It's that time of year again when true to myself, I love to take advantage of the wonderful amount of FREE food that is growing within our midst. For many years now in late Summer, early Autumn, I can be found in country lanes rooting around in the bushes collecting wonderful things to eat. There is soooo much out there to be picked and munched if you know what you are looking for. For those who haven't given foraging a go before, my advice is 'start small'. Learn about just three or four things that are growing out there. Learn to identify them and how to use them in a variety of ways. With food prices on the rise, it won't be long before you're hooked!
So here we go, what were we looking for on this occasion? Ooooh well I don't know if I should share.......well OK, but only because I have been out now and gathered!
Well we were looking for hazelnuts, acorns, blackberries, sloes and elderberries.
Hazelnuts (or cobnuts as they are often known) grow on the hazel tree. For many years hazel has been cop iced to make all manner of wonderful things. Nowadays, if you go into old woodland, you can see how the hazel is growing from many points. I often feel as if it's crying out to me 'please cut us, you know you want to weave a fence'.....I would love to of course but time doesn't permit right now....one day!
There were a few odd nuts on the floor and lots of broken shells. Ummmm beaten by the squirrels!
Sloes are few and far between this year. Strong winds back the in Spring saw to that and blew away the blossom from the blackthorn. Sloes are deep purple/black blobs that look quite like blueberries. Don't be so eager to taste as with blueberries though as they are really sour! They are however, exceptionally good for popping into a bottle of gin to make sloe gin. It takes a few months to mature but yum yum, worth the wait. I've picked a good punnet full and popped them in the freezer to soften the skins. Traditionally you would pick after the first frost but as there are so few out there this year, I thought I had better get-in-there before there were non left! Of course I wont drink it all to myself.....oh no, it's lovely to share, (only with very special people of course)!
Blackberries can be found in hedgerows and on country lanes. Best not to pick them from alongside a busy road as you won't be wanting to eat them when they are covered with car fumes! Blackberries rarely make it home in our family, they always tend to be eaten straight from the bush. Watch out for the thorns though!
Incidental, our stick insects eat bramble as their staple diet and really do enjoy it. We do have rather more stick insects then we need. I am happy to give some away should anyone wish to own some.
Next we were on the hunt for elderberries....the elder bush is amazing! The flowers can be made into the most delicious cordial in the Spring or champagne if you prefer. You can also deep fry the flowers and make fritters (although I haven't tried these yet). If you collect the flowers and dry them, they are great infused in hot water to aid relief from winter colds and other respiratory ailments. In Autumn, the elder bush gifts us with bunches of incredible deep red berries (they look black). They can be made into the most amazing syrup, again great for relieving coughs and colds. I'll tell you how to make it later on!
Walking and foraging can provide hours of entertainment. Children love to be out in nature and you'll be amazed at the things you spot along the way and the conversations you'll have, not to mention the adventures. I am so grateful everyday that nature is literally on my doorstep.
Friday's adventure was more of an accident.....we had been circling a field in search of all the pickings that I mentioned, I was casually minding my own business reaching out for some tasty looking blackberries when Jenny dog had other ideas of adventure. She took off in pursuit of a pheasant and rather then drop my basket of carefully gather sloes or indeed to let go of the lead for fear of losing the dog in the woods (I've been fool to that game before), I fell straight down onto my knees on the fields edge, right where the large stones lie. Oooh eeee (not exactly what I said at that moment), my my I realise that I no longer bounce and that falling actually hurts now. (Refusing to acknowledge that I am getting older!). Anyway, I lay on the grass like a dying ant with legs in the air for a good ten minutes trying to deal with the pain and I ripped my favourite skinny jeans (:-(((
Foraging has its occupational hazards like everything else!!
Here's the Elderberry Cordial recipe that I promised you:
Pick a good pan full of plump elderberries. Use a fork to remove the berries from the stalks, wash the berries, then place into a pan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25-30 minutes.
Strain the berries to rid yourself of the stalks and keep the juice (I use a piece of old net curtain for this job, try not to waste any liquid). Add 1lb of sugar, 10 cloves and the juice of a lemon to every pint of liquid that you have, you can also add a chunk of fresh ginger. Boil it again hard for ten minutes and simmer for a further 20 minutes. Allow to cool and then strain once again.
Bottle the liquid in sterilised bottles or jars.
We drink this with hot water in the Winter months and it's delicious! Can also be taken from a spoon neat if you have a cold, cough or sore throat.
That's further stock in the 'Store stump', all ready for the Winter!