31 Aug 2014

Edible urban: Foraging / preserving the taste of summer



City fruit. There's a surprising amount of it about on trees and shrubs in the street, parks, gardens and abandoned areas, just waiting to be turned into jams, jellies, sauces, chutneys and wine. Living near Hampstead Heath, I can also add woodlands and hedgerows to that list.  Autumn abundance seems to have arrived early this year; masses of rowan berries, rose hips and haws are ripening in the streets. Large juicy blackberries lurked (past tense, the children have surprisingly long arms!) just out of reach on the nearby railway line and I was almost caught on the hop with elderberries.

I love the slightly exotic look of elderberries: red stems and glossy black fruits, they are the Morticia Adams of the hedgerow. Toxic (as in severe tummy upset) when raw but delicious and edible when cooked into cordials, jams and wine. I was after a few to make some elderberry cordial. I swear the berries weren't ripe a couple of weeks ago but suddenly I was seeing stems stripped bare. Time to start picking if I wanted some!

Last Sunday's weather was good but forecast to change within the next 24 hours so, tucking a couple of carrier bags into my pockets and my camera over my shoulder, I headed off towards the heath hedgerows.  There weren't that many elderberries to be had (I had about 300g of berries after de-stemming and picking out the green ones) but I found a long row of blackthorn bushes covered with sloes, loads of bramble berries and the motherlode of rose hips. Perfect for a Hedgerow Jelly.


The rule for hedgerow jelly is to gather only-just-ripe fruit on a dry day. Make the jam straightaway or freeze the fruit until needed. Use any mix of the fruit you find (sloes, hips, haws, bullaces, damsons, berries) and match it 50:50 with sharp apples (cooking or crab apples).  Soft fruit usually have low levels of pectin and acid, apples have high levels so the apples are needed to ensure a good set.

Back at home my gathered fruit was lightly rinsed (drop of vinegar added) and dried - I like to know that there are no critters lurking. (And there were. We're dealing with nature here. There will be life, lots of it, in the hedgerows. Some people may not like that.) Blackberries were picked over for any insects and grubs, elderberries were taken off the stalks and green berries discarded, rose hips were topped, tailed and then blitzed whole in a food processor. This gave me around a kilo of fruit which I matched with another kilo of cooking apples. Crab apples would have been my first choice but I was unable to find any … for now. Apparently crab apples add a lovely rosy glow to a jelly, something I'd like to see.

After adding water and stewing the fruit to draw out the pectin and juices, I popped the fruit into my new jelly bag to strain overnight. Previously I've faffed about with muslin cloths and ingenious methods of suspending the fruit over a bowl; a tiny accident put a stop to that - it involved some rosehips, a cloth suspended on high, a bowl filled with juice and a plank of wood over the bath followed by a bit of redecorating.  This jelly bag, for me, is progress.

I had about 1.5 litres of juice the following morning. I thought it was delicious at this stage, if ever so slightly tart. But, onwards. Into the pan it went, brought to the boil, sugar added (not quite as much as the recipe suggested) and brought to a rolling boil until setting point (104 C) was reached. I don't trust the cold saucer test so have a cook's thermometer.  About 15 minutes later (using that time to sterilise the jars and lids), I had jelly, of sorts. It still looked very liquid when I poured it into the jars despite the required temperature being reached. Oh well, I thought, it can be reboiled to thicken if needed. And, actually, as it cooled, it set. A bit on the soft side, but I quite like that. We live and learn.



A bit more:
1, I wish I'd put even less sugar in the jam but then, would it have set? Would there be less flavour? I need to better understand the science behind jam making.
2, I was able to blitz my rosehips, seeds and all, because the fruit was being strained so the pips and their surrounding hairs were filtered out. The hairs are an extreme irritant, used in making itching powder!
3, Try to use fruit growing away from the road for less of those kerbside fumes.
4, I'm convinced that jam making, like baking bread and cakes, fulfils some deeply subliminal primeval urge. Despite there being absolutely no need whatsoever to make my own preserves, there is something so satisfying in the process.
5, I haven't gone Polaroid-mad, I've been amusing myself with an app that makes photos look like polaroids. Useful for cards, labels, recipes, etc. Find Pola (for Mac) here.

