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Autumn Fruits

A little piece I wrote in Autumn 2012 for the lovely ezine Slow it Down

Autumn is here already and although in my neck of the woods much of the wild fruit is not as bountiful as last year, there is still a great deal about if you go looking for it. As a forager, October is both one of my busiest and favourite months of the year. On a sunny day, when the light is warm and golden there is nothing nicer than a wander through a favourite nature spot, where the trees are plump and fruitful, a time of plenty before the Winter sets in.

Autumn fruits are packed full of vitamins and flavour. For modern palates which often prefer sweetness to bitter or sour tastes, eaten straight from the tree or bush they can be quite sharp, or, if you have ever popped a raw sloe in your mouth, eye wateringly astringent. Lightly cooking them with a little sweetener draws out the juices and makes the most of their rich and complex flavours.


If you are lucky enough to live by the coast, you may have come across Sea Buckthorn, the orange berries of which seem to be an acquired taste but I found their sour tartness mouth wateringly good and from reading up on their heath benefits they are cram packed full of goodness, an incredible super food. Picking them is a bit tricky – they are surrounded by a thorny armour and not long after they become ripe burst as soon as they are touched and exude bright orange juice everywhere. Holding a bowl underneath them to catch the delicious explosion seems to be the best way of harvesting them!

Gathering Rosehips also involves careful manoeuvring around thorns but they are well worth the effort. A jelly or syrup made from them and spooned over porridge on a cold Winters morning brings an amber glow to the belly and is like a ray of sunshine. All rose hips are edible – the mandarin shaped soft hips of the Rosa rugosa are the first to ripen, with the harder hips of the native dog rose needing a good blast of cold weather to soften them up. Which ever variety you use they need to be minced and sieved very finely (though a jelly bag) to remove the irritating hairy seeds which are in the centre and have pretty much the same effect as itching powder!

 

Elder trees produce clusters of juicy dark berries which are reputed to be wonderful for treating cold and ‘flu symptoms. They need to be heated gently, as the raw fruits contain toxins which can cause upset stomachs. They also make an incredible Port-like wine and I have a couple of demi johns bubbling away for drinking next Winter.

 

 


Crab apples are often ignored because raw they are incredibly sour, though you may come across a ‘wildling’ which will be sweeter (this is a tree which has grown from a pip, not the true crab apple, Malus sylvestris) but when they are cooked and mixed with sugar, alchemy takes place and their flavour is transformed. They are very high in pectins and adding some to jams or jellies will not only taste lovely but also help them to set quickly.

 

As with all foraging, make sure you leave plenty more than you take. Birds rely on berries and fruits for their winter foods and the jewel like colours in the hedgerows brighten the shortening days

The recipe below is perfect for making the most of whatever fruit is available to you and is suitable for all the fruits above.

Autumn fruit syrup

This will make about one and a half litres of syrup
2kg mixed fruit. eg Crab apples, rosehips, elderberries, seabuckthorn berries, blackberries, damsons. You don’t need to peel or core, just make sure the harder fruits are chopped up
about 500ml water – a little less if you are using mostly juicy berries

 

Add the harder fruits to the pan first such as the rosehips & crab apples as they will need to cook for a little longer (try about 10 minutes before adding the rest of the fruit) simmer the fruit until it breaks up. Bash it and mash it a bit with a wooden spoon to make sure that all the juice is extracted. Pass everything through a sieve or leave to drip through a jelly bag overnight (use the jelly bag method if you are using rosehips)

 

 

 

 

 

Measure the juice and return it to a clean pan. Gently heat and add 750g sugar for every litre of water. Once the sugar has dissolved and the juice begins to simmer take it off the heat – if you allow it to boil too furiously it may set like jelly (I have done this before, it is delicious but you won’t be able to get it out of the bottle easily) pour it straight into hot sterilised bottles. It will keep unopened for a good few months, just pop it into the fridge once you have unscrewed it.

This is delicious made into a drink, drizzled onto pancakes, icecream, porridge or yoghurt and makes my favourite champagne cocktail!

 

 

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Foodie Pen Pals part II

5th September 2012

The second month of foodie pen pals!  This month my pen pal was all the way in Denmark,  Alice,  who said she enjoyed making cakes with flowers so I put together a box inspired by wild flowers.

I had my pen pal send my box to my mothers house,  where I went to celebrate her 60th birthday, in between two festivals. By the time I got there,  via sunrise off grid,  I was in the throes of a rather nasty bug and my food box was just the comfort blanket I needed to lift my spirits.

On opening it I was, quite honestly, a little blown away by the wonderfulness that was inside. It was truly a phenomenal box and I  feel very lucky that my pen pal this month was put together by Rebecca Doyle & her incredibly talented food and baking skills.

What a selection!

2 packs of homemade biscotti!! Homemade Vanilla fudge, Horseradish vodka, sour cherries, rose & violet fig raw chocolate, smoked paprika homemade almonds, spicy broad beans, jasmine tea, bruscetta topping & a book!

