Friday, 23 September 2011

The Nature of Free Food

We all spend hours cultivating our flowers and vegetables, from the sowing of seed in early Spring in the greenhouse, if we are lucky enough to have one, or straight into the warm earth later on in the season. Then we nurture the seedlings giving them water and food to encourage good healthy growth and plant them out, watching over them as if they were our offspring. And then, depending on their type we enjoy the fruits of the harvest be it flower or food.

This is a hugely time consuming hobby and we do it because we love it but it got me thinking that nature does this all on her own, without human intervention and the fruits of her labour are now apparent in the hedgerows, fields, grass verges and in fact any piece of uncultivated land up and down the country. And do you know the good thing about all of this? Free food!

Now I like a bargain as much as the next person, so the thought of all this free food going spare was too much for me this month, so, bowl in hand I ventured out into the country lanes near my house to see what I could find. You don’t have to live in the countryside to find plenty of places where free food is in abundance but you do need to know what you are looking for.

To this end I got myself a book - a shout out for a brilliant book called Hedgerow by John Wright - it’s one of the River Cottage Handbooks - No.7 to be precise and this gives a huge amount of information on all of the edible things you can find just a stones throw from your doorstop (other books are available!)
A word of caution here - please make sure that you don’t trample all over someone else’s land whilst in hot pursuit of the juiciest, plumpest blackberry or damson as there are rules about trespass and theft (hence the reason for buying the book), but you will be totally safe harvesting said blackberries and damsