Here Comes the Autumn

In late Summer and as Autumn comes around the little foxes and I spend a lot of time harvesting from our allotment and foraging in the surrounding countryside.  Growing up in North London my family were always big blackberry pickers.  I remember my mum stopping the car at the side of a busy road and my sisters, brother and I jumping out with our empty ice cream tubs to fill with blackberries.  So, I have continued the trend, but, as our home is close to fields, lakes and woods with lots of available scrumpable foods, we are more prolific.

There is something about the fact that the food is free that gives you a little extra thrill.  The kids enjoy it and can get quite competitive.  I can’t walk past a blackberry bush from about July without assessing it’s bounty.  On an actual picking expedition I just can’t stop.  The little foxes squealing with delight as they find the next gathering of fat juicy berries. I’m as bad as the kids.

I do become a little obsessive, scouting out my sloes and apples for months in advance.  One of the school dads is also a sloe hunter and we exchange intelligence.  However, I am very cagey about my damsons, there are not many of these and they are on the edge of a carpark, so, I am always nervous someone else will get there first. 

This year the allotment has not done as well as usual.  I put it down to strange weather and  the distraction of getting Mrs Fox’s website up and running.  So to satisfy our harvesting urge the kids and I have been scrumping like crazy.

We have blackberries.  We have eaten crumbles for weeks now, but I have also frozen them, some cooked with a little sugar and some nice fat juicy berries uncooked and individually frozen.  We have raspberries and black currents in the garden which I also freeze.  I wash out and keep my plastic take-away cartons all year round and then use these containers to freeze my bounty.  Last year I was still eating blackberry crumble in May.  I also still have blackberry jam from last year, so I am not jamming this year. 

We have apples.  There are numerous apple trees among the hedgerow and trees around the lakes.  We pick the apples; sticks, dog leads, fishing nets have all been used to fell our bounty.  We eat the unbruised ones.  I cook rabbit stew and pork belly on the weekend stewing up the bruised apples to complement them.  Then I core, peel and freeze the rest under lemon water in take-away cartons, so those May blackberry crumbles often include apples.

We have damsons and little yellow plums.  The plums I preserve in sugar water in kilner jars.  I’ve done the same with the damsons but I prefer to pickle them in a sweet spiced sauce, great with meats; game and ham especially.  I also made some damson gin last year and it was fab so I’ll be doing that again.

We have sloes.  These I will be making into sloe gin.  I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, we leave a bottle for a year to mellow, opening the previous years at Christmas.  It has become a bit of a Christmas tradition in our house, the opening of last years sloe gin in front of our fire on Christmas Eve, or at our Christmas Party.  There is also a great cocktail that I make with sloe gin and champagne called a Sloe Motion.  The receipe of which was given to me by an elderly gentleman volunteer at a National Trust property in Hertfordshire!

We have elderberries.  These I make into a sweet desert wine, quite like a port.  I also use them to make pontack sauce.  I can only describe this as a sort of Worcester Sauce substitute, not in taste, but in how you use it.  It makes wonderful meat gravy, particularly for pork, can be added to game, particularly good in venison casserole.  But I have also used it on toasted cheese, in vegetable soups, and with puy lentils.  I got the receipe for Pontack sauce from the River Cottage Handbook No.2.

River Cottage Handbook No.2. - Preserves by Pam Corbin 

The book covers various ways of preserving including; jams, chutneys, oil and vinegar based preserves, bottling fruit, sauces and fruit liqueurs.  It has receipes for many of the things I’ve mentioned, a great section on making jams and lots of things I’ve never heard of.  My copy is pretty battered from use both in the kitchen and on walks.  I love to sit and read through it before a walk and am planning on trying something with haws next as it has a couple of suggestions and I didn't even know they were edable.  The children love foraging and there is something really satisfying about getting home and turning our finds into something tasty too.

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  1. Sloe Motion...Must send grandma out for sloes!

  2. Tee hee, it is very good! I'll have to bring you some sloe gin next time we are your way and you can sample.


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