Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Beer 4 Nettles (URGENT)

This is the kind of offer that you will not see very often!
Get rid of your accused Stinging Nettle patch and we will exchange them all for lovingly crafted ale (or cider).
Young Nettle Shoots, Last Year's Old, Dead Stalks Still Visible 
However, this is not as simple as it may seem; we require a lot of nettles (5 Kg). Also, we want them within two weeks, and they have only just started to grow. We need your help - so - get involved...
Pick Me!
We need these nettles to create a new seasonal wild beer in conjunction with the Unity Brewing CoIf you know where there is a BIG patch of nettles let me know the location. If you can pick them yourself, store them in a plastic bag and deliver them, either to me or to the Unity Brewing Co, that would be even better.
1Kg of Bagged Nettles - Young Shoots Visible on the Ground
Finally, we need to get this done by the end of the first week of March at the latest. In order to meet brewing deadlines. Please get back to me/comment if you can help.
You Might Spot Some Ransoms
We will personally supply a bottle of Unity Beer or Urbane Forager's cider (soft drinks for children), to anyone who can deliver 500g of nettles, in time. If you can deliver less than this amount, please still bring them. You will have, not only our thanks and gratitude, but also you will be able to tell your friends that you contributed to the making of this fine beer.
Notice where these are!
Now, get outside with your gloves (plastic carrier bags are an alternative) and long sleeves and help us to create a huge quantity of high quality Spring, Stinging Nettle based brew.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Days Out During Winter

February Snowdrops
Our city of Southampton in Hampshire, is famous for many wonderful and interesting things. A quick dip into the roiling waters of the web will bring out the obvious things like its two Universities or the Football Club. The Titanic gets a mention or two as does the Mayflower and the Spitfire. However, this area has been occupied since the Stone Age and still boasts substantial medieval walls, so there is a far greater depth to its history.
Jane Austen's Plaque
My wife is a big fan of Jane Austen, one of England’s most celebrated and greatest novelists and she has insisted that we visit her house. The house has been preserved as a museum and is relatively nearby, in the Hampshire village of Chawton. At times like this I enjoy wandering around saying (in an unnecessarily loud voice) things like, “Oh darling, isn’t it amazing to think that Jane Eyre actually lived here?” We once visited Agatha Christie’s house in Devon, which was fun but the children and I quickly became more interested in the Mulberry tree, covered in ripe fruit, that we discovered in the garden.
Jane Austen's Cat?
The fascinating house of the naturalist Gilbert White (1720 – 1793) is very close by, in the village of Selbourne and this has also been converted into a museum. Slightly incongruously but interesting none the less, this place also includes a display telling the heroic (completely awful) tale of Captain Oates (“I am just going outside and may be some time”) and the ill-fated expedition to the South Pole led by Scott of the Antarctic.
Heather and Reindeer Lichen

Jane Austen did spend a lot of time living in Southampton. The city was once a very fashionable Georgian spa town, back in the days when taking the waters was popular. However, these and other historical details are now lost to many folk that live here. For instance, plenty of people who live here do not realise that we also have an effective geothermal energy plant – right next door to their favourite shopping centre (West Quay). Perhaps they ought to rebuild the Lido that used to exist there and heat it for free from the subterranean hot rocks.
Catkin Season
Being on the coast, Southampton has always been known as a nautical city. Vast container ships, carrying all manner of household goods across the oceans, mix with famous fleets of liners, hovercrafts, ferries and pleasure boats. Our city is bounded by three beautiful rivers; the Test and the Itchen are chalk-rivers, rightly famous for their wildlife and trout fisheries. The Hamble on the other hand is better known as a yacht haven. All three rivers empty into Southampton Water (the Solent), which flows around the Isle of Wight and out into the English Channel.
Across the Solent from Southampton, lies the New Forest, where we frequently visit for walks, picnics, adventures and camping trips. Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s last resting place is in Minstead church cemetery. His grave is easy to find, it is the one with a pair of pipes propped against it. According to somebody I spoke to there, the pipes occasionally get stolen but adoring fans of his writing always replace them. Conveniently, Rufus Stone, my daughter’s favourite spot, is also not far away.
Beautiful Moss

