Monday, 29 August 2011

Day 57: Nature's Bounty

My quick jaunt to the countryside has reminded me that it is approaching harvest time.  I was especially reminded of this by the 9 tractors slowing the traffic to a crawl for the last five miles of the journey.

Despite the increasingly colder days - this is Scotland! - I am looking forward to autumn and harvest from one point of view.  Everyone knows that it is cheapest to buy seasonally.  (I have discovered this handy calendar which lets you know what is in season when.  Guess what: savoy cabbage is really in right now!)  So far, vegetables have been no problem.  But the trouble is that summer fruit - strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc, - is expensive per se.  A punnet of rasps may indeed be half their winter price, but they are still beyond my reach.  Meanwhile, the cheaper fruit - especially apples and plums - has been both expensive and unappetising, because they are out of season.  The result is that I have eaten hardly any fruit this summer at all.

Despite living in the middle of a city, but I have plans to do some foraging.  Scotland's cold and wet climate does not lend itself to a bountiful hedgerow harvest, but it does have a few things to offer.  In particular, very soon it will be bramble season in Scotland.  These are not the plump and sweet blackberries that I have picked in Devon, for example, but they can jazz up some stewed fruit nevertheless.  So I sent out a facebook message asking where I might find some within easy reach of a bus route.  I now have three locations and an offer of a cup of tea!  They are not ripe yet, so my informants tell me, but in another week or so they should be ready for picking. 

I also need to check with my mother.  We have a damson tree in the farmhouse garden, which produces fruit every other year.  Damsons are extraordinarily strong and sour - Mother tried to feed us both a damson crumble once, which made our eyes cross - but when mixed in with some apple they make a nice change.  Let's hope this is a damson year.

I am not sure what else is around that I could forage.  I don't feel confident enough to identify mushrooms.  I don't know of any edible nuts which grow up in this cold part of the country.  I do know where I can find some wee blaeberries (bilberries), but I would need a car to get there, and it would involve a day of hill climbing.  It seems to be a bit out of season for nettles or dandelion leaves, though these might be a good option come spring.  I could beg my sister to let me harvest the rosehips from her hedge (though I can't do this until after the first frost), but even if I could work out how to prepare these, for the life of me I can't think how I would actually eat them.  Maybe I am just making excuses - I don't know.  If there are other possibilities out there for this time of year, I would love to hear them.

Still, damsons and brambles are a good start.  And within a month or so, apple season ought to have begun proper.  Huzzah, for my fruit deficiency is about to be rectified.

Total Expenditure: £9.15 (mostly on bus fares)


Fat Dormouse said...

What about elderberries? Our bush/tree is laden at the moment and while they're not particularly good on their own, mixed with blackberries in a pie/jam/crumble etc they are nice.

Of course, your carless state might again be a problem, but often elder bushes/trees grow in suburban places too.

spotthegerbil said...

Brambles love lousy soil. They seem to thrive on waste ground. But the best possible places (IMHO) are disused railways. Look for embankments that are south facing for the best fruit. Download your local cyclepath map to see if there are paths along old railways or canals near you.

I picked a kilo of brambles tonight from the area around an old quarry on the way home from work. These will become part of the next batch of bramble wine. Last years batch has turned out very nice indeed.

If you have access to winemaking equipment, the elderberry season comes along soon...

Anonymous said...

I'm in the soft SE of England, so might have a better choice of wild fruits - and of course they are already ripe down here, but this is what can be found among our hedgerows in addition to blackberries.
Any number of varieties of wild plum:
Mirabelles, cherry plum, bullace (purple and green varieties), sloes - and some slightly larger unidentified plums that have probably descended from cultivated varieties 'sown' by the wildlife. Crabapples - various types, sea buckthorn, & rowan.
Most of these are pretty small, and best used for jellies or 'butters' as they can be cooked complete with skin and seeds, and then strained or sieved, but are not impossible to prepare, cook and serve as their larger brethren.
Over the years I have weaned myself off the vast quantities of sugar usually needed to make these palatable and have been making wild plum crumbles this year without any sugar at all in the fruit.

Strangely enough, if you serve unsweetened cooked fruit with plain yoghurt the two different types of acidity seem to work against each other so that neither taste as sharp as you expect. (But start with just a spoonful of each to get used to them, not a great bowl full)

There are hazelnuts and walnuts too, but the squirrels
get them first - unless you want to pick walnuts in the summer, and pickle them.
I guess there's other stuff too, but the forager in the family doesn't come across them, or recognise them. He does bring some fungi home, but I have to be sure that I recognise them and then make him cook and eat them first, before I will risk it. Other than giant puffball, which is a rare treat.
I came across a foodie blog from Canada recently which gave a recipe using 'fiddleheads'. We don't have much in the way of fern or bracken round here, so I haven't tried them, but they might be avalable to you. I believe they are to be found in late winter/early spring. Info will be available on the 'net, of course

Sharon said...

Rosehips make a lovely cordial/syrup with lots of vitamin C in it. For 250g of rosehips you need about 500ml of water. Bash them a bit, them cover with the water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 mins and then strain, really thoroughly using a muslin lined sieve (you don't want all the itchy hairy bits in the finished syrup). Measure how much juice you have and add the same weight of sugar. Stir over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved, then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. If you want to keep this for a while divide between small sterilised bottles or jars (unopened it keeps for ages). Once opened it will only keep for about a week or so in the fridge.

Dilute with water to drink as a cordial or use as a syrup on pancakes, waffles or ice-cream.

Jeremy said...

It is very hard work to get enough out of rosehips to use in cooking, as you can't eat the seeds. But if you wait until they are soft, and just squeeze them, some red will come out the end, the consistency of tomato puree. It is very tasty and extremely high in vitamin c so you can use it to ward off winter colds.

Wild damsons aren't all that sour in the south of England, as long as you don't pick them too soon. They look ripe well before they are. I cook them with just the sugar in the crumble mixture but your farm ones may be a different kind.

Nik said...

ahhh rosehip jam, dear Fran, that's what you can make... :)

spotthegerbil said...

Bramble source in middle of Edinburgh...

Holyrood park. Go to the duck pond at the Meadowbank end of the park. At this point the road goes up Arthur's seat. In the area betweer road and pond there's a ripe crop just ready for picking.