Category Archives: forage

vinegar pete…

Way back last autumn the lovely OH helped out with some apple juice pressing.  The event was in aid of raising funds for our local library and all the apples were sourced from local orchards.  He brought home a 5 gallon fermentation bucket of juice and stuck it in the piggery.  Over time, the juice fermented, the sugars turned to alcohol and then to acetic acid.  This cold pressed, unfiltered, unpasteurised vinegar also contains the ‘mother’, a collection of beneficial bacteria, enzymes and proteins – it’s meant to be very beneficial healthwise.  The lovely OH tried some, hasn’t pegged it, so we’re good to go.

We use a lot of this vinegar, not just as the base liquor for pickles but also, for making flavoured fruit vinegars.  At the moment I’m picking a couple of kilos of raspberries several times a week, so this decant was most timely.

I’ll leave the fruit to steep for around 5 days before straining through muslin, adding sugar and briefly boiling.  Once the liquid has cooled I’ll bottle it.  It’s a really simple process, much easier than making jam or chutney. We add a good heft of fruit to our vinegars so they are much better than commercial versions.  The ratios I use are 600ml vinegar to 1 kilo raspberry, then 450g sugar to every 600ml of strained liquid.

Elsewhere on the holding, the berries are ripening on the elder  and we’re running out of elderberry vinegar – our replacement for balsamic.  So that’s next on the list.

Perhaps I’ll also make a blackberry version – it’s always good to try something new!

 

 

 

 

 

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a cordial relationship…

I’m a hit and miss forager.  I might set out a few times a year when a particular hedgerow crop is in season.  Blackberries absolutely, rowan and crab apples occasionally, mushrooms never. However when the harvest in question is on your doorstep, in fact, right next to the lean to cowshed, then it pays to set aside a little time to indulge in some foraging.

The elderflower, Sambucus nigra, has been in flower for some weeks, and I’ve been intending to make cordial for a while. May came and went and June has been too wet so far for picking.  It’s best to gather the flowerheads on the morning of a sunny day, because it’s the pollen that imparts the delicious flavour.  So you don’t want wet flowerheads where the pollen has been washed away, but leave it too late on a sunny day and the insects have taken all the pollen.  Speaking of which, it’s best not to shake the heads to remove insects as this shakes off the pollen.  I find most insects drop to the bottom of the bowl anyway.  This morning was warm and sunny so off I went with a big bowl and picked 25 or so heads of newly opened flowers.

To the heads I’ve added the zest of 3 lemons and one orange plus 1.5 litres of boiling water.  I’ve covered the bowl and this can steep for the next 24 hours. Tomorrow I’ll strain add 1kg of sugar and the juice from the citrus fruit and warm through until the sugar has dissolved.  A quick simmer and then bottled.  The cordial will keep for a few weeks in the fridge or can be decanted into ice cube trays and frozen.  Added to sparkling water, the cordial makes a thirst quenching drink,  or to G&T, vodka and tonic or prosecco for an elegant sundowner.

A classic pairing with the elderflower is gooseberry, and the fruit on our bushes is starting to ripen…

I’m thinking elderflower and gooseberry fool, elderberry and gooseberry icecream, elderflower infused gooseberry puree with yoghurt, an elderflower panna cotta with gooseberry compote perhaps.

In the meantime we have plenty of strawberries to pick.

may flies…

May has ended.  It was a month of lots of lovely summery weather and enough rain so as not to feel the pressure of watering the vegetable patches.   From now on we will have plenty of produce gluts from the garden.

We have been picking salads and herbs from the polytunnel since the end of April. I’ll add peppery nastursium leaves and turnip thinnings to tonight’s salad bowl.

Along with succession sowing and planting out, I have been pinching out the side shoots on the cordon tomatoes and removing the lower leaves up to the first truss.

In the heat of the polytunnel, scent volatiles fill the air.  I only discovered this year what a lovely perfume broad bean flowers have.  Having moved the plantings to the far end of the tunnel I was concerned that the bees wouldn’t find the plants.  I shouldn’t have worried.  The pollinators have been hard at work alongside me.  I’m always amazed to see the formation of the pods on the broadbeans.  These tiny beans along with the season first garden peas will be added to a spring risotto – tonight’s supper.

Working in the tunnel is a delight.  I often run my hands through the herbs for a free aromatherapy session – variations on dill, rosemary, thyme and sage. The sweet basil is starting to come through and I have been pinching out the tops of the pot sown Basil ‘Aristotle’ to garnish the risotto.

I have been thinning the peaches and apricots and the gooseberries are fattening.  We already need to think about preserving the abundance – kept in oil, artichoke hearts make a lovely antipasti…

and I shall gather some heads of the elderflower to make a cordial.

Summer is here.

 

grape expectations….

Oh, I was so excited to see tiny flower heads on the grape vines.

As I’m not very familiar with growing grapes, and thinking I might have to thin the flowers somewhat, I consulted the RHS and discovered that I have to remove ALL the flowers as the vines are young.   No grapes this year.

Ah well, plenty of other good things coming through.  The broad beans are flowering in the polytunnel…

and the first spears of asparagus have appeared, so I shall console myself with a soft boiled egg and asparagus soldiers tomorrow.

The lovely OH is hard at work handweeding the main vegetable growing area  and we even managed to squeeze in harvesting some young nettles for soup before the leaves become too tough…

The recipe was one from River Cottage.

Reading this week:  Kew on a Plate by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew & Raymond Blanc

wild thing, you make my heart sing…

I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with foraging – which  wasn’t improved when a well known chain of pizzerias served me a salad containing groundsel.

Plus, the lovely OH had been pouncing with delight on the puff ball fungi that appeared some weeks back.  “Try it”, he said, “it’s delicious”.  Sadly it did nothing to mitigate my foraged fungaphobia.

puff ballSeveral more puff balls appeared, along with a few shaggy ink caps but the novelty wore off, even for the OH.

However at this time of year the hedgerow is bursting with potential and it is churlish to be too draconian with an antipathy for foraged ingredients.  So here are my top 3:

In joint top spot.

Blackberry.

DSC_0186These are well worth picking.  On the holding, our cultivated forms still haven’t produced a decent crop and there is such an abundance to be found on an autumn walk.  Apple and blackberry pie or crumble, with custard of course, is an all time favourite pudding for me.

And………elderberries,

DSC_0181which make an excellent alternative to balsamic vinegar.

Fruit infused vinegars are wonderful – you can buy them – Womersley have a lovely, (but pricey), range with stunning combinations such as Orange and Mace; Golden Raspberry and Apache Chilli; Lime, Blackpepper & Lavender.  However, fruit vinegars are easy to make, far easier than jam, so worth putting aside the time to make a few bottles.

DSC_0179rowanIn second place, berries from the mountain ash, (Sorbus aucuparia), make a delicious jelly.  I shall try to get a few jars made for the Christmas roast bird.

The third spot goes to the crab apple, which also makes a great tasting jelly and is a good carrier for herbs such as mint and rosemary.

crab appleThere we have it.   Good hunting!

Post script.   A sunny autumn day and good foraging brings ingredients for some hedgerow jellies – 50:50 crab apple and Sorbus berries for the rowan jelly; plus enough crab apple left over to mix with with cloves and cinnamon for a spiced version.  Delicious!

DSC_0188