Like I’ve said before this is the time of year that really makes me feel like a culinary throw back to the days long gone; if not quite medieval then definitely pre-refrigerators. The desire to preserve anything and everything is strong and, I’m not going to lie to you, gets a bit stressful at times. Well, for me anyway. The problem is that everything makes an appearance at once and stays at its best for such a short window. Damsons are no exception.
Well it’s that time of year again when we should all be donning our hunter wellies and skipping off around the fields filling every vessel we can lay our hands on with blackberries and other fruits of the hedgerows. I don’t know about you but I love it. Trouble is some years it seems harder than others to find the time. That’s when my back up plan comes in handy. I send the boys and accept the fact that not so many blackberries come back. But luckily usually just enough for some hedgerow jelly and this gorgeous autumnal stew.
So summer has officially shifted over to make way for autumn and now the flimsy clothes have been packed away it’s time to stop all the lounging around (I know I’m finding it hard too), start making the most of all those serious produce gluts and start cooking. I’m not sure about you but I don’t know of a better place to start than with some gorgeous autumnal plums. And cake of course.
Many legends spring forth from medieval Europe especially from around the time of the Black Death. One of the best, but not well known concerns four (or sometimes 7) ne’er-do-wells of indiscriminate origins. The story varies from country to country but essentially concerns the discovery of an elixir either in Marseilles or London that conferred immunity from the dreaded plague. This marauding band either burgled the houses of those who had fled the plague or robbed graves depending on your sources. When the locals noticed their inexplicable health they traded in their secret for either their freedom or a less painful death, again depending on who you talk to. Luckily for us, Europe shook off the plague but their (albeit very approximate) recipe survives and as we all know there’s one thing I love more than a good legend. A good recipe.
This is a manic time of year, right? Exams to get them through, then school sports days, holidays to plan and on top of all that the garden explodes. Literally explodes. I swear, I went out of the house one morning and my garden was all neat and tidy and I came back to a jungle. I have noticed that I usually develop a more tolerant approach to weeds about this time of year and advise you do too; changing my definition from a plant growing in the incorrect place to anything goes as long as it’s not a stinging nettle. Evil things that they are.
I’m not a botany expert, but the long, hot sumer (at least by English standards) that we have enjoyed this year, mixed with an exceptionally mild and sunny autumn seems to have lead to a bumper berry harvest this year. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already made the best of the blackberries, hawthorn and rose hips that my hedgerows have to offer and now is the time for sloes to come into their own. Continue reading
So, you’ve made your hawthorn syrup, your rose hip syrup and blackberry jam, but what can you do now with all those lovely berries that are still on the hedgerows? Easy, you can round up all the ones that are perhaps past their best, or the ones that you don’t have enough of to use on their own, and make a hedgerow jelly. That’s basically a jam which you have sieved, so you don’t have more seeds than you do jam.
Before you say no, jam is not good for you, wait a while and think about why jam was made in the first place. Yes jam is full of sugar, but real sugar ( in small quantities) is something that your body can at least process, not like horrendous artificial sweeteners that are out there nowadays, which leave you, at best, over indulging , labouring under the impression that it is not bad for you, and really don’t get me started on the at worst scenarios. You can google it. Homemade jam is about making the best of what is available to you, where you live, and preserving it so that you may be able to keep on enjoying its benefits long after the natural season has passed. Put this on your toast in the morning, instead of lashings of butter and you’ll feel good all winter long. This particular jelly also makes a lovely sauce for game. Once you have cooked your game, keep the meat juices in the pan and add about a glass of nice red wine and some chopped fresh thyme leaves. Reduce that down by about a half then add a good teaspoon of this jelly, and once it has dissolved you’ll have a lovely jus to pour over your game pie or whatever. Continue reading
Roses are not only beautiful flowers to look at, but, come autumn, they produce the most wonderful fruit. We don’t really consider them a fruit anymore, despite the fact that they contain over 50% as much vitamin C as an orange, and this vitamin C is absorbed by your body twice as fast as any man made supplement. Whilst I enjoy an orange as much as the next man, I do find it unusual that we ignore a fruit that is native to much of Europe and the US in favour of fruit that is imported and has travelled a far longer distance to get to our tables. It also goes without saying that they are rich in those free radical fighting anti-cancer anti-oxidants, and have an anti-inflammatory effect as well possibly reducing specific enzymes which break down cartilage in our joints as we age a bit, therefore helping with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
To make the most of this fruit at this time of year, you could dry the hips, for use later in a tea, or you could, as I prefer to, make a rose hip syrup. Parents of the UK were advised to do so during the Second World War to make sure their children were getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. The syrup couldn’t be easier, but you will need sterilised bottles again. Now you should really wait until after the first frost so that the hips are just perfect, but being in south of England, the birds have usually got there first if you wait this long. A good solution is to pick your berries and then freeze them for a week or so. This works well for me as it also allows me to pick smaller quantities, but does mean that I am forever grabbing rose hips wherever I go at this time of year. Continue reading
If you didn’t pick all your elder blossom in spring, now is the time to get out there quick and start gathering. Elderberry has been known for hundreds of years as nature’s medicine cabinet, and in the Middle Ages it was even regarded as a holy tree for its medicinal properties, but over the last few decades we seem to have forgotten about it.
Apart from being delicious (especially when it has been sweetened a bit), usually for free and very easy to gather and pick, Elderberry is full to the brim with free radical fighting anti-oxidants, in fact it’s ORAC score (or oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is double that of super food blueberries. This means that eating them should help to reduce the risk of cancer and should strengthen your immune system. In fact, the anti-oxidants in elderberries help protect mucous membranes and reduce any inflammation in them. Studies show that people who use elderberry cold and flu symptoms were alleviated four days quicker than those who didn’t. Continue reading
When you have finished making your hawthorn berry syrup and are still wondering about what to do with the masses of haws that are still on the bushes outside, you really should try making this schnapps.
I like to think of schnapps are basically the same as a herbal tincture, but in (slightly!) different size glasses. You will get all the amazing benefits to your heart’s health but more than a thimble full and the other not so good effects of the 40% alcohol will probably kick in. Still, it tastes really good with cheese and is a great way to finish a meal, and if you time it right, makes a lovely present for someone at christmas. Continue reading