Finally (hurrah!), passing on some useful information. I've found a brilliant website for preserving, Rosie Makes Jam.  Rosemary Jameson founder of the Guild of Jam Makers, has a plethora of inspiring recipes on her site (Beetroot and Elderberry chutney, anyone?) and links to her shop where she sells jars, etc. My favourite is the ingredient calculator that converts the recipe to the amounts available. Invaluable.




30 comments:

  1. An interesting, and useful, post for anyone who wants to forage and preserve. Flighty xx

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  2. Bravo! I'm glad you managed to get a decent haul. I tried the rosehips last year, but I wasn't impressed. Not much juice came out of them, but lots of hairy pips. My jelly came out a bit on the firm side for my liking, but the Plum and Apple jam I made is much softer. I found that the plums made jelly / jam that reached setting-point very quickly, so I could have boiled my mixture for less time. I also used Preserving Sugar which has added pectin in it, which was probably unnecessary. Next year I will bear this in mind. I haven't yet tried my Plum Chutney (it has to mature for a couple of weeks), but I'm hoping it will be good. At present it looks disturbingly like Marmite!

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    1. Haha, thanks, Mark! I think the rosehips are more for flavour and Vit C than their juice. I was aware that my hands smelled very strongly of rosehips after my foraging walk, plus the wasps were beginning to take an interest! I like the sound of plum and apple jam as I'm very fond of eating both! Not so certain about your plum chutney - it will probably taste glorious once you get over the Marmite factor! I've made courgette chutney and had a little taste; it was gorgous. Now waiting for the rest to be ready!

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  3. I loved this post Caro, I know what you mean about a primaeval urge to gather and preserve. The hedgerow jelly looks delicious. I prefer my jam not too solid as well. I saw some beautiful elderberries this afternoon, and I was just wondering what could be done with them. The jelly strainer looks brilliant, I remember you recommended it to me after my blackcurrant cordial incident. I shall check out the blog you recommend. Have you seen http://www.withherhands.com/ - another preserving blog. She has an allotment plot full of fruit that she preserves and sells. It's a recent discovery for me, after seeing her plot in an allotment photos book. CJ xx

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    1. Ooh, definitely get back there and pick those elderberries, CJ! I'm hoping to spot some more berries when I drive down to Hampshire this weekend. My route through the Meon Valley is lined with trees and shrubs (those lovely green 'tunnels' ) and I noticed lots of elderflowers earlier in the year so perhaps there will be some elderberries. Box in car, just in case! I'll definitely check out the website you recommend - and thanks for introducing me to Marigold Jam, below, another forager! C xx

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  4. I've just come over to visit following a comment on my post today by CJ at Above the River who said that you and I both mentioned the subliminal urge to do the hunter gatherer - well maybe not the hunter part - thing and make stuff with our foraging! Do pop over and see what I made today. I am hoping to make elderberry syrup excellent for winter colds with a slice of lemon and some hot water and last year I made mixed hedgerow jam too. I shall add your blog to my list of blogs to follow. Nice to meet you!

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    1. Hello there! Lovely to meet a fellow forager and to read your blog which I'm now following. I'm hoping to find some more elderberries on a trip to Surrey/Hampshire soon - the season is so short that we have to get out there! Good luck with your syrup; I'll look forward to reading about it.

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  5. It's the amount of sigar that puts is off jam. Would it last as long with less sugar as it helps to preserve doesn't it?

