Urban foraging in Sheffield - May

Its all about the blossom!  Finally this year a warm interlude, uncharacteristically gracing the May Day Bank Holiday, triggered the buds to blossom on most of our urban shrubs and trees.  It’s a lovely time of year as new colour is painted back into our perspectives.  For the urban forager it’s a chance to bottle some of the scents and preserve some of the colour by trapping these ephemeral blooms in syrups and jam.

Cherry blossom is beautiful as it abruptly wakes skeletal tress in many urban streets reminding us that they are still here with us having survived another drab winter.  These trees are in Crookes Valley Park and I am sure still provide many students with pleasure as they walk from digs in Walkley to the University.

One way of preserving the flavour is to make  syrup from the blossom.  To do this simply layer the cherry blossom with sugar in a jug – pack the flowers tightly into each layer of about 2cm in thickness covering with 1cm of sugar and building up to the top.  Leave this to infuse for 24 hours before adding a 55ml of water to every 100g of sugar used and slowly dissolve in a pan over a gentle heat.  Strain and bottle this liquid in a sterilised bottle and use as a flavouring on ice cream or pancakes to make jellies, or to flavour simple sponges (by replacing the sugar with syrup) or simply dilute for a refreshing soft drink.

I can’t remember a year when the dandelions have flowered in such profusion, creating beautiful scenes for us and welcome foraging for wildlife.

Dandelion and a Peacock

Every verge, piece of waste ground and most front lawns have been covered in the beautiful large yellow flowers.  To capture some of this colourful bounty we made Dandelion marmalade and even though it seems you need to pick and awful lot we made hardly a dent on the local population.

To make Dandelion Marmalade first pick the heads from enough flowers to fill approximately a 1/3 of an average carrier bag size.  You are aiming for 80g of petals in total.  It’s important to do this on a sunny day when the flowers are fully open as you will notice that they steady close up in as the day draws to a c lose or if it’s a little dull. It’s also very important to make sure that the area you pick from is not polluted in any way, either from four-legged friends or say from chemical spraying.  Taking your bounty home the next stage is to snip the petals from the green (and bitter) base of the flower, more correctly known as the calyx.  It’s not as bad a job as I first thought and soon my carrier bag was reduced to 80g or so of petals.

Next take 60g of the petals and heat gently until just simmering in one litre of apple juice (reserve the other 20g for adding to the jam later).  I used an excellent variety of apple juice from Carr House Farm.  Turn off the heat and leave to infuse overnight.

Next day strain the juice into a pan and add 100ml of fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons) and heat to boiling point.  Add 750g of jam making sugar which has added pectin added and boil vigorously until setting point is reached – this should be within 10 minutes or so although my first batch took a little longer.  Remember to add the reserved 20g of petals which I did for the last few minutes of boiling.

Finally bottle in warmed sterilised bottles.  The resulting jam is a lovely combination of sweet and sour flavours with a rich, warming after taste.  I shall enjoy some of this later in the year to remind me of this colourful harvest