Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Spring Snow Storms

I know very little about the distance between stars, or the motives of Pepys, but I can always smell the Summertime at the latest by early Spring. 
We are currently bracing ourselves for a big snow-storm, this morning it was -8 when I got on my bike to commute to work. There will be plenty of cold and frost yet to come but the signs are all there, among the flora and fauna.
Plum blossom is beginning to bloom on the branches and this is always my personal first sign of the approaching Spring.
This Winter I have been enjoying the occasional medicinal glass of last year's  Elderberry Port or Vin de Noix to stave of  any colds or other ills. 
The Cider is going down well too, although the Perry still needs a month or so more to age. The Mulberry Gin seems to be vanishing into the ether, evaporating my wife might suggest!
The Pear and Walnut Chutney, a huge personal favourite is still making a regular appearance in the fridge. It goes so well with cheese and perks up my lunchtime sandwiches a treat.
We still have bucket-loads of Hazelnuts and Walnuts left, despite my best efforts to nibble through our hoard during the chilly, dark evenings. So, I think we need to spend some time shelling a whole big load, and then make lots of flapjack and chocolate brownies. It shouldn't be too difficult to persuade the kids to help with that job...

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Winter and the Hope of Spring

Winter is always a lean time for foragers and this Winter has been an especially wet and stormy one here in the UK. I seems as if it has not stopped raining for the last 6 months! Obviously, this is not actually true but it has been unusually damp for a long time and many rivers are swollen.
However, a wise person once said, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!" We have still been out and about in the landscape, enjoying the weather regardless of what it chucks at us.
We visited Stonehenge for the Winter Solstice, which was fascinating particularly as this is one of the only times when the public are allowed in amongst the stones, which are normally fenced off. The clear advantage of the Winter Solstice over the Summer Solstice is that you don't have to get up quite so early because sunrise is around 8:00. Although it still proved difficult to arrive on time - despite leaving home at 6:00 - because parking is very limited and all the surrounding roads are designated tow away zones. However, after some improvisation, fence climbing and nocturnal navigating, we did reach the stones just in time.
We visited a storm-swept, yet somehow beautifully peaceful Devon in late December. We spent our time exploring the breathtaking beaches in wellies and waterproofs, and watching the waves smashing into the shoreline and breaching the breakwaters.
The New Forest is a short distance from our city, Southampton, and, while we love to find new places to visit and wander, there are a few favourite places that we frequently find ourselves walking through with friends. the whole of the forest is like one giant boggy mire at the moment, so suitable clothing and footwear is essential. Often we find ourselves delicately picking our way from tussock to tuft, trying to avoid sinking from sight like some poor character from the Hound of the Baskerville's. I would not be surprised to discover that some of the tales written by Conan Doyle, who is buried nearby in Minstead, were inspired by the seriously muddy New Forest environment.
Now the crocuses are out, shining like jewels amongst the mud and frost, Ransoms & wild Garlic is beginning to show itself and the daffodils, forcing their way out of the soaking ground will soon be trumpeting in the green shoots of Springtime.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Ruby Red Rosehips

Some people decry foraging as dangerous but we have a simple rule that prevents any risk: Only pick or eat things that you recognise and know to be safe. Obvious really and astonishing that any doubters cannot think of that too. However, even taking fundamental precautions cannot save you from getting stung by Nettles, stabbed by thorns or twisting your ankle by stepping down an unseen rabbit hole.
My seasonal collaboration with the Unity brewing Co, helping to create a range of Saison Ales, seems to have led me into dangerous territory, right from the start.

  • For the Spring beer - Primtemps we needed to pick Stinging Nettles!
  • Next we gathered Elderflowers for the Summer brew - Ete (no fear there).
  • For the Autumn we chose Juniper Berries for the Automne Ale and these are always painfully prickly to pick.
  • Finally, to complete our first year together, I am fighting my way with frost bitten fingers, through scythe-like thorns, as I harvest Rosehips or Haws for the Winter beer - Hiver.

At this time of year, Rosehips are the jewels of the hedgerows. They are know for being packed with Vitamin C - ideal for fighting off infection and boosting the immune system, which is just as well because my hands been punctured so many times collecting them that I might soon need a transfusion myself.
Rosehips can also be used for creating syrups, cordials, jellies and even tea. In fact the Dog Rose was apparently so named because people believed that its application could help you to recover from rabies, if bitten by a mad dog. Of course, all bad school children know that the inner contents of these ruby red haws, can also create some of the nastiest itching powder on the planet!
Tradition holds that you should gather Rosehips after the first frost, the same advice is often given for Sloes because the structure of the fruit is broken down by the freezing temperature. By coincidence, I started picking Haws during my lunch hour after the coldest night of the year, my fingers were frozen but they picked easily and smelled fruity, so the Hiver Ale should be super tasty.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Christmas is Coming, Apparently!

