Tag Archives: foraging

Elderflowers and feeling glad to be alive

This is more of a philosophical post than my normal recipe posts but I did just want to share with you my walk the other morning.  I have started to do a pilates class on a Thursday morning. For several years now, each time I get up from a chair I make an audible groan.  My back aches, my hips ache, I generally ache. I decided in March that I should finally tackle it head on, so I joined a pilates class. I drop my daughters off at their respective schools and then head up the road to pilates. If I park near my youngest’s school it’s a ten minute walk up the hill. I have started to really enjoy this walk. I take it at quite a pace, like I do most of my walking. I am not a stroller, I am more of a power walker. Slow walking frustrates me. But because I drop my daughter off at school at 8.45 and the class doesn’t start till 9.30 I normally have an extra half hour to kill. I love where we live, it is surrounded by woodlands and these all have public footpaths weaving through them maintained by a wonderful local charity. So I take a diversion. I can usually find somewhere or something new even though it is only a stone’s throw away from where I have lived for over twenty years.

So, this Thursday… The girls are on half term and so were at home with Dad. I left the car in the normal car park and walked up the hill. It’s a back road so only has a few cars passing me and this week not even that as there was no school run. I could wander at ease and even at my usual faster than normal pace I could properly appreciate my surroundings. What hit me was the fizz of elderflower. The smell of the elderflower was intoxicating. There had been a storm the previous evening and the air still had that post-storm humidity and atmosphere that was holding the scent close.  It was like wandering through a jar of lemon sherbet.  Then, a little further up the hill, the atmosphere changed and this time it was the dying wild garlic that filled my nostrils. This smell is powerful, it fills your nose and you begin to wonder if your clothes have taken on the smell. I don’t dislike this powerful stench though, it still smells good and seems to hold a promise of good things that will come again next year when it pushes up its new sweet smelling (and tasting) new growth.

The walk to pilates always manages to invigorate me and it warms me up ready for the powerful stretches the pilates teacher puts us through. I am pleased to report, as an aside, that I have stopped groaning at every move and feel much better, taller and stronger as a result of the last three months of the weekly pilates class. I can recommend it.

I left pilates refreshed and ready for the day ahead and I knew that as soon as I got home I would have to don my wellies and go foraging for enough lacy flower heads to make elderflower cordial. So that’s what me and the youngest did.  We now have 1.5 litres of cordial sitting in the fridge and we are enjoying its refreshing zing. Every time I pour some out I am taken back to my walk through the woods.  Mr OC says that the smell of it makes his nose tingle, I said that it was because it is like drinking pollen.

I urge you to find a quiet road with an elder hedgerow or take yourself off into the woods and breathe in the lemony fizz deeply and feel glad that you are alive.

Crabapple and sloe jelly

Whilst I was picking my rosehips for the syrup I found a couple of heavily loaded sloe trees. I made my way back there a few days later and picked a kilo or two and popped them in the freezer. We are lucky enough to have a crabapple tree nearby too so I picked a couple of kilo of those too. The crabapples have sat in my kitchen looking at me accusingly for a couple of weeks, so yesterday I made myself get round to giving them a good swill and popped them in the preserving pan with some of the sloes. I cooked them slowly in just enough water to cover them until the apples were pulpy. I gave them a good mash and strained it overnight through a jelly bag. Today, I boiled them with sugar until the jelly wrinkled on a cold saucer. The finished jelly will be great with roast dinners and cold meats and stirred into gravies. I might even have it on toast like I do with my damson and rosehip jelly. This one though is a little sharper and has that sherbetty finish to it that you would expect from a jelly made with fruits that are sour before cooking.

Crabapples and sloes

The colours at the different stages are stunning. Starting with a rose pink and turning to a deep purple. It is worth making this jelly just for these colours.

Crabapple and sloe juice

The strained juice

Crabapple and sloe jelly boiling

The boiling stage

You can put in as many crabapples and sloes that you have, cover them with just enough water to almost cover and then strain the juice through a fine sieve of jelly bag. Measure out the juice and to every 600ml add 450g of granulated sugar. Here is what I did:

2kg crabapples
1kg sloes
water
1 kg granulated sugar

Method
Rinse the crabapples and the sloes well. Place in a large pan and cover with just enough water to almost cover. Cook over a gentle heat until the apples are pulpy. Mash with a potato masher and pour the purée into a jelly bag, a clean tea cloth (boil in a pan of water before use) or through a very fine sieve. Leave to strain overnight.

