Whilst walking on part of the South West Coastal Path last week we came along a stretch near Dawlish that had a mass of hedgerow berries. After the walk I consulted the fantastic River Cottage 'Preserves' book and decided to take the family foraging for some free food one warm Sunday afternoon.
sloes (look like hard blueberries with a bit of a bloom on them) and bullaces (a kind of wild plum.) It was a very social occasion as every passer by wanted to know what we were collecting and what we were going to use them for. Several people turned out to be a mine of information about making sloe gin - seems to interest folks more than the hedgerow jelly....
On a quarter mile stretch of path, we found all that we needed (no bullaces - shame) and filled our pots. The children were fine about the blackberries and apples, but were seriously worried about the potentially poisonous rosehips, haws and sloes.
I have to say that my natural inclination is that they are possibly inedible unless cooked to a high temperature - but people have been making rosehip cordial, sloe gin and other autumnal treats for years - I think it's part of that worrying tendency that we have in modern days to assume that plasticised shrink-wrapped supermarket food is 'good' for us, whereas there might be something wrong with the real thing that's growing on trees and bushes right under our noses.
Back at home I put 225g sloe berries in the freezer - to be turned into sloe gin or vodka at a later stage - apparently the berries work much more effectively after the first frost - or to improvise, you can just bung them in the freezer for as long as you want before use.
So onto the serious job of Hedgerow Jelly. I used:
90g haw berries
1kg cooking apples.
I put them in a pan with a 1.2 litres of water and simmered them until tender.
We then rigged up a rather dodgy looking muslin cloth on upturned stool to allow the cooked fruit to drip through. The following day, I measured the deep purple liquid and added 450g granulated sugar per 600ml liquid and boil it up together until it reaches setting point.....
So far so good...only the blinking jelly didn't set. So, I emptied it all back in to the pan, washed the jam jars again, sterilised them again and boiled it all again in a big pan until my thermometer read a definite 105 degrees - allegedly the 'setting point' for jams and jellies. Doing this whole procedure once is enjoyable - the second time I was cursing.
The jelly still hasn't set; however the thick gloopy liquid is delicious, similar to blackberry and apple but with a more intense berry-ish flavour. It spreads wonderfully on toast and is really good on vanilla ice cream.
I would love to know if anyone knows about the toxic qualities of haws, sloes and hips and also any advice on how to get jellies to set....
This blog post has been entered in the Simple and in Season Blogging Event: http://www.renbehan.com/2011/09/simple-and-in-season-september-blogging-event.html