Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Self Preservation, Part One

For the rural dwelling wild food fan, early autumn is undoubtedly the pinnacle of the year. With a profoundly disappointing summer (how I despise living up to the stereotype of an Englishman talking about the weather but it is relevant, and, according to anthropologists, performs an important social function but we’ll ignore that for the moment) the leaves have turned earlier and the hedgerows are positively aching under the weight of countless blackberries, the branches of apple trees bow thanks to the sheer number of fruit and the white flowers of the elder have turned into full clusters of tiny, deep purple berries. There is a banquet just waiting to be collected.

And so that’s exactly what we did.

The countryside that surrounds our house is vast and empty with numerous pathways and hedgerows crossing the fields from which to gather this wonderful bounty free of charge. We went out a couple of weeks ago armed with no more than a couple of bags and a keen eye and came back laden with tasty goodies.

Even though it was early and many of the blackberries on the brambles were little more than tightly packed red nuggets, there were a good number that were fully ripe, deep in colour and delightfully sweet. By the time we’d half filled a bag, my fingers (and lips) were stained with a familiar purple that beautifully illustrates the season.

The fruit of the blackthorn, also known as sloes, was also ripe and ready to be picked over to make a batch of sloe vodka. The hidden thorns can be a pain and I regretted not packing any gloves but the haul was worth getting scratched for, certainly enough to make a litre, or so, of sweet and leg-wobblyingly strong vodka that should be ready by this time next year.

We also came across two walnut trees whose fruit, the same colour as the leaves, was hidden within the thick canopy above us. It was hard work and involved a great deal of jumping and grabbing of branches but we ended up with two or three kilos of unripe walnuts (that bare no resemblance to the wrinkled little brains that they become once they’ve been cracked) to pickle, providing the shells haven’t begun to form.

Finally, we couldn’t pass up the thousands of elderberries that seemed to be covering every other tree along our route. By the time we returned home we had an entire bag full of bunches of these tiny little berries.

The plan was to transform this haul of fresh, seasonal produce, along with the glut of courgettes from the garden, into a series of jams, pickles, jellies, alcoholic drinks and chutneys, so after a trip to the supermarket to buy the necessary items we set to work…



Anonymous said...

Wow. All that food just sitting there ready to be picked. It's like the garden of Eden has reopened! And I learned something too - I never knew what a sloe was! Thanks!

Thistlemoon said...

You know, I never knew that sloes were blackberries! I am so excited to now know this!

I agree fall is the best time of year for harvest...UNLESS you live in FL, which is why we always go back to New England in the fall for a visit.

We used to have TONS of blackberries around our property when we lived in Vermont! It was heaven!

Thistlemoon said...

Oh, and I am going to do the meme today Alex! :)

Katie said...

Wow! Im impressed! Ill have to go out at the weekend to see what I can find. I love sloes I dont think many people really know what they are (I got a particuarly dodgy look from a bar tender the other week when I asked for some sloe gin).

Anonymous said...

How incredible, all that goodness at your fingertips.

Laura Paterson said...

I didn't know that sloes and blackberries were the same thing!!

That's a great haul!

Alicia Foodycat said...

You are too late on the walnut pickling! My lawn is littered with discarded shells from every squirrel in Hertfordshire stuffing its face. So now you need to leave them on the window sill until the husks blacken and you can get them off.

Anonymous said...

you've inspired me to go out into the wild English countryside myself! :)

we do a fantastic liquer with unripe walnuts in croatia.

Anonymous said...

That's cool. I think i've only ever seen fresh Walnuts once, a long time ago.

So, what you've picked, eventually dries and becomes the beloved "scrotum" shell?

Julia from Dozen Flours said...

I had no idea that walnuts started out green and lime looking. What does a fresh walnut taste like? What is the texture like?

Just Cook It said...

tom - I know, amazing isn't it?

Jenn - oops, I think I might have confused everyone by posting that pic. Sloes and blackberries are different but both appear at about the same time, hence the confusion.

katie - sloe gin is such a treat, and so easy to make as well.

syrie - I know, wonderful isn't it? I feel so lucky.

kittie - thanks, I was chuffed to bits.

foodycat - thought as much. Which is really annoying. Oh well, we'll have to see how they turn out.

Hi maninas - thanks for the comment. Glad I managed to inspire you in such a way. Walnut liquer sounds amazing!

gkbloodsugar - Inside the green fruit is the little scrotu shell, yup.

Hi Julia - I know, I was totally surprised by it too. Fresh nuts are softer and slightly sweeter than their dried counterparts, but I'm hoping that these little fellas will pickle providing we've not left them too long for the shells to form inside the fruit.

taste memory said...

can't believe you picked the berries without gloves/ouch! what fun though and a jewel of a property you have. enjoy this blog very much!

Just Cook It said...

hi Taste Memory, thanks for dropping by and leaving such a nice comment. I know for next time now to take gloves, that's for sure!

Anonymous said...

Woh! Too fast! He didn't say sloes and blackberries were the same thing. While the illustration shows blackberries (brambles), he went on to talk about sloe as the fruit of the blackthorn. Unless this is a case where we use different words on the two sides of the Atlantic...
I have a question. It's December now and I have been given fresh walnuts by a neighbour :-) and I like them just as they are. However, if I wanted to roast them lightly, how long should I leave them in the oven and how hot should it be, anyone know?
Happy natural munching!
Annie B

Anonymous said...

Sloes aren't anything like blackberries. For a start, you don't want to try eating sloes--they're very tart and astringent. They're a simple fruit shaped more like a blueberry but black with a bluish bloom. They're used for flavouring gin. They grow on bushes with thorns like hawthorn.

Blackberries are a compound fruit like raspberries, with lots of seeds. They grow on canes (brambles) with hooked thorns like roses. They can be eaten by the handful or used in the same ways as any soft fruit.