Measure the juice and for every 600ml add 450g of granulated sugar. I had 1,300 ml of juice so added 1 kg of sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and then turn up the heat and boil the syrupy mixture until a teaspoonful of it wrinkles when placed onto a cold saucer and pushed with your finger. Remove any scum that rises to the surface. Pour the hot mixture into warm sterilised jars and seal.

You might also like to make crabapple jelly without the sloes or crabapple and rosehip jelly.

Damson and rosehip jelly

damsons and rosehips

I think damsons might be my favourite fruit. Not straight off the tree; that way they have a bitter edge which makes you purse your lips. But when they are cooked with sugar they are rich, perfumed and glorious. One of the most lovely things about them is their purplish bloom which imprints itself on your fingers when you pick it from the tree. I picked these beauties on Sunday and the tree stands next to a rose that due to my lazy gardening has suckers that have naturalised. My lazy gardening of course has its benefits, in this case the beautiful rosehips that are hanging heavy. I couldn’t resist picking some to add to my damsons.

I am not sure that the rosehips add anything in terms of taste to this jelly. The damsons overwhelm their delicate taste, but maybe some of their goodness will have hung in there through the boiling process. I am glad I added them for the photo above alone. Look at those colours! Autumn on a plate.

Damson and rosehip jelly

Makes about 3 jars

1kg damsons
300g rosehips
1 litre water
Granulated sugar

Method
Wash the rosehips well and remove the old flowers and check for insects. Chop these finely (wearing gloves if you do this by hand as the hairy seeds are an irritant, I use my food processor). Add to a large pan. Wash the damsons and add to the pan with 1 litre of water. Bring to the boil and simmer away until the fruit is soft. I mashed it with my potato masher. Strain the fruit through a jelly bag or large square of muslin tied at the top and hang over a bowl. The weight of the fruit and damson stones will mean that the majority of the juice will have strained through in 1 hour, but you can leave it overnight. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag though as this will make the jelly cloudy.

Pop a couple of saucers into the fridge to get cold.

Measure the juice and to every 600ml of juice add 450g of sugar. Return it all to a clean large pan and bring slowly to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved increase the heat to bring it to a rolling boil. Check to see if it’s set by pouring a small amount onto a cold saucer. When it’s cooled push your finger through it and if it wrinkles it’s ready. Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Use it like jam on your toast or as an accompaniment to meat, cheese or anything else that you fancy.

If you like this, then you might also like my pickled damsons, stewed damsons, damson ice cream, damson vodka or damson jam.

Elderflower vinegar

Elderflower vinegar

When I picked the elderflowers yesterday the first thing I made was a vinegar scented with elderflower. I used white wine vinegar, which has quite a strong vinegar taste to it. Now that it’s infused when you take a big sniff you get the vinegar first with a delicious waft of the sweet, intoxicating scent of elderflower at the end. It is really good in salad dressings. We had some last night on our bagged salad and I have just sprinkled some on my lunch of melon, strawberries and goat’s cheese with a glug of olive oil. It is delicious and delicate and well worth making. It is very easy to make. The hardest bit is sterilising the bottle (and that’s hardly hard) and if you use the bottle that the vinegar came in you don’t even need to do that.

350 ml – 500ml white wine vinegar
5- 6 elderflower heads, carefully picked and checked for insects

Method
Pour the vinegar into a non-reactive pan (stainless steel) and place the elderflower heads in the vinegar.  Heat gently until just hot. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When cool remove the elderflower heads and sieve the vinegar through some muslin to make sure that any stray insects are removed. Pour into a sterilised bottle or back into the bottle the vinegar came out of.

Gooseberry and elderflower jam

Gooseberries and elderflowers

I haven’t made jam for a long time. I keep meaning to fetch some damsons out of the freezer, but I always find that something else has jogged its way to the top of my to-do list. This morning though, our broadband connection was down. The horror! It’s only when you don’t have the internet that you realise how much you use it.  I decided to change my plans and I remembered that when I had gone to feed the chickens yesterday that I had thought about the elderflowers being ready. I was chatting at the weekend about elderflower champagne. I decided it was now or never.

