There’s more “food for free” around in the woods now than at any other time of the year. When you’ve picked it, taken it home, cooked and eaten something that you haven’t had to pay for, it’s in a special food category. So what’s around for aspirant hunter gatherers?
Our most common wild fruit – you don’t have to search hard in Fineshade to find plenty.
Although they’ve looked tempting since July they are pretty sour this year- not enough sun perhaps – so extra sweetening will be needed.
There are loads of wonderful ways to use blackberries. There’s the traditional blackberry and apple crumble or pie. Or perhaps try a smoothie with berries, fresh apple juice, natural yoghurt and perhaps sweetened with honey if you like. Or you could make a healthy pud by layering yoghurt, oaty breakfast cereal, chopped eating apples and whole, very ripe berries. Stewed pureed berries are also good to make a sauce for game and lamb. The list of possibilities for this most adaptable of free fruits goes on and on.
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn, the bush that bursts into life with its masses of white blossom in early spring. Blackthorn brings Fineshade to life again after the long winter gloom. Now in September the blue/black fruits adorn the bushes with more subdued colours and they will soon be ready for picking – perhaps after the first frosts have helped to make them sweeter. Traditionally at this time of year sloes are gathered, pricked individually with a silver fork and packed into glass jars with sugar and very cheap gin to produce Slow Gin for Christmas – it is often a memorable tipple!
Just stroll along any of the tracks from Top Lodge and you’ll find Elder bushes dripping with these small, glistening, purple-black berries that come easy off the bush in handfuls.
They can be made into a sauce to pep up turkey, chicken and game dishes. Alternatively, if you are lucky and a very good wine maker, they can be turned into a full-bodied red wine that sometimes resembles port. As with all good wine it improves with age!
Rosehips are the seed pods of the wild rose and can be made into jelly to serve with venison – in days of old, another free Fineshade product! Do you remember rosehip syrup which used to be part of every infant’s diet – whatever happened to that idea? Well, celebrity chefs are certainly making and using the syrup once again.
Rowanberries come from the Mountain Ash or Rowan tree and are pretty bitter. But it is said that they can be made into a marmalade, which will have lots of vitamin A and C.
There are some very old crab-apples trees in Fineshade – one of the oldest was scheduled to be removed as part of Forest Holidays’ development plan. Crab Apples are traditionally made into a sweet jelly to spread on bread or scones.
Home-made jams and jellies have had a new lease of life as more and more people are creating their own organic and non-manufactured products. There are all sorts of interesting sounding recipes on the web – who's for slow-roasted crab-apple chutney? And reading elsewhere on this website has made me realise that the fruit of the Wild Service Tree may also offer foraging opportunities. Could it really taste like dates?
All these are truly some of the fruits of the forest. They are part of the natural richness of Fineshade and there for all of us to enjoy freely. But you’ll have to hurry – what’s free for us is also free for the birds and squirrels! We've certainly never yet managed to beat the grey squirrels to the nuts that also grow in the wood.