I’ve managed to squeeze in a couple of bouts of foraging in the last week, most enjoyably with a couple of young guns from Click Industrial Design. Luke and Ollie came along to see what I get up to on my local patch. What always amazes me, and it did them too, is how quickly you start finding things the moment you step outside the door.
In our case on Wednesday we had not gone 50 yards before finding two of my target species. On departure I had in mind to make a mix up hedgerow jelly, keen to incorporate hawthorn berries, hopefully some crab apples and whatever else came to light. At 50 yards we hit an early jackpot finding two neat compact bushes laden with fruit – one a hawthorn and right next to it a blackthorn bush covered with sloes.
Luke and Ollie and a Blackthorn Bush
We picked a good quantity quite quickly, leaving a good share for the birds, conscious that temperatures were starting to noticeably plummet and their need would be greater than ours in the coming weeks. Moving on we spent some time finding patches of sorrel, thriving and looking quite hardy despite us already having had some frosts.
Common Sorrel - Rumex acetosa
Sorrel is a member of the Oxalis family. This is a clue to its sharp very clean lemony flavour given to it by oxalix acid present in the leaves. Consuming very large quantities would not necessarily be good , although a traditional French recipe for sorrel soup tends to use a lot and as far as I am aware to no ill effect. In fact the Oxalis is derived from a French word meaning sour. As well as soups sorrel can be added, chopped fine, to salads or dips for its lemon piquancy, but it’s more often used cooked and used as a flavoring element rather than a green. One method is to wash and clean the leaves, chop them, then slowly saute them in butter or oil. When they are very soft, they can be pureed in a blender or by forcing through a strainer. The puree can then be used as the vegetable element combined with cream in a sauce over fish or vegetables.
Coincidentally a week previously in a foraging expedition around the Wharncliffe Chase area I had come across what turned out to be sheep sorrel another member of this family. It looked very similar to common sorrel except that instead of the lobes of its arrow shaped leaves spread sideways and not backwards (see picture below). I took a sample for identification and luckily my mother came to the rescue along with her trusty book Plants of Great Britain to help me identify it. (Note to self – in order to get better at this plant identification thing the addition of a good book on British plants to a Christmas present list would be in order).
Sheep sorrel - Rumex acetosella
Just digressing slightly again to this previous jaunt at Wharncliffe Chase and Wheata Wood I can’t resist showing this picture of the biggest bolete I have ever seen. It is I think Orange Birch Bolete, Leccinum versipelle (but please mycologists let me know what you think). It was 1.8kg in weight (after it had dried out for a day – although it was surprisingly dry when I found it), the cap was 26cm in diameter and found in mixed woodland.
Is this Orange Birch Bolete?
Briefly back to the hunt last week, Luke, Ollie and I finished with a fungi foray. In the mixed woods we found a large number of a fungus commonly known as the deceiver. Said to be edible we all agreed that we need to learn much more about fungus identification before any consumption of these would take place. Finally on a loop back to the house we found crab apples and our supply for the intended hedgerow mix up jelly was complete.
I hope Luke and Ollie enjoyed their afternoon. We are hoping to collaborate with these guys early next year to organise a “happening” built around food and experiences influenced by our immediate wild environment. For me at least each trip from the back door brings new discoveries and we are excited about trying to use this resource.
The following day I made the promised hedgerow jelly from the spoils of our walk. I have listed a full recipe below. It’s a relatively simple affair as the fruit goes into a pan whole for its initial juice extraction with no preparation other than washing. The juice can be left to drip out through a jelly bag or cotton bag overnight and the jelly finished the next day. I actually then used the leftover pulp (cooked briefly again with a little water and added sugar), pushed through another fine sieve to make fruit leather.
Crab Apples, Sloes and Hawthorn Berries
In the pan ready to go
Reusing the pulp for a fruit leather
Around 1kg berries ( sloes, or rosehips, or haws or a mixture)
Around 1kg crab apples
Around 1.5kg granulated sugar
A jelly bag (or a clean cotton cloth and a big sieve)
Remove the berries from the stalks and wash them well. Peel and roughly chop the crab apples, but leave in the cores – they contribute lots of pectin, which helps set the jelly.
Put all the fruit into a large, heavy pan, along with enough water (at least 500ml) to come about halfway up the fruit. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally and crushing the fruit against the side of the pan, until the whole mass is soft and pulpy. Tip the mixture into a jelly bag (or a large sieve lined with a cotton cloth) suspended over a bowl, and leave to drain. If you want a clear jelly, just let the liquid drip through, but if you want to get the maximum yield and don’t mind if your jelly is a little cloudy, squeeze the pulp to extract every last drop of juice.
Measure the juice, then transfer it to a clean pan and add 750g sugar for every litre of juice. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, then boil rapidly, skimming off any scum that might rise to the surface, until you reach setting point – you can measure this with a sugar thermometer: it’s 106C. Alternatively, after about 10 minutes of hard boiling, take the pan off the heat and drop a teaspoon of the jelly on to a cold saucer, put this in the fridge for a couple of minutes, then push your finger through the jelly. If the surface wrinkles, your jelly is ready. If not, boil for five minutes longer, then repeat the test. As soon as setting point is reached, remove the pan from the heat and pour the jelly into warm, sterilised jars. Cover with a disc of waxed paper, then a lid. Leave for a few weeks to mature before eating. The jelly should keep for up to a year.