I went out in my sandals (why do I always do that?) to forage. The tree by the chickens wasn’t very fruitful. I managed a couple of sprigs, but realised that this is probably the tree that the jackdaws sit in waiting for their opportunity to do their own foraging in the chicken corn. There was just too much bird poo. So I ended up half way down a steep, fairly muddy bank in my sandals precariously reaching for the best blooms.

You have to take great care when picking elderflowers. Not only do I suggest your wellies or a pair of sturdy shoes, but that you very gently grasp the bloom and snip carefully. Carry said bloom with care to the waiting bowl and gently lay it in there. When you are ready to use them do a thorough examination for insects and carefully lift any off. Do not be tempted to give the blooms a shake. The sweet scent of the elderflower is captured in its pollen and it is this that you want in your jam/cordial/champagne/ vinegar. No matter how careful you are when you pick them a cloud of pollen will still be released, reminding you to be even more careful with the next snip, whether you are threatened with tipping yourself down that steep bank or not.

I bought my elderflower heads inside and wondered what I should do with them.  I have made elderflower cordial before and I love it, but I fancied something a bit different. I fancied a scented vinegar, so I started with that (recipe to follow in another blog post) and then I thought about the gooseberries that Mr OC and I had been admiring in our garden on Saturday. Mr OC had mentioned gooseberry jam. I took that as a hint. Out I went, still in sandals, to tackle the gooseberries. Those little bushes really don’t want you to take their fruit. Several exclamations later I emerged with just over 1 kilo of gooseberries and my hands prickled and thorn ridden. There are plenty left to ripen further for a fool or an ice-cream. Perhaps gloves might be an idea next time.

The resulting jam is heavenly. It has a sherbet fizz to it, that makes your lips pucker, ever so slightly, then the heady scent of elderflower and the sweet tang of  gooseberries. If someone were ever to ask me what the colour green tastes like I would say this jam, after wondering whether they required help. The jam itself has a rose hue to it that just makes you feel happy. I am glad the internet was broken this morning.

Makes 5-6 random sized but about 300-400g jars

1kg gooseberries, topped and tailed and washed
6-8 elderflower heads, carefully picked and carefully inspected for insects
500ml of water
1 kg white sugar

Method

Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a jam pan or large saucepan, pour over 500ml water and place the elderflower heads on the top. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook until the gooseberries are soft but still whole. Remove the elderflower heads (which will have gone brown in the heat). Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and boil until the jam is set. To test, place a couple of saucers in the freezer to get really cold. After nearly ten minutes of boiling spoon a little of the jam onto a cold saucer and leave for a minute. Push the tip of your finger through and if the jam wrinkles it is set, if not leave to boil for a few minutes more. My jam took about 15-18 minutes today and it is very softly set, which is the way I prefer it. Leave the jam to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then spoon into warm sterile jars and seal.

To sterilise my jars, I wash them really well in soapy hot water, rinse really well in clean water. Place on a baking tray and place in a low oven for twenty minutes. I then fill them as soon as they come out of the oven.

 

Crabapple and rosehip jelly

rosehip and crabapple jelly

I intended to make rowan berry and crabapple jelly this year. The rowan berries have drooped heavily this year. In fact, on our usual walk I have noticed several new rowan trees. Obviously they aren’t actually new trees I just haven’t noticed them before. Which makes me think that this year the trees must be particularly heavy with berries as I am not usually one to miss a foraging opportunity. Anyway, off I marched with my carrier bags, one for the crabapples, one for rowan berries and one just in case. You never know what you might spot.

It wasn’t until I came to actually pick the rowan berries that I noticed quite how tall each of my newly spotted trees was. Why hadn’t I noticed before that I needed to be several feet higher to get the berries? I managed a handful from a sapling growing on the side of a brook. Time for a rethink. That was when the spare carrier bag came in handy for the rosehips.

I made rosehip syrup last year in an effort to ward off any chesty coughs. So this year, we will be having crabapple and rosehip jelly by the spoonful if the common cold dares to visit. The rosehip is high in vitamin C and during World War II people were paid by the pound for rosehips so that the syrup could be made and given to children.

