Forage a feast!

It’s been a very busy and eventful summer for us both in and out of the kitchen. We were honoured to be part of several fabulous garden parties and some simply stunning weddings this year which were, for the most part, celebrated in glorious sunshine.

However, autumn is now upon us. With hazy mornings and distinctly chilly evenings, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ has well and truly arrived. It has become extremely trendy to get out and about to take advantage of this fruitfulness; foraging along hedgerows, in meadows, woodland and parks. Foraging is not, of course, a new phenomenon; we’ve been gathering wild food as long as we’ve been eating and it wasn’t that long ago that it was part of day-to-day life in this country. There is food to be foraged all through the year but at this time, nature’s harvest does seem particularly plentiful.

Fruit and berries, leaves, nuts, fungi, are all available for the picking during autumn. Many have medicinal properties and were traditionally sought out as ‘food supplements’ and preserved in order to improve a limited diet during the winter months. Rose hips, for example, are known for their high vitamin C content and were commercially gathered during the Second World War as citrus fruit was hard to come by.

Food in the hedgerows

Rose hips…

...and blackberries

…and blackberries

Foraging for mushrooms has become so popular in recent years that there are fears that it might lead to varieties being wiped out in places like the New Forest and Epping Forest so the message is to forage responsibly and sustainably. Pick only what you are going to use; remember animals and birds often rely on these foods for their survival. Be absolutely clear about what you are picking; carefully identify and double check, particularly when it comes to mushrooms and if in doubt, leave well alone! There are several deadly mushrooms in this country and several others that will make you very ill.

Wild mushrooms

Wild mushrooms

Below, we’ve listed some of the top foods to forage at this time of year with suggestions of how they can be used. There are countless other examples of wild food available for the taking but thinking gastronomically, it is worth remembering that the only reasons for using an ingredient is because it enhances your dish and tastes good. Just because it’s foraged doesn’t necessarily mean it should be served up for dinner!

Top foods to forage at this time of year:

  • Crab apples – high in pectin so ideal for jam or jelly and particularly useful paired with low pectin fruit/berries. Use as you would apple and purée, juice or stew the fruit, remembering they are usually very tart and you will probably need to add more sugar or honey. Make chutney ready for Christmas or try poaching the apples (with their stems still attached) in sweet wine and spices to serve with a creamy cheese as a first course.

  • Rowan berries – traditionally used with crab apples to make a jelly (it is low in pectin so crab apples are a good partner) but also used as a sauce for game (they have a slight bitter taste which works well with rich meats) or in a fruit or tea loaf. Like other berries, rowan berries are apparently sweeter when gathered after a sharp frost.

  • Rose hips – Traditionally cooked with sugar and strained through a muslin to make syrup, cordial or jelly, rose hips are very high in vitamin C and A. Rose hip syrup is delicious poured over pancakes and ice cream or pour a little into a glass of chilled Prosecco. Also try making rose hip vinegar.

  • Blackberries – one of the best known wild hedgerow food. Bramble jelly is a firm favourite at FFO for an autumn cream tea and who doesn’t like a blackberry and apple crumble or pie? Blackberries are also delicious pickled and served with cheese or try making a sweet, rich liqueur to enjoy at Christmas, if you can wait that long!

  • Sloes – another hedgerow favourite and packed into bottles of gin by enthusiasts all over the country! Also try making sloe and apple jelly.

    Sloe Gin

    Sloe Gin

  • Damsons/Bullaces – both types of plum make very good jams, fruit cheeses and tarts or make a sweet damson vodka liqueur as an alternative to sloe gin.

  • Elderberries – elderberry vinegar or wine are popular uses for these black, jewel-like berries. Elderberry jelly is an excellent accompaniment to venison. Remember elderberries must be cooked before they are eaten as they are poisonous raw.

  • Wild Garlic – can be harvested throughout the year. Use the leaves in a stir-fry or salad or to add flavour to winter soups or stews.

  • Mushrooms – September and October are key months for picking mushrooms. Always cut mushrooms at the base rather than pulling them out of the ground, this way the mycelium won’t be damaged and the mushroom will be able to regenerate.