Christmas is coming, apparently. I'm sure nobody had noticed, so, hopefully this post will be a timely reminder... Don't forget to make a note on the 25th (December) on your calendar. You might, for instance, want to consider some kind of preparation in advance.
I have been busy creating Sloe Gin; Sloes seemed thin on the ground this year but fortunately I stashed a load in the freezer earlier on. With gin, it occurs to me that we gathered the Juniper Berries during the Summer, so no one can accuse me of not planning in advance.
I harvested some Green Walnuts in June and this was the beginning of my Vin de Noix, which is now bottled and ready for those cold Winter nights. I added some spices this year to make it even more seasonal.
During July my son and I gathered a bucket-load of Elderberries and then kickstarted my Elderberry wine. This is the perfect archaic, alchemical brew for spicing up into Mulled wine for friends and festive gatherings. Mulled Cider also always goes down well at parties, and this has all now been safely bottled and stored.
My favourite Chunky Pear & Walnut Chutney makes a nice home-made gift and my wife has now added a batch of Sweet Chilli Jam to our cupboard bound cannon.
All that remains now is to forage some Mistletoe and create some Xmas door wreaths. Hopefully the family will be kept so busy making and distributing things that they won't even notice that their are no presents under the tree yet... Actually, that reminds me, we need a Christmas tree!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Chestnut Cases

Sweet Chestnuts are beginning to drop now and we have been out to stuff our pockets full of the biggest, freshest, shiniest, auburn/brown ones we could find.
Roasted Chestnuts are the perfect antidote to the sad feeling we can experience, as the nights draw in. Conkers are nice to find too but they cannot be eaten. Autumn should be celebrated for its vibrant colour and tempestuous weather changes.
I like to roast my nuts over a fire, normally I set one on the barbecue, I let the flames lick at the Chestnuts and blacken the shells, this makes then much easier to peal and remove the pithy skin beneath.
We are also making use of other things that we have gathered and stored in one way of another. Chocolate & Hazelnut Pear Upside-down cake, bit of a mouthful but a damn tasty one! This was a new recipe that we tried and it has been proclaimed an absolute winner.
However, the best thing about the Autumn, as always at this beautiful time year, has to be grabbing handfuls of dry leaves - throwing them in the faces of your unaware pesky children - and running off...


Don't forget to put the Urbane Forager book on your Xmas present lists!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Get Outdoors

Well, the clocks have gone back, we have had our first frost, Halloween is upon us and the kids have been getting creative with pumpkins.
It has been half term and we have not rested on our laurels - We started off with a walk from Woodhenge to Stonehenge, which was a beautiful and peaceful way to approach the awesome world heritage monument. The whole place is a great deal improved since the car park and road were removed.
Another day we visited Brownsea Island in Poole harbour, something we had not done before but will definitely do again. We walked around the island and the red squirrels were superb;  we literally had to drag the kids away when it was time for the last boat home.
Later in the week, we had yet more apples to press into juice. Fortunately the weather was with us and we got busy in the garden.

My daughter and I had harvested 110 Kgs from a friend's trees, the Sunday before and we  managed to fill about 40 more bottles with the golden nectar to store for use throughout the year.

Finally, we capped off the weeks exertions with a trip from Studland Bay to Old Harry rocks, by kayak, with St Deny's Sailing and Rowing Club (a very fine institution). It was a bit windy and quite a long journey but it was exhilarating.

I probably need a bit of a rest now but with kids about, I doubt I will get one any time soon!
Don't forget to put the Urbane Forager book on your Xmas present lists!

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Bite Sized Beauties

My son reminded me that we had not yet visited the Mayor's Pear tree on Peartree Green this year. So we zipped on up there and, sure enough, the small tree was loaded with ripe fruit.
These are some form of Asian Pear, we love them and visit each year. We reached up and picked ourselves a bag full of these bite sized, pendulous treats.
My children call them "Snack Pears" - to small to be practical for cooking but  sweet, crunchy and juicy. Last year we harvested several kilos and I made a gallon of delicious perry.
The house is now well stocked, with enough to last us through half term. Although, we may pop back to re-stock before the season is over, if our supplies are consumed too quickly.