Foraging for fruit
I spent a wonderful day in the lanes of Suffolk the other weekend foraging. There was such an abundance of things to be had. Firstly, there were sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn, which look beautiful with their lovely blue hue adorning the hedgerows.
Sloe gin makes a wonderful present, especially if it is presented in a coloured glass bottle – use 450g of sloes, put them in the freezer overnight to mimic a frost, this helps the cells to break down – add 450g sugar, and then 600ml of gin – ideally, you should leave sloe gin for eighteen months before drinking, so it pays to have year’s batch in hand. If you can’t wait then try and stash some away so you can taste the difference when it matures.
If you don’t know how to use the gin soaked sloes when you strain off the liqueur then remove the stones and fold the fruit into melted chocolate. Yummy!
The fruits of the Hawthorne, or May tree are also really useful you can make Haw Brandy, using 450g of haws, 225g sugar and 600ml brandy – or haw ketchup – I love the recipes in Preserves, by Pam Corbin – this is a River Cottage book – there is also a book called Hedgrow which will give you some great ideas for using foraged fruits.
I also picked wild apples, blackberries, and damsons, Prunus, which includes plums, damsons, cherries, almonds and apricots has a vast array of different fruits, and you can often find wild plums on the road side. Try to pick from places where there is not too much pollution from traffic.
My favourite thing to do with my ‘forages’ is to make hedgerow jelly; you can use all of the fruits above and just chop them up, stalks and all – wash them first – use more apples than anything else, about 50% crab apples or cooking apples and 50% of sloes, blackberries, haws, rosehips, rowan berries etc. The crab apple, (Malus sylvestris) often found by the roadside is sometimes rather scabby but has a very high pectin content, (that’s the stuff that helps things set) lots of the berries are low in pectin and so using this method will help it set well. The reason I like to make jelly is that you just boil up all the fruit, use 1kg of mixed berries and 1kg of crab apples to around 900g granulated sugar. (You add the sugar the next day). Then you can just leave if over night to drip through a jelly bag or a piece of muslin and the next day add the sugar to the juice and slowly, (so you don’t burn it) bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Then boil rapidly, without stirring, until setting point has reached, this should take about fifteen minutes. I put a saucer in the fridge and take out a teaspoonful of the jelly, put it on the saucer and if it wrinkles when pushed with your finger it is done. You can also do this with blackberry and apple – it is absolutely lovely! A real autumn treat.