Food for free

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Hedgerows on the local footpaths are bursting with fruit – the expected blackberries, but also sloes, wild plums, apples, rose hips, greengages and elderberries. Who could resist?

Plums from the hedgerow

Plums from the hedgerow

A guerilla raid on the extensive local wild plum trees yielded three litre containers full of fruit and the bushes still dripping with prizes for anyone else who comes along and fancies them. How did they get there? Are they the remains of an orchard, left to mark a boundary when other trees were pulled up?

A litre of stewed plums now resides in the freezer as a specific against the gloom, short days and lack of sunlight in the months to come. The other two were eaten in crumbles, in home-made fruit yoghurt mixtures, and as pancake filling, cooked up with a little water and honey. They’re much smaller than commercial fruit, and rather tart, but still delicious.

We’ve had our first blackberries of the season, cooked up with some wild apples that were big enough for us to convince ourselves they weren’t crabs. Blackberries at Christmas strikes me as the biggest treat imaginable so, in the glut to come, we’re hoping to pack out the freezer. We won’t be walking anywhere for a while without gardening gloves and a selection of ice cream tubs with lids. When we get them home we treat them with a soak in diluted vinegar to remove any nasties. It also takes out a bit of the colour but not enough to cause a problem.

Sloes growing by the Hitchin Outer Orbital Path

Sloes growing by the Hitchin Outer Orbital Path

Now we’re eyeing the sloe bushes and wondering where on earth you find a glass jar big enough to take a pound of the fruit plus a litre of gin. A brewing supplies shop, we imagine, so that’s now on the list of places to visit. The prospect of drinking sloe gin in front of the fire this winter is simply too appealing to pass up.

Somewhat ironic that I should just have started reading Richard Mabey’s republished classic The Unofficial Countryside as Mabey is also the author of the foragers’ bible Food for Free. Taking a look at that volume now looks long overdue.

Earlier in the season the veg box was packed with surprise wild garlic – wonderful stuff but something I’d be pretty hesitant to pick from a woodland, on the grounds that you don’t pick things growing in woodlands, however much of it seems to be around. Fruit will fall off the bush whether I pick it or not and is usually present in epic quantities. Leaves seem somehow different. So its presence in a commercial capacity was welcome.

Blackberries on Gypsy Lane

Blackberries on Gypsy Lane

And then there’s the glut of Anya potatoes from the allotment (the only thing we managed to plant this year after taking over a derelict plot in late spring) and huge numbers of tomatoes slowly swelling in the garden. The runaway basil is covered in flowers. What a wonderful time of year.

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