Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Foraging for Free Food - The Joys of the Hedgerow


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.


For hedgerow jelly, you need a combination of blackberries, crab apples (or cooking apples), haws (from hawthorn), elderberries, rosehips (from wild roses),


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:
180g sloe,
75g elderberries,
160g rosehips,
90g haw berries
500g blackberries
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

7 comments:

Choclette said...

Hi Kate, shame your jelly didn't set as sounds fab. I made some apple and goji berry jelly the other day. Collected the goji berries on the Lizard. Hawthorn is a well known heart medicine so shouldn't be toxic - we've certainly been using them for years. Hips are a high source of vitamin C. Sloes are just very astringent plums. As long as you use apples, you shouldn't have any problems with setting the jelly - I just use the cold saucer method for testing and have never used a thermometer.

Naomi Berry said...

Hi Katy,

Naomi here! I'm a bit of a forager too and have just made a lush batch of 'Aztec West' Rosehip jelly. The rosehips I found we're from the rosa rugosa so a little bit fatter than yours.

The reason you didn't reach setting point was because there wasn't enough natural pectin in the fruit. That is why many jelly receipes suggest adding crab apples as they have loads of pectin so will set anything rock hard!

I hope you're all well and here's a link to some lovely people I recently met: http://www.jamjarshop.com (the dotted lids and labels are great). And they also run a swap crop scheme...

Right off to fry a puffball steak!

xxxNaomi

Grazing Kate said...

Choclette - love the sound of goji berries - you'll have to tell me where you found them (if it's not a secret). Yes, I don't think my jam thermometer is v reliable...I used a cold saucer too, and to be honest wasn't 100% sure if it had set, but feared that I would burn my precious harvested produce.

Naomi - how lovely to have a Berry comment on my berries! Aztec West makes them sound very exotic. We're all v good here, visited Bristol on Tues rather unexpectedly for a dose of 'city life' and spoke to Annabelle last night coincidentally. Thanks for the link to the jamjarshop - I will follow that up - always a sucker for that kind of thing. You are v brave picking mushrooms - a knowledgeable friend cooked some for me last year and they were one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.

Northern Snippet said...

hi Kate,
It's a great time of year isn't it?we've also
So been making jellies and chutney,crab apple and recurrant,
We always make sloe gin it's really easy would recommend
You try it.
Also found some amazing CEPs nearby put some pictures on my blog.
Re the setting problem crab apples are very good you could try adding these.

Grazing Kate said...

So..... I emptied out all the jelly, re-sterilised the jars, re-boiled the jelly in the pan until it definitely hit the right temperature....but still hasn't set.

Yes, I think pectin was the trouble - also I only simmered the fruit for about 15 mins initially instead of the recommended 45 mins.

Oops, didn't read the recipe properly, so I don't think much of the pectin came out of any of the fruit. The jelly is runny but still delicious on toast and even had some with my roast chicken at the weekend instead of cranberry sauce. It will get eaten!

legend in his own lunchtime said...

Hi Kate, Just found you through Northern Snippet. If you can't find crab apples to help set, use ordinary cooking apples. Chop up roughly and put in muslin bag so you can take them out before straining. Alternatively, you can freeze your jelly (very popular in the states, and use it straight from the freezer.
Hawthorn can be used to treat heart problems and is widely accepted as being beneficial. Rose hips are very rich in Vitamin C and produce a wonderful syrup by themselves. You just have to watch out for the seeds as they are an irritant, as any youngster will tell you if they have had them stuffed down their shirt.
You've made my day. Thank you

Donk said...

Lovely post and what a harvest you got!
I've got some Elderberry vodka on the go at the moment and I have made some cordial too this year. In the past I have suffered after drinking Damson Gin, but it is totally delcious!.

None of the things you mention are poisionous. There has been a huge harvest of all the wild foods this year.

I love the River Cottage Preserves book!

PS I think we may be living parallel lives, apart from our shared gluttonous feelings about Polpeor cafe, Cornwall, camping and various other food related obsessions, I notice that we like the same music too!