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    1. I find a lot of home-made jam too sweet too Sue and have been asking myself the same question - can I get away with less sugar? I've also read that sugar brings out the flavour so I guess a bit of experimenting is called for! And there's always chutney … ;)

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  6. Here today gone tomorrow - it's those birds that move like the speed of lightening to get their beaks round those berries. Glad that you got there in the nick of time Caro. I count myself lucky to have elders growing in sight of the house. What a fascinating fact about rose hips being used to make itching powder. Thanks for the link to 'Rosie Makes Jam'. Will investigate forthwith.

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    1. There's a wonderful elder tree overlooking the railway line near to the flats where I live. It's very mature so a ladder is needed to get to the berries which are very high up. By the time I got back, the branches were bare! Those birds …. ! Hope you enjoy Rosie's website!

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  7. It still amazes me how green and bountiful the Heath still is, and it seems a different world altogether betraying its location that is London!

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    1. It's true! I can walk for 10 minutes on the Heath and I wouldn't know I was still in London. You literally can't see buildings or hear cars. Plus I can get to a fabulous cup of coffee at Kenwood House within 25 minutes leafy walk - I count my blessings!

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  8. Your fruits are so unusual for me, especially sloes, hips and elderberry. But they look so yummy! thank you for sharing.

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    1. Must be frustrating to see and not taste, Endah! But you have plenty of delicious fruits that we can also only dream about!

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  9. What a lovely post I am in the middle of making rosehip jelly just at the straining


    part first time of making it have a blessed

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    1. Hi Linda, Hope your rosehip jelly worked out well. As soon as I've sourced some crab apples, I'll be picking more rosehips to do the same!

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  10. Great post . I plan to gather elderberries every year and then never get round to it - I may have to get on with it this year!

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    1. Hi! Thanks for commenting and hope you find some elderberries! I've said the same in previous years and this year I was on it! Even so, nearly missed the elderflowers and still hoping to find some more berries.

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  11. As a new convert to jam making this post was heavenly for me. And how wonderful that most of the fruit was growing wild, the end results look simply delicious I wish I could have a taste on some crusty toasted bread! I have blackthorn but only tiny as yet....the very thought of sloes....xxx

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    1. I'd love to hear what jam you've been making, Dina. CJ has put me onto a new website where the writer dreams up all sorts of combinations - I've printed off a recipe for rhubarb, rose and cardamom jam which I thought sounded v tasty! There's something about freshly baked bread and jam, isn't there? Mmmm, yummy! xx

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  12. Hi Caro, one of these years I will have the energy to forage and then make jam, although we don't actually eat much, but it would make lovely presents. I am determined to make chutney from the very disappointing purple tomatoes I grew this year... Site and strainer duly noted for the year I either forage or have plums...

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    1. You can't go wrong with chutney, Janet. I made some for the first time this year and was prepared for a disaster but it tastes lovely - even though I forgot about it simmering and probably let it get a bit too thick! I have a feeling my Indigo Rose tomatoes will be seeing the inside of a chutney pot … ;) x

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    2. I've made tomato (and green tomato) chutney before and really enjoyed it, making and eating. My Indigo Rose toms are definitely headed that way, such a disappointment! All that hype, and so tasteless.

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    3. I've been aware of several bloggers growing Indigo Rose and the results seem to have been disappointing for all. I'd now like to hear from anyone that HAS had great success with them. Even the one tomato that has ripened for me (thus far) has been a bit watery. Nothing to write home about, will probably go back to growing outdoor girl or sub-arctic next year. Yellow Pear and Sungold have been terrific producers, btw.

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  13. Aaagh! Think my comment just disappeared... You are inspiring Caro, and have noted strainer and website against the day that either I have foraging energy or plums.

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    1. I've noticed that blogger is getting very slow these days - probably the reason you thought your comment had vanished! But here it is! Hope you have more energy soon, xx

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  14. Your hedgerow jam looks so good! Thank you for the link to the jam site too! Sarah x

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    1. Thanks Sarah, I expect you have some wonderful hedgerows all around you. Hope you're okay; sad news about your little dog. Caro xx

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Caro x

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