I’ve really ramped up my foraging efforts this year. Unfortunately my house isn’t big enough to accommodate all this free stuff.
In the past I’ve always tried to get out in late summer and autumn to pick blackberries and chestnuts, and I’ve been dabbling with edible mushrooms for a couple of years. This year I’ve really stepped up my efforts, as I’ve foraged elderflowers, blackberries, wild apples, crab apples, rowan, hawthorn, rosehips, and elderberries.
So what have I been doing with this bounty? Learning and experimenting mostly. But also pondering where I can keep all the new equipment my growing hobby demands.
This year’s foraging efforts started with elderflower cordial. That was great fun and I really wish I’d made more. You can also make elderflower champagne but I wasn’t brave enough to try. I didn’t do any foraging over the summer but I have since found the shrivelled remains of some giant puff balls I’m very cross I missed out on.
Then came the autumn and hedgerow fruits. I nearly missed the boat, but I met a couple picking blackberries who were making their second batch of bramble wine. They warned that the season was nearly over, so I was out the next day brambling with my Taller Half. I also found some windblown wild apples and so we ate lots of bramble and apple crumble.
The rowan and hawthorn berries were ripening so I decided to be more adventurous and tried my hand at hedgerow syrup. I’d scoured my copy of Wild Food by Roger Phillips and figured that if you could make syrups and jellies out of the individual fruits, then mixing them together would do no harm. And while I’m at it, a few spices can only enhance the flavour, surely?
Luckily my no-recipe cooking style paid off. Here it is:
- Stew and strain some edible fruits and optional spices (It’s OK to leave pips and skin in)
- Measure juice and re-heat
- Add sugar (up to 1 pound for every pint of juice)
- Boil for a couple of minutes
- Pour into sterilised bottles
There are a few ways to sterilise bottles and jars. I opted for washing in very hot water and then drying in a low oven.
Now I was on a roll, so finally this year I have overcome my fear of boiling sugar and made jelly (jam without bits in). I still can’t quite believe how easy it is:
- Take the recipe above. Include high-pectin fruits such as apples or it won’t set
- Use 1 pound of sugar for every pint of juice
- Boil for about ten minutes until you reach setting point
To find setting point: use a jam thermometer (easiest) or test by dripping juice onto a cold plate and seeing how runny it is.
So far I’ve made hedgerow jelly, rowan jelly (oops, slightly burnt!), apple jelly, crab apple and hawthorn, and finally crab apple and sloe jelly. They’re all rather nice and I don’t even like jam!
I mentioned wine earlier. We’ve made a start. My Taller Half is making hawthorn wine, and I’ve made hawthorn brandy and lots of sloe gin. More wine making next year – if you can turn it into syrup or jelly, you can turn it into wine.
So I’ve developed lots of new skills and got a taste for wild food. Problem is, I haven’t got enough room to process and store it all.
We’ve been lucky enough for the last year or so to live in a smallish village with open farmland directly behind the house. While the peace, views, and wildlife are fantastic, on the downside the kitchen is unbelievably tiny. So tiny, we’ve had to buy shelf units so we can store our pots and pans in the corridor.
I’ve made do with just a steel pan and some muslin, but to do this sugar-boiling thing properly I need a preserving pan, jelly bag, and room to store the fruits of my labour. And that’s nothing compared with the buckets and contraptions you need for wine making. And this house is just too darn small to accommodate any more stuff, so we’ve started looking out for our next house.
I’ve moved house plenty of times before, but never because I didn’t have room for home brew and jam jars!