Friday, 13 October 2017

Mansbridge Apple Day 2017 Community Orchard

As we waited patiently to see what the weather would do, on our Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard, my daughter and I baked a scrumptious seasonal Apple Cake to take along. 
We did eventually set the start time back a couple of hours, to dodge the rain and this did catch a couple of people out but fortunately, they all came back later and stayed on until the end of the day. 
Despite the grey skies, damp ground and dripping trees, we had a good turn out, with lots of new, local children joining in. The trees were filled with fruit, as they always are and teams of pickers were shuttling back and forth between the trees and the tables.
At the Southampton Woodcraft Folk base camp, apples were being enthusiastically sliced, diced and chopped up into smaller segments, which were then tipped into the scratting mills, pulped down and tipped into the various cider press baskets.
Then the press screws were turned down and the tastiest golden nectar began to flow by the gallon. People were dodging between the presses filling bottles, various containers or cups and glugging back the delicious apple juice. 
Altogether it was a very successful and fun day for everyone concerned; some people even found time to gather some walnuts from the massive tree nearby (I collected five kilos, in twenty minutes, the day before). 
According to some sources, it was said that in the 'golden age,' when men lived upon acorns the gods lived upon Walnuts, hence the name of Juglans, or Jupiter's nuts.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Walnuts & Wooden Rain

Who can identify all of the tasty-looking Autumnal treats on the above tray? This is a selection of the items that I took along for my recent talk to the Highfield Women's Institute and, between them, they were able to identify all.
We have been focusing on gathering Walnuts recently, the green hulls have been splitting open and ejecting the nuts, like a delightful wooden rain. The children and I cycle about the neighbourhood harvesting them.
We can gather a surprising amount and add them to our bursting hazelnut hoard. The nuts will keep for a good few months if kept well ventilated and dry and we make all kinds of delicious things from them throughout the Winter/Spring months.
I have also recently gathered my first Chestnuts of the year, from an early shedding tree, near where I work. It is not really time for them to fall yet but seasonal variations are always to be expected.
My Cider has begun fermenting, it seems to be getting pretty over-enthusiastic and erupting through the bubblers in curious volcanic-looking sculptures in the kitchen.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Blackberry & Apple Crumble Season

Autumn seems to have arrived and with it (in our household) the traditional rush to harvest a good crop of local apples to be put to various good uses throughout the forthcoming year.
Some apples seemed to ripening early this season but others seemed to be quite small for the time of year. Our policy has been to pick the biggest ones and leave any runty remainders, to see whether they fatten up at all after the September rain.
My initial priority is always to fill the apple store in my shed with my favourites, beautiful unblemished fruit that will keep us in apples until march next year.
Of course, we always look forward to a regular sequence of, delicious Blackberry and Apple crumbles too.
After the shed store is filled, it comes down to - more a matter of quantity than quality. We are looking for a good weight of various types of apples to smash and crush down into about 50 litres of the tastiest juice and scrumptious cider.
In our first week this September, we collected well over 150 Kgs of fresh free fruit. By the time you read this, it will be around 200 Kgs.
People who see me as some kind of an expert in the field, frequently ask me if I am able to identify all the different types of apples. Well, the truth in my eyes is that that this process is more easily accomplished than they seem to think. 
My daughter is the official Apple Tester. She takes a bite - if her face lights up with a smile, it is an delicious eater - if she pulls a sour face, it is for cooking... Simple!
Important Diary Dates

  • I will be giving a talk to Highfield Women's Institute, about the Urbane Forager project on Monday September 25th.
  • 2017 Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard is initially programmed for Sunday 1st October. Keep an eye on this blog or on our social media for updates/changes. Dates can be subject to change at short notice, according to local weather conditions.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

A Pocket full of Hazelnuts

I have been collecting Juniper berries - not for gin, as you may be thinking - but for an exciting Autumnal Ale. This - soon to be brewed - interesting innovation is being created by Southampton based, Unity Brewing Co, continuing their Saison range.
Last Friday, I stuffed my pockets with Hazelnuts, I then packed my lunch-box to bursting point. When I got home from work, in a stroke of genius I told the kids that we were going to nip out to our favourite spot because the nuts were dropping. We returned in time for dinner with a big bag, filled to bursting.
It was raining on Sunday afternoon and so I decided to use our remaining nice Pears and the last of the previous years Walnut stock to cook up my, ever popular, Chunky Pear & Walnut Chutney. This is always hard work and takes a couple of hours but it is immensely satisfying when you finally finish.
Fortunately my son was also kicking his heels at home, so he was recruited as chief kitchen helper and we set about peeling, chopping, grating, squeezing, roasting and boiling the ingredients as dictated by the recipe.
We were making a double amount, because I always use loads throughout the year and we tend to run out, especially if we give some away at Christmas. Eventually, after filling the house with the smell of vinegar, we tightened the lids on the jars just in time to cook dinner. A job well done and time very well invested.
Important Diary Dates
  • I will be giving a talk to Highfield Women's Institute, about the Urbane Forager project on Monday September 25th.
  • 2017 Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard is initially programmed for Sunday 1st October. Keep an eye on this blog or on our social media for updates/changes. Dates can be subject to change at short notice, according to local weather conditions.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Walnuts & Pears