In fact, I pretty much instantly crawled into bed with a cup of the Jasmine silver needle tea, the fudge and the sweet little book ‘ Buffalo cake & indian pudding’ by Dr AW Chase which is full of tips and recipes and a perfect tea break pick up.  As I was going out for dinner I decided to have only one piece of home made fudge but it was like pouring liquid honey down my sore throat and tasted divinely vanilla.  I did manage to save my partner, Ben, a piece – he worked in a fudge shop as a teenager and agreed it was probably the best fudge he had ever eaten

Then the unthinkable happened.  The day after I recieved my box,  my nasty bug progressed and I lost my taste and smell. It is now day 6 and I no use of my nose and only partial use of my taste buds.  For  4 whole days nothing at all.  I went off camping to the next festival, hauling my precious box with me,  expecting any minute for my senses to return to me, with no avail.  I generously shared a WHOLE pack of the biscotti,  though I did feel a little cheated.

Yesterday, day 5, my taste buds are were starting to return a little and so I dipped in and out of my box all day,  sharing it with my partner and then grilling him for a more detailed description of flavour.  The joy of actually tasting the chocolate meant I did eat the whole pack of chocolate biscotti for breakfast. Soooo good

Pre tea time snack we ate the smoked paprika almonds,  which I could sadly only get a hint of the flavour,  so decided to crack open the horseradish vodka,  which, with my altered senses,  tasted both earthy and refreshing and softened the edges of my super cold.

I still have a couple of things left in my box to eat,  which I am very much looking forward to,  most especially ‘Radek’s Handmade artisan raw chocolate’ in Rose Otto and Violet fig flavour.

If I ever consider not taking part in foodie pen pals in the future,  I am pretty sure that the memory of this box will keep me a foodie pen pal!

If I could make one improvement, it would be to encourage Rebecca to blog- the world needs your recipes!  Thank-you thank-you thank-you Rebecca for making my box so special.

Foodie Pen Pals

I’ve just joined the world of twitter (which I’m not entirely sure I quite get)  where I stumbled across  Foodie Pen Pals,  an ingenious idea where willing bloggers & food lovers sing up & are joined up with someone each month,  to put together a box of tasty treats to send off to,  costing no more than £10.  A more eloquent & informative explanation is at www.thisisrocksalt.com

I joined up rather last minute and went on stand by,  being matched with my foodie pals after someone had to pull out.  It was all quite rushed but worked out beautifully and,  as I tend to do when presents are exchanged, I got very excited.

When I received my box through the post it felt a little bit like my birthday and was the highlight of my week.  I opened it in the sunshine in the garden.  My penpal,  Zoe,  had wrapped it up so prettily.

   

Zoe is vegan,  so all the things in my box are too.  This was a joy,  because although I’m not vegan (I’m vegetarian) I do try & eat lots of things without animal products and when I do eat dairy I try and have just organic dairy things.

Inside was:

3 nakd bars, , plus a bag of nakd orange raisins

1packed dark chocolate coated rice cakes

Twinings Cherry & Cinnamon tea

Dairy free white chocolate buttons

a packed on pumpkin pie spice

2 homemade double chocolate cookies

A handwritten letter

Pretty much everything in there was sweet & treaty, some of the things I recognised instantly,  like the nakd bars, which I’m already a fan of. There was a handwritten letter explaining everything & why it had been chosen.  All the things were Zoe’s favourites,  which I think is always a good policy when giving.

I went to spend the evening with my lovely friend Carys and stayed in her beautiful wagon.

We ate dinner by the fire & drank cherry & cinnamon tea before bed,  with the added smokey flavour of the old cast iron kettle.

   

The following morning was spent picking Samphire by the estuary & I meant to share the chocolate drops with Lleu,  Carys’ son,  but completely forgot & scoffed them all to myself in the car on the way home.  I have had dairy free milk chocolate before which didn’t taste milky, more bland and chalky & I’d have rather eaten dark.  After the disappointing ‘milk’ bar these were surprisingly tasty and even had the nostalgic smell of milky bar.  A hint of the chalky flavour you get with soya milk but this was quite pleasant and didn’t have any cow aftertaste I think you can get with dairy  (I take soya in my tea anyway because I prefer it) and I would happily eat these any day.

Without a doubt the yummiest things in the box were double chocolate chip cookies which Zoe had made herself.  I ate them on an unseasonably cold july day,  after I got in from work and  I got out my treasured tea set from my great grand mother and thad the cherry & cinamon tea in front of the fire. An occasional biscuit dunker,  I usually find herbal teas interfere with the biscuit flavour but made a rather wonderful discovery with this combination and the dipped cookie tasted like chocolate cherries and was soooo good.  The cookies were very very good,  crispy on the outside & a llittle softer inside,  very chocolatey and no way any less tasty for being vegan.

  The recipe for these little beauties is on Zoe’s blog:www.veganbrains.wordpress.com

I have been trying to make the things in my box last and, unlike greedy me, I still have a couple of things left.  I still have the pumpkin pie spice which smells divinely of cinnamon & nutmeg.  I’m saving it for when the local organic pumpkins are ready, early Autumn,  to make a really special pie, so that will be a future blog….