  • Seaweeds – use to accompany fish dishes, in stir-fries or in risottos. Don’t take the whole plant when harvesting, leave something to grow back!

  • Nuts – a rich source of protein and energy. Delicious roasted, use as the base for a vegetarian bake or tossed into a stir-fry. Soak, pulse with a little water and press through a muslin to make a dairy-free ‘milk’ or extract the oil to use for frying and dressings. In particular, look out for sweet chestnuts, cobnuts and beechnuts.

Happy picking!

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Cordial autumn greetings!

We’ve had a busy summer catering for barbecues, garden parties and weddings etc. and from the Jubilee in June to the Golden Glory in August; it seems there’s been plenty of reasons to celebrate this year!  Although we weren’t able to guarantee the sun (we were caught in a few downpours ourselves over the summer – usually as we were loading or unloading for an event!),  we were able to keep spirits raised by making sure the drinks stayed flowing!

For many, Pimms is the taste of summer! While we certainly mixed a few jugs this year…

…we also stirred things up a little differently!
Click here for our recipe for Limoncello and Mint Lemonade.

Some people might be ready to turn their attention to Christmas but here at ffO we aren’t quite so eager to welcome in the winter just yet (even if the temperature is plummeting and the nights drawing in!).  To remind ourselves that it is still only September, we’ve been getting out to pick the late summer/early autumn fruits around at the moment (during the odd breaks in the rain that is!).

Cordials from left to right: Plum & Cinnamon, Apple & Sloe, Rhubarb & Ginger and Blackberry.

Blackberries, raspberries, plums, damsons, pears, apples and sloes are all in season and a really quick and simple way to savour the taste is by making a fruit cordial.  Basically, cordials are flavoured sugar syrups (this is true in the UK anyway, in America the term is used to describe what we would call a liqueur – in fact both terms have the same origin; the first cordials/liqueurs were alcoholic and used purely for medicinal purposes).  Cordials are usually made with fruit but flowers, spices, herbs etc. can also be used for a twist on a basic fruit flavour; plum and cinnamon, blackcurrant and vanilla, lemon balm and mint, apple and rose, rhubarb and geranium, the flavour combinations are endless…!

Making cordials is not an exact science; quantities can be tweaked, the syrup sweetened to suit personal taste and the fruit, spices, herbs etc. blended to creat the perfect fruit cocktail!  Delicious mixed with sparkling water; they are a fantastic non-alcoholic alternative to offer guests (of course there’s also nothing stopping you from adding them to a glass of prosecco or sparkling wine!).

First, we made a sugar syrup (equal quantities of sugar and water brought to the boil and then simmered until the sugar had completely dissolved) which was then used as the base for each of our cordials.  In some cordial recipes, the fruit, water and sugar are all heated together but by making the sugar syrup separately we were able to control and fine tune the amount of sweetness for each flavour. The fruit (and other flavourings) were then gently cooked until soft and the juice dripped through a muslin cloth before being added to some of the sugar syrup (with some, more delicate, herbs/flowers etc. it is better to add them at this stage and allow their flavour to infuse the cordial rather than heat them with the fruit).  The cordials will keep well in a fridge for a couple of weeks but we find it better to freeze them in small amounts and then use as wanted (you could even freeze as ice cubes).

We’ll be looking out for rose hips to make into cordial this autumn.  Choose hips that are firm and bright in colour and ideally pick them after the first frost for the best flavour.  Or why not use elderberries for another Vitamin C rich cordial (we’re told elderberry and clove is a good combination to try…).

Finally, a quick plug for a great range of cordials available to buy if you’re not into making your own!  We tried these fruit cordials on a quick trip to Norfolk this summer.  Handmade and using only natural ingredients, the flavours in these cordials are beautifully balanced and taste clean and refreshing.  It was difficult to pick a favourite but we particularly liked the ‘Red Gooseberry and Wild Elderflower’.  We notice from their website that the cordials can be found in ‘The Larder’ in Cobham and also now in Fortnum and Mason!  http://www.norfolkcordial.com/index.html