The saying goes, Walnuts & Pears, you grow for your heirs. This being because both of these trees take a long time to grow before becoming productive. However, this year's Fruit and Nut season is already building momentum. My Elderberry Port is bubbling away nicely and has now been joined by two gallons of very vigorous Perry.
A friend wanted us to pick his Pears, so I popped over with the kids. It did not take too long, all of us armed with pickers, ladders and clambering over the shed roof to harvest 32 Kgs of rock hard fruit.
The next evening, my son and I smashed the pears to a pulp using baulks of timber and the evening after, once I had got home from work, we lugged the cider press out of the shed and processed the lot.
We produced about 3 Gallons of juice and got all the kit washed before sundown. I did save a few of the unbruised fruit to make Pear and Walnut Chutney, later on. Despite baking tons of Flapjack, we still have Walnuts left from last year, although the new season ones are starting to drop already.
I have also got a gallon of Vin De Noix brewing away; this smells wonderful - I have added suitable spices to create a fortified wine in time for cold Christmas/Winter nights in.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Black-Blue Berry Beautiful

We have been completely busy with Summer holidays, outings, picnics, Blackberries etc. However, we have still found time to gather fruit, which is just as well because it is all coming through in bounteous quantities.
I have been bringing home bags filled with delicious plump yellow Plums. These are heartily consumed by my daughter, wife and I but everything else on this post comes in a darker shade of blueish black.
This weekend we were out in Riverside Park, looking for Elderberries to make my seasonal favourite, Elderberry Port. A vast amount of Blackberries were simultaneously consumed, along the way.
Later on the same day, we took a trip out to the wonderful Meon Valley - where we actually climbed a hill - to gather Juniper Berries for a saison ale to be brewed by the Unity Brewing Co in Southampton.
Then, while we were out, we spotted a vast quantity of Sloes, which will be handy when the Autumn arrives.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Cherry Plums

As I cycled to work the other day, I spotted a load of squashed plums, fallen on the foot path. The tree overhead was hanging down heavily laden with hundreds of delicious looking small (Cherry) Plums.
Closer inspection revealed that there was actually about four different trees, each sporting different colour Plums and each at a different stage of ripeness.
When fully ripe, plums will drop, obligingly, into the waiting palm of your hand at the slightest of tugs. If they are stubborn to remove, they will taste more tart, which is OK for cooking but they will ripen quickly on the branch.
I quickly stuffed a couple of ripe ones in my mouth as I zoomed past, they burst with a delicate juicy flavour; it had rained heavily the night before, so although small - they were fully plumped.
I returned on foot during my lunch hour and scoffed several more of these juicy beauties. I filled a bag to take home to the family and now return each day to grab a few more to see me through the day. The yellow ones have become house favourites and my daughter tells me, proudly, that she ate 23 of them yesterday!
Meanwhile, in other fruit and nut based news...
  • Ripe Blackberries have been spotted in the hedgrows, so it is probably time to get a little gang together and start rummaging around on the commons and parks armed with suitable containers.
  • Hazlenuts will soon be ready for picking too. The squirrels have been nibbling at the green ones already and by the end of the summer holidays they will be dropping of their own accord.

It is going to be a bumper year, no doubt about it. So be prepared, check out the falling fruit map (don't forget to add your own discoveries) get outside and get picking!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Bee Friendly

This month I have mostly been spotting Walnut trees and busy, buzzing Bees! 
Yet Another Walnut Tree
Ordinarily I would be harvesting the vast quantities of wild plums that are currently filling the trees but I have been unusually busy. 
If you have any spare time, I suggest getting down to the cricket ground opposite the Cricketers pub on Chestnut Avenue, Eastleigh, where they are available by the thousands.
I have had the pleasure to meet several colonies of very busy bees. In previous years we have found Bumble Bees making a nest in our lawn and they are back again this year, which makes mowing the lawn more complicated.
Very Busy
I have also found Wild Bees nesting in hollow trees, we located a fantastic one on Danebury Iron Age hill fort, where we had visited for a picnic and to collect Elder and Juniper berries.
More recently, my parents told me that they had a colony of Tree Bees in a nesting box that was normally reserved for a Blue Tit family.
This year, to my delight, a swarm of bees began to build a nest in my work car park, on an industrial estate. The honeycombs are attached partly to a shrub and partly to the perimeter fence. The bees are constantly attending to and extending the combs. The bees do not trouble anyone and I was easily able to approach the nest to photograph it.