As I write this, just before ‘reveal day’ (the day when all the foodie pen pal blogs are live & exchanged) I am finishing off the last of the chocolate rice cakes ( simply the best thing to do with a rice cake is to smother it in dark chocolate)  A massive thank-you to Zoe for putting together my box and for reminding me that I really don’t need to have dairy things when I want a sweet treat.

Rose

I love roses.  Rose as a scent and as a flavour,  in perfumes and in food.  My favourite are pale pink old fashioned English roses that have the most divine smell in the world.

Most of the roses this Summer look sad and soggy,  especially the ones packed with petals which are drooping on the plant.  Wild flowers must have spent thousands of years evolving to suit this climate as they still look incredible,  despite the rain.

 

 

Both  the delicate dog rose and the highly fragrant Rosa rugosa are  dotting the hedgerows with pretty flecks of pink.   If you wait til they have been opened for  a couple of days,  once the stamens have turned brown,  when the petals are almost dropping off and only need a little tap to free them.  This leaves the centre undamaged and means that it will go on to develop into a sweet tasty hip in the Autumn.

Dog roses have a very delicate flavour.  They are lovely sprinkled on desserts and salads and I like to mix them up with the stronger flavoured Rosa Rugosa for many different concoctions.

Rose Petal Syrup recipe

 a few good handfuls of rose petals.  You can also use roses from your garden.  The more scented they are the better and the redder or pinker they are the richer coloured your syrup will be.

Cover the petals with water and bring to the boil,  stir and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Leave to infuse overnight.

Strain the liquid into a clean pan.  Add equal weight of sugar to water eg 100ml water = 100g sugar.

The liquid may be a little on the brown side,  a squeeze of lemon juice will turn it to a pinker shade of lovely and is a wonderful touch of alchemy.  This part is my favourite.

Bring the liquid to the boil,  stirring to dissolve the sugar and boil for about 5 minutes til it thickens a bit.

Pour into sterilised bottles for storing,  or don’t bother if you are going to eat it

quickly.

 

.

I love this in Prosecco or drizzled onto pancakes or iceream.  On the coldest darkest

Winter mornings I pour it onto porridge and dream of Summer.

Honeysuckle –     Lonicera  

             the wettest April, May & June on record. Everything is eyewateringly green and beautiful in West Wales. The wild food seems to be just going for it at every given opportunity and there is staggering amounts of honeysuckle weaving its way through the hedges. So much that for the first year ever I feel that there is enough for me to have a bit too.

Flicking through an old country recipe book, I read that it needs to be picked in full sunshine on a warm day. I have spent the last week or so sticking my head into the patch up the lane at various times of the day, mostly in the rain to be fair, but have decided that the best time to pick it is either in the early morning (not likely for me) or at dusk, when they are pumping out their nectar with heady summery scents to attract the moths, who can, according to my book, smell it from a mile away.

Last night was full moon and seemed a fitting time to pick the blossoms, even though I couldn’t actually see the moon, due to the thick layer of cloud that has been blanketing us since Spring.

   I decide that if I pick them again I would like to do it by moonlight. I started off at about 8.30 and spent about an hour and a half following the amber trail down the lanes. The later it got the stronger the scent was perfuming the evening air and I was reassured by the company of bees and a couple of months, who were also out for the honey blooms. Honeysuckleflowers in clusters, opening first from the outside then inwards. Apparently the most flavoursome blossomss are the ones just about to fall from the plant, which pleases me because then I only have to gently tug at the older flowers, leaving the rest intact. Picking leaves my fingers sticky with golden sap.

I pop a few in my mouth and suck out the tiny drop of sweet juice, transported back to the ten year old me in the garden of my friend Juliette, supping on these faerie cups for the first time.
At ten it is nearly dark and I am tired, I see a fox trotting down the road, and travel home, sticking my head into the bag at regular intervals and inhaling deeply.

I start making jelly,  using a recipe which, as I get too far in to turn back,  get a sneeky feeling this hasn’t actually been made my the author,  just embellished it a little.2kg Honeysuckleenough water to coverBoil honeysuckle for 20 minutes, leave overnight then strain though a jelly bag.Add 2kg sugar to the 1.8kg strained juice.

Next day the juice looks like sludge ,  the first dent into my expectation of  ‘the taste of summer’ . It tastes as good as it looks but I add the sugar.  Retaste,  only it is worse, because now I know that sugar won’t help.  I consult google and regret not doing this sooner. ….It would appear that if you don’t snip off the green bit of flower,  where it joins the plant,  you end up with a very bitter and rather unpleasant flavour.  If I had known this I would have left them on the plant because there is no way I am hand snipping that many flowers,   and I now have a pan full of yuk.

Grumpy,  I remember experimenting can go wrong,  and head out to find solace in the last of the elderflowers,  sweet creamy clouds of faithful tastiness,  leaving the honeysuckle for the bees and moths.