As legend would have it, we haven’t got long to pick the blackberries that adorn the hedgerows along the rolling countryside that is our England. The legend of my childhood foretold that the devil fell into a bramble bush on the October 11th, thus spoiling the fruits (and any vintage wine you’ve made with them) but there seem to be many variations of this story depending on who you ask!
Septembers ravishing weather (which may not have granted us with an Indian summer this year) sends our hedgerows into a flourish of life and by the time October arrives they are full of rosehips, hawthorns and blackberries. There’s something so very nostalgic about taking a little basket and setting off to forage for edible delights; it’s a comforting notion that our world provides and it’s right on our doorstep.
Blackberries and apples are the most common fruits to collect and that age old saying, ‘no apples taste better than the ones from your own tree’ is absolutely true. When I was a child, the best crab apple tree was across a small stream at the bottom of our paddock. It was a job to get to, particularly when you’re carrying a basket full of other berries, and crab apple trees are very prickly. This delicate art of balancing both basket, and myself, upon a fence to reach those little green apples was something that practice most certainly made perfect. Crab apples are very sharp to taste; far better than the sour bags of sweets my children like, and they make the very best crab apple jelly because they’re so high in pectin; it’s also the easiest recipe in the world;
Wash the apples, removing any bruised fruit.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft.
Pour the pulp into several layers of muslin, or a jelly bag, and let drip overnight into a pan.
Add sugar to the liquid and keep on a rolling-boil until you get a jammy consistency.
The key here is to never squeeze the muslin bag with the apple pulp in it – resist this and you get the clearest jelly.
(It’s also rather wonderful if you infuse it with mint leaves.)
What’s lovely about this time of year is that, despite our thoroughly modern world, we still have that harvesting desire to pick fruits and preserve them for the long winter months ahead. Our ancestors lived this way, and baskets and bags overflowing with berries and nuts was commonplace centuries ago. Today we can pick and choose produce from around the world and although foraging, preserving and home brewing has made a significant comeback of late, our seasonal, wild supermarket still overflows with its harvest bounty.
Fortnum & Mason, year upon year, have some magnificent jams and jellies that have entirely captured the tastes of berry picking harvests with every pop of the jar lid, and they really do deliver on opulence and deliciousness! Any one of these would be fit for a foraging king or queen.
Fortnum & Mason
Blackberry & Elderberry Conserve
Fortnum & Mason
Sloes are another fruit in abundance during September and October, and I would challenge any household not to find a bottle of vintage sloe gin deep in their pantry waiting for Christmas.
Sloe gin is such an easy recipe to accomplish, the only lengthy ritual being that you have to prick the sloes all over with a pin before adding the gin; thankfully an overnight freeze cuts out this lengthy task; although my ingenious mother did make a collective sloe-pricking device with a cork and several dress-making pins; the glut of sloes that year made this tool indispensable.
Take one bottle, about a 1lb of sloes, 1/2lb of sugar and a couple of pints of good quality gin; and you will have a monumental tipple that no Christmas celebration should be without.
For some of the best British Gin’s why not try The Botanist; foraged and distilled on the windswept Atlantic shores of the Hebridean island of Islay, their Gin has already been on a foraging adventure and is the perfect candidate for your sloes.
The Botanist Gin
**A little note about foraging: It is agreed by all foragers that we should all be less afraid and more bold. However, there is a little saying that goes, “There are old foragers, there are bold foragers, but there are no old bold foragers.” We might all be telling our children not to pick wild berries incase of poison, and there are poisonous varieties amongst the good stuff, but this is deterring future foragers, and like everything, a little knowledge on the matter is all that’s needed to make the correct judgement whilst picking our native plants and fruits. There is a wealth of information available through The Wildlife Trusts if serious foraging is something you’ve been inspired to do: www.wildlifetrusts.org
Whatever we have planned for the fruits of our hedgerows; whether its jams and jellies, home brewing or gin infusing, our English countryside is a delight at Autumn time and should be enjoyed at all costs.
So this weekend, why not reach for your Hunter wellies and a large wicker basket and fill it with berries…
Keep watching for Our Edible England: Part Two, where we delve into the magnificent delights of October/November time, when our tables will be adorned with squash and pumpkins, and the heady aroma of fireworks linger in the air as we celebrate the age old tradition of Guy Fawkes’ and Bonfire night.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, click here to read about Seasonal Dining.