Monday, 7 October 2013

An autumn foraging

I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool forager. But this autumn has been a good one for wild fruit.
  • Blackberries everywhere, although I think I started picking them too late. Old railway lines, footpaths, the edges of woods seem to be areas that blackberries like to grow. I don't like blackberry and apple - I know it's a traditional combination, but to me, the apple just dilutes that fantastic hit of blackberry flavour. Instead, I make blackberry jelly (look, no pips - and the huge advantage is you don't have to take out all the little bits of stalk you're left with, or clean the fruit more than cursorily, just tip everything into the boil, and leave it to drip through muslin overnight. Then add 450g of sugar per 600ml of the vibrant purple juice, get it to boil away for ten to twenty minutes, wait for setting point, and stick it in a jar. Bright purple happiness ready to go on your morning baguette.)
  • Apples and pears - windfalls make me happy. Not so easy to find in town, though there are a few places where I see them splatter on to the pavement - pass by early in the morning to pick them up. In the country, I find a few hedgerow trees that yield a crop of crab apples and occasionally eaters, all grist to the jelly making mill. The great thing with apple jelly is that it teams up so well with all manner of herbs and spices; mint, notably (better than mint sauce with lamb, since the sugar adds a pick-me-up to the flavour), or coriander, cinnamons and cloves for a Christmassy mulled warmth, rosemary or sage for a drier note. Pears go with cinnamon and cloves, but need a few apples added for pectin, or a bit of Certo or Vitpris commercial pectin, otherwise the jelly doesn't set.
  • I didn't get any mulberries this year - but I know where they are. Just look for the telltale purple splatter on the pavement. I find that often, people don't realise that the fruits are edible - introduce yourself and explain you want them for a pie or for jelly, offer to share and you'll often find people are very happy to let you pick. These have now become one of my favourite fruits - totally inedible raw, but wonderful cooked with their tart, rich, sumptuous flavour.
  • Hazelnuts are everywhere! Eat'em as they are, or make dukka, which comes in a variety of flavours: with mint and herbs, or cumin and coriander. Or roast and grind for a praline mix which can be used in the same way as ground almonds, as an ingredient in cakes, or to thicken sauces; an excellent kitchen standby. Or in chocolate truffles, if you are deeply sinful.
  • Walnuts are also falling on to the road in a few villages; I sometimes find walnut trees in hedgerows, too. There's one walnut tree in the cathedral close in Norwich that is occasionally generous. Watch out for the skins, which will stain your hands, and anything else they come in contact with, black. For best results, walnuts need to be left to dry in a basket or slat-sided box. Once they're dry, they last for ever. Don't bother cracking till you need them. Like hazelnuts, they can be toasted or made into dukka.
Drying apple slices is another possibility, if you have a drier; they can also be made in the oven on a low heat (150c or below). These keep for a good while in a jar or in a tupperware box. Useful for cakes, in stews and sauces or tagines, in a fruity risotto (with dried apricots and sultanas, for instance), or just as a chewy treat.

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