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Something Brewing in the Heart of Southampton

As I trudge, begrudgingly up my garden path like some Antarctic explorer, the grass crunches under foot and the crisp cold seeps deep into my toes. The shed that contains my locked bike looms out of the pale moonlight.
Cycling to work, my face is frozen and my fingers are feeling like frostbite but the sky is now turning a thin grey-blue and distant vapour trails trace a pinkish web over the firmament. Shortly, the garish orange glow in the East becomes the sunrise over Segensworth. 
The frost still lies thick on the ground but above the cold car parks and grim and grimy buildings of the industrial estate, the morning sky now burns a brilliant azure; it’s going to be a cracking day.
The fragile beauty of Winter still holds the hope of Spring within its vice tight grip, singing in the wind, vibrating in the sharp shards of ice and even seeping through the weeping rain and snow. It’s all too easy to wish for shorts and the sizzle of a Mid-Summer sun but the wheel of the year turns steadily and we must first start our search for signs of change.
Speaking of seasons, I am delighted to announce an exciting new collaboration between the Urbane Forager and Southampton based beer behemoth Unity brewing Co. Head brewer Jimmy Hatherley wants to create a sophisticated new range of seasonal Wild beers and the Urbane Forager is a perfect fit as a partner for this project.
I popped down with some friends, to meet Jimmy in his taproom and supped some of his awesome ales. We also sampled some of my own 2016 Elder-flower Champagne and Cider; by the end of the evening I would have agreed to almost anything. However, seasonal foraging is my strongest suit. So, we shall soon see what fresh flavours we can bring to the Unity taproom table. 
In the meantime, I definitely recommend visiting Unity brewing if you are in the area, or buying their merchandise from a Southampton pub/off-licence.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Wandering about in Winter

Long Shadows
Hopefully, you have all had a pleasant and peaceful time over the Christmas/New Year period. 
I had a good rest despite having to build a couple of wardrobes and a book case. Actually, to be fair, my son did a lot of the work; he's very good with instructions and apparently, I am not!
Crab Apple Warfare
I even managed to purchase a small Apricot tree, which I will soon plant in our allotment.
the remains of the Naked Man
We did get outdoors quite a bit during the holiday and enjoyed walking with friends in the New Forest and Micheldever Woods. Micheldever wood is a nice place to wander, especially when the bluebells are out but it is a bit too close to the M3 motorway for my liking and the constant rumble in the background can be distracting. 
Difficult to Navigate on Foot
The last walk in the New Forest was an old favourite of ours that takes in beautiful open heath, what's left of the Naked Man (where, in ancient days, highwaymen were hung in a gibbet), some lovely woodland, a disused train station that has been turned into a tea shop and a walk down the Avon water.
Assistance from the Children
However, after a fairly heavy rainfall the last section alongside Avon Water was extremely boggy. This did not bother the children who were well equipped with Wellington boots but our walking boots and shoes could have done with being a few inches higher to help us through the quagmire.
Good Landscape for Wellies
It was challenging at times but, as I like to say, nobody died!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Have a Cool Yule

