Elderflowers as soon as they arrived, the season tends to be short-lived, so we got out of the traps early, when the weather was suitable. I have made extra Elderflower Champagne this year (4 gallons), because we always run out. Two of these gallons are an experimental batch with an added tint of raspberries, which I think sounds very tasty. Only time will tell.

My friend Matthew also joined us picking Elderflowers too. Matt makes really good beer, and following my attempts last February, we collected a good crop of nettles and he produced a lovely strong & smoky ale. Next he wanted to try an Elderflower Ale.

It was a good year for cherries, and I gathered a good crop from my front garden tree. Small sparrows seem to have been pecking away under the nets, so I will need to adapt my protection next year.

At the allotment the summer raspberries have had an exceptional harvest, which made up for a poor show from my Loganberry and Tayberry bushes. The thornless Blackberry is going to be so impressive that I will soon need a bigger freezer.

I am looking forward to doing some work with the Scouts and other groups and  hoping to organise some public foraging trips, to promote the Southampton parks, in the late Summer or early Autumn. Who knows?, we may even be able to run our traditional Apple Day in October.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

2020 an Interesting Year

It has so far been a year like no other but I'm glad to say that some things have remained constant.

We had an unseasonably hot spring which, along with my nettle beer, helped me through lockdown. Fruit-wise, the warm spring gave us a great crop of soft fruits, from which, my daughter created some truly spectacular deserts to cheer us all up.
The summer period contiued to be hot and dry for long periods and this seems to have hampered some fruit trees due to lack or water. Many apple trees had ripe fruit a month or two before they would normally.
As part of our frequent walks, we got out to gather Mulberries and make yet more delicious things, I have added some more recently to my cider - I successfully did this last year, as an experiment, to great effect.
I also gathered enough Elderberries to make a gallon of port/wine, so perhaps I will be able to test its alleged antiviral properties, in a highly un scientific manner.
At the moment, it looks like our normal, public Apple Day event at Mansbridge Community Orchard, will not be able to proceed due to government restrictions on gatherings but we been doing plenty of pressing, with Apples and Pears, at home in our garden.
Of course, more fruit means better cakes, provided you have some great cooks in the house. If you don't have great cooks, you can always learn some new skills yourself. In difficult times, it is important to adapt; change is normal, be agile, be creative, keep fit & healthy, build resilliance into your bodies and family systems...

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Seasonal Stinging Nettle Beer

The whole world has changed significantly since my last post. I hope you and your families are all staying safe, well and ideally in your homes.
My allotment gets a wealth of Stinging Nettles around this time of year, which are used in many traditional recipes, they can even be made into twine or woven into fabric. However, I wanted to make something seasonal that would take a couple of weeks to mature, but also be something that we could enjoy, even if we had to stay home a lot.
I have always fancied making Stinging Nettle Beer; it is a very simple recipe and anyone with the basic equipment can try it. You can safely tinker with both the amounts and method, according to your equipment and requirments. I found making this very satisfying and enjoyed the process so much that I did it all twice, and may do it again soon.

  • Gloves!
  • Large carrier bag or similar
  • Bucket
  • Demijon, barrel or brewing bucket
  • Suitable pressure safe bottles

  • 1kg Stinging Nettles - approximately one large carrier bag stuffed to bursting.
  • 400g - 1kg Sugar - the strength of the beer will depend on the amount you use, you could mke it weaker still, like ginger beer for kids
  • 1 x Lemon juiced
  • 1 x gallon of water (I used a demijon)
  • 25 g Cream of Tartar
  • Yeast

  1. Pick the stinging nettles (using gloves), collect only the tips, or top 6" of the plants and stuff them into your big carrier bag. Pack them down well, it takes about 30 minutes.
  2. Boil the water and gradually add the nettles, they will eventually boil down and should all fit in. I used a large preserving pan, but you can adapt the amounts according to your needs and available equipment.
  3. Let the nettles simmer for 15 minutes, then strain the liquid off. I used a collander over a bucket to achieve this and it worked very well.
  4. Add the sugar, Lemon juice and Cream of Tartar to the liquid and stir untill all disolved.
  5. Leave the liquid to cool to body temperature and sprinkle the yeast on top.
  6. At this point I added the liquid to my demijon but you could also leave it in a bucket covered with a muslin cloth / tea towel.
  7. Leave to ferment for a week
  8. Siphon into bottles and leave for a further week.
  9. Drink!
    My Improvised Standing Work From Home Station
Stay Safe and Keep Healthy

Friday, 6 March 2020

Apocalyptic - Optimistic

It has been an interesting and very busy time since my last post. We have had serious floods in the UK and terrifying fires in Australia and the Amazon, all caused by climate change, brought on by human activity. 
Now we have plague, the new Coronavirus has taken our planet by storm. Next it seems we may be threatened with imminent economic collapse, in some areas, as a result.
However, I am an optimist, so let us look on the bright side, while we still can. Every cloud has a silver lining; NASA satellite images have detected a dramatic fall in nitrogen dioxide levels over China, since the shutdown caused by the virus. I also predict significant decreases in some of the most polluting luxury industries, aviation and cruise liners to name just two obvious ones.
No one really knows what the knock on effects of all these seemingly apocalyptic threats will be, but Spring  cirtainly seems to be coming around as normal, albeit somewhat wetter than normal. 

What staggers me, is the amount of fear and immediate action over the virus, compared to the inaction and disinterest, over the far more significant threat of climate change.  Sadly, I can only put this down to individual selfishness, and a complete lack of foresight.  
I'm still seeing and smelling the blossom on the trees and enjoying the daffodils on the roadsides. After this, I'll be looking forward to a break in the clouds, feeling the sun on my back, getting my shorts back on and getting out to gather some Elderflowers as Summer creeps around the corner.

Stay Safe, and Ware a Mask!