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The Hidden Jewels in our Hedgerows and Woodlands

It may be frosty but it’s still technically autumn, this year seems to be speeding by? Although the nights are drawing in I do love the misty moisty mornings which herald this season of plenty.

As the leaves continue to change colour from green through to glorious hues of red, orange and russet there’s nothing nicer than pulling on a pair of sturdy boots and going for a long walk, kicking up the leaves as you go. Of course a bit of bracing exercise tends to stimulate the appetite and makes one look forward to the comforting dishes that are characteristic of this time of year.

We’re all familiar with the typical fruits of this season:- blackberries, plums, figs and pears all of which make for excellent desserts, jams and jellies as well as accompaniments to savoury dishes. This is a perfect time of year to be a little more adventurous as our hedgerows and woodlands are teeming with all manner of edible fruits and berries. I’m planning to indulge in a few foraging expeditions with the expectation of turning my haul into jams, jellies and chutneys. In preparation for this I’ve been researching the lesser known fruits that proliferate throughout the countryside and have unearthed some absolute corkers!

Hawthorn fruit or haws

Hawthorn berries ripen in September and October and can be picked until November and range in colour from yellow through to deep red and black. Haws are a rich source of polyphenols which are powerful antioxidant compounds found in plants. Culinarily speaking they are really rather versatile lending themselves to fruit leathers, jellies, syrups, cordials and even ketchups.

Rowan berries

It would be hard to miss the gleaming bunches of fiery red berries that adorn the rowan tree. Containing high levels of vitamin C, dietary fibre and antioxidants, these little berries are a powerhouse ingredient. Eaten fresh they are very astringent and bitter but really come into their own when made into jams, jellies or pickles and are a delicious accompaniment to roast meats.

Crab apples

Crab apple trees are associated with love and marriage and although the fruit it bears is hard and sour they are transformed when made into a jelly. Preserving them couldn’t be easier as there’s no need for peeling or coring, just chuck the little blighters into the pan in their entirety. Crab apples are a good source of vitamin C and calcium and produce a gorgeous rose hued jelly.

Sea buckthorn

Predominantly found on the east coast of England sea buckthorn has been planted in other coastal areas to stabilize dune systems. It’s believed that the horses who graze on it’s leaves gain weight and develop a lovely shiny coat. It’s Latin name- hippophae rhamnoides bears this out- hippo meaning horse and phaos to shine. Sea buckthorn is packed full of antioxidants, beta carotene and has anti- inflammatory properties. The bright orange berries are perfect for making jams or spicy pickles.

Sloes

We may be a little more familiar with sloe berries. Growing on the sharply spiky blackthorn they are said to improve digestive problems and reduce inflammation in the mouth. Too bitter and sour to eat raw they do make fabulous sloe gin- although patience is required before sampling as it takes a minimum of three months to mature. If you can wait that long the booze soaked sloes can be repurposed into jams, jellies or even chocolates.

Whitebeam

Although now rare in the wild, whitebeam is commonly found in parks and gardens. It is a relative of the rowan but with slightly paler berries which are also rather charmingly known as chess apples. The berries make fine jellies and jams but need to be cooked when almost rotten.

Elderberries

The elder tree grows pretty much anywhere, so need to worry if you don’t live in the countryside. The wine dark little berries have been used medicinally for centuries and are packed with vitamins B and C and are full of anti-oxidants. They are also superbly versatile lending themselves to making wine, gin, jelly and vinegar. Elderberries are superb in cordials- add in some cinnamon and ginger to make the most of the berries anti- viral and anti- inflammatory properties.

Medlar

I couldn’t conclude without mentioning medlar fruit, principally because its various nicknames have had me sniggering all week. Shakespeare described the fruits as “open arsed” whilst DH Lawrence bestowed on them the unfortunate moniker of “autumnal excrementa”. My favourite of all though is “cul de chien” or dog’s bottom (the French version does sound a little more appealing)!

As you might imagine the medlar isn’t the most attractive of fruits and like the whitebeam cannot be eaten until rotten. This process is known as “bletting” and is derived from the French verb blettir- to make soft. In this process the fruits become brown, squashy and very sweet- perfect for turning into jams and jellies. These are perfect accompaniments to gammon, game, roast meats, pâtés, terrines and soft cheeses.

Just a word of warning, normal foraging rules apply when harvesting wild fruits and berries- never pick or consume anything you can’t confidently identify, and only take what you need- birds and animals rely on these crops as an important part of their diets.

Happy preserving!

Interested in learning how to create preserves? Book on to our brand-new pickling, preserving, and fermenting class here>