Foraging

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Blackberries are not the only fruits ripening in the hedgerows as the summer closes. Sloes are ready, at just the right height for picking, clusters of elderberries are turning colour from green to darkest red, and crab apples are beginning to drop. Rowans, roses and hawthorns are loaded with red and orange hips and berries. It’s nearly time to make fruit jellies, a satisfying process of gathering, simmering and straining that yields jewel-bright preserves to store for winter.  The essential ingredient here is the crab apple. Although they are inedible uncooked, crab apples contribute a high level of pectin to jams and jellies. There is no fiddly peeling or coring: just chop up the crab apples and stew them skin, pips and all, before straining the juice through a jelly bag.  There are any number of recipes for using this in preserves. On their own, they make a translucent pink apple jelly.

Hugh Fearley-Whittingstall adds rowan berries, rosehips and haws. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/oct/21/recipes.foodanddrink

Or add the same weight of any mix of berries for a hedgerow jelly, guided by @pamthejam Pam Corbin, author of the River Cottage Preserves handbooks.

Most foraging tends to be at eye and ground level, but if you scan upwards into the canopy of hedgerow trees you might catch the red or yellow gleam of wild plums, which ripen between June and September.  Prunus cerasifera,  whose common names are cherry plum and myrobalan plum, was originally native to southeast Europe and western Asia. It has naturalised in the UK, where it grows as a large shrub or small tree up to twelve metres high. Another variation is the bright orange-yellow French mirabelle (Prunus insititia). Black and green bullace, with damson-like fruit that ripens later in the year, are also forms of Prunus insititia. The small fruits of my local hedgerow plum trees, pictured above, have an intense and not too sweet plummy flavour. They make my favourite jam, a reminder of meandering through the lanes on slow summer days.

The classic recommendation for making jam out of fiddly stone fruit is to simmer them whole, when the stones will magically float to the surface and you can skim them off.  I prefer to recruit an assistant or two and spend time at the kitchen table with a couple of pounds of little plums and an olive-stoning gadget, popping the stones out one by one.   Then I cook them using Delia Smith’s plum jam recipe, seal and label, and admire the glowing red and yellow pots marching across the dresser.

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Delia stays out for the chutney-making day, which strictly speaking does not involve foraging, as the plums for her Old Doverhouse recipe come from a pick-your-own orchard http://www.pmfarming.co.uk/plums-and-other-fruit/.  But it means another happy day wandering in the late summer sunshine, choosing my fruit for a well-stocked winter larder.

 

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