The Dark Season Cometh
I hope everyone is prepared for the festive season. we have been wrapping gifts and posting cards. I think that the mythical white Christmas is highly unlikely as the weather has been unseasonably warm, misty and generally dreary.
I keep spotting leafless trees, still filled with apples but now we do not have the time to harvest them. Having said that, yesterday I managed to press another gallon of Apple juice out of some remaining fruit, while listening to the Saints play on the radio. 
The Apples and Pears had been laying about in my shed for a month or two and looked a little worse for wear but they were soon battered into submission. This  juice will be left to turn into cider, in order to replenish our four gallon stock that will no doubt be slightly diminished over the holiday.
We have also cracked into some of our frozen Mulberries; I wanted to make Mulberry gin and advised my daughter, who had a cold and nasty sore throat, to create a medicinal Mulberry cordial. When mixed with lemon juice and honey, this delicious tinctuer quickly soothed the pain and brought her smile back.
We have gathered Mistletoe to share with friends and neighbours and the kids have been building wreaths, one to decorate our front door and one for Grandma's. We gathered all the necessary foliage with a quick visit to Deepdene, our local wood. This consists of Hazel whips, to create the circular frame, Ivy to weave around and tie the hazel in, evergreen leaves woven in for texture and bulk and finally holly with berries for added colour.
We will be having a fire in our garden on the Winter Solstice, weather permitting. It would be fun to find a stone circle to visit. Stonehenge is quite close, as is Avebury but the thought of getting there for dawn and then going on to work, is enough to persuade me that a few extra hours in bed might be more beneficial. I'm mainly looking forward to a weeks worth of holiday, a smattering of parties and some nice walks with family and friends.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Pre-Peared for Winter

As any busy parent will testify, you cannot always find the time to do the things you enjoy, even at the weekend. However, after a big storm, my son's midday football match was cancelled due to pitch flooding and his bedroom had only just been re-plastered, so we could not paint that. So, we decided to get out for a short wet, chilly walk in the New Forest.
I was on the lookout for Sloes, which seem to be in short supply this year but we ended up yomping about in boggy heath-land. So I simply enjoyed photographing the astonishing pallet of colour and texture present in the  sodden landscape.
We also managed to get up to our allotment, which has been a little neglected recently. My son planted his own Apple pip in a pot about 7 years ago. This seed germinated, grew steadily from a tiny twig into a small stick and then, in 2013 we finally transferred it to our allotment, where it continued to develop, until it out grew my own 6' height. 
A Brilliant Bowl Barrow

Every time an Apple pip is planted and allowed to grow into a tree, it creates a completely novel variety, with a unique fruitThis Spring we were delighted when it flowered for the first time and, when it finally bore fruit, it was crisp and sweet. There was only a few apples but what a great reward for his enduring patience.
On our return home we were treated to a roast dinner followed by Pear Tart Tatin, freshly baked from our stash of delicious Pears, which do need consuming.
Earlier in the week I had utilised a load more by knocking up a double batch of Pear and Walnut chutney in readiness for those cold Winter nights. It took ages to reduce and the house smelled of vinegar for a while but I'm sure it will be worth it.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Autumn Arrives

Autumn has arrived and with it the normal flurry of fruit and nut based foraging activity. Recently we have been collecting Sweet Chestnuts and toasting them in an old syrup tin inside our garden fire. Perfect for those chilly evenings as the dark season approaches.

There are still plenty of delicious Apples in the trees and we have been out gathering extra stocks for Apple Bobbing and other All Hallows/Guy Fawkes based events and activities.
We have picked close to 300Kgs of Apples this year, a new family record but there are still lots of trees, filled with fruit, out there that we have not tapped into. Remember that the later Apples tend to be harder, more dense and these fruits will be better for keeping throughout the Winter. Our store is already over-flowing.
The colours of Autumn are always a pleasure to behold and this is a great time for a walk in the woods in order to fully appreciate the russet/red/gold spectrum that is waiting for us, out in the wilds.
Crab Apples are still available for collecting in their thousands, they can be red, yellow or green. There is of course a true bounty of wonderful preserves and drinks that can be made with Crab Apples.
Whilst we wonder at the mists and mellow fruitfulness of our Autumnal world, the leaves are turning to gold and falling, flickering from the darkening branches, spiralling down to the roots that poke through the ground like bones of the earth. 
Each yellow/brown leaf is a wonder in its-self and it is all too easy to miss this beauty. So, take the time to appreciate the detail. Pause your busy life. Go out for a wander (not a march), You do not need a car, you do not need a plan; even the city holds beauty in its roadsides and parks.
And don't forget those Apples! There are loads left and they are free for the taking. Check out the Falling Fruit map and zoom in to your area. This picture here was taken in the Makro Supermarket car park in late October and we have already had about 30 Kgs off this tree.