The apples and rosehips are bubbling as I write this draft and the scent is mesmerisingly good. I am looking forward to this jelly accompanying our winter sunday roasts and perhaps added to some herb teas. I think a spoonful might be a good addition to a sage tea to sooth sore throats.

750g crab apples
300g rosehips
water to cover
sugar, 450g for every 600ml of juice

Method

Wash the crab apples well and cut out any bruises. Chop roughly.

Wash the rosehips and remove the old flower and check for any creatures that might be hiding there. Blitz them in a food processor or chop finely. Bearing in mind that they are famed by schoolchildren everywhere for their qualities as itching powder, so you might want to wear gloves when handling them.

Place the apples and rosehips in a large pan and just cover with water. Bring to a simmer and simmer away until the fruit is soft. Put the pulp into a  jelly bag or a clean tea towel (I boil one in a pan two thirds filled with water for about ten minutes to make sure it is clean) and allow the fruit to strain over a large bowl. Don’t squeeze the bag or the jelly will be cloudy. A lot of recipes say that you need to leave it overnight, but the liquid in mine had drained through in a couple of hours, leaving a dry pulp behind.

Place a couple of saucers in the fridge for testing your jelly later. Measure your juice and pour into a large clean pan. Bring to boiling point. Add 450g sugar for every 600ml of juice and stir to dissolve. Boil rapidly once the sugar has dissolved and boil until setting point has been reached. You may have a scum come to the surface. Scoop this out. Setting point should take about ten minutes. But test for setting point after five minutes. To test for setting point take out one of the cold saucers and place a teaspoonful of the jelly onto it. Allow to cool and then push your finger through it. If it wrinkles then it is ready. Pour into hot sterile jars and seal.

I love the colour of this jelly, it’s much paler than the crabapple jelly I made two years ago. It has more of a rose blush about it. It’s well worth a try.

 

Winberry muffins

winberry muffins

 

If you go down the woods today…..

Or, indeed walk up a large hill, then you may well be in for a surprise. No bears having picnics (I hope) but bushes of these delicious little bursts of purpley goodness. My lovely friend and I try to take a walk each week. It’s always a great walk whatever the weather. We put the world to rights in an hour and a half. At the top of the hill you are always rewarded with a wonderful 360° view, whether that is cloud shrouded fields, or crops withering under a heat haze. But at this time of the year you are also rewarded with winberry bushes. There is a mass of them, covered in these tiny berries. They are time-consuming to pick and this is made slightly more difficult, but also more hilarious, by my friend’s dog cavorting through the bushes, stopping to hoover some of the berries up with his front teeth. You don’t get many in fifteen minutes of picking (unless you are a dog), but you get enough for a couple of batches of these muffins. So, well worth the purple stained fingers.

winberries

 

The winberry is a cousin of the blueberry but much smaller. It is known by lots of other names – bilberry, whortleberry, blaeberry, windberry, whinberry etc etc. They grow on nutrient poor acidic soil and my friend and I were discussing how amazing it is that on this windswept hill, which spends a fair amount of time under low slung cloud and takes the worst of the winter weather these little bushes thrive and produce these delicious fruits.

Please remember that if the land on which the winberry grows has an owner then you should ask their permission before foraging. Take only a few, leaving plenty for the birds and mammals which rely on them. Most importantly, make sure you know for certain that it is a winberry bush and not something poisonous.

Makes 12 mini muffins (fairy cake size) or 6 muffins.

150g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
25g caster sugar
1 egg
80g butter
200ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
80-100g winberries (or less if you haven’t managed to pick that many)

Method

When making muffins, lightness is key, so sift the flour and baking powder and don’t overmix.

Sift together the flour and the baking powder into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar gently. Make a well in the centre.

Melt the butter and add to the beaten egg, the milk and the vanilla extract in a jug.

Pour the liquid into the flour and mix very briefly. Add the winberries and mix just enough to distribute them.You should still have some lumps of flour.

Spoon into muffin cases in a patty tin. I used cupcake sized cases to make mini muffins and made 12 rather than 6 large ones.

Place in a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6 for 15-20 minutes. I took them out of the oven five minutes before they were ready and sprinkled demerara sugar on their tops and continued to cook until the muffins were golden brown. This gives them a slightly crunchy top.

half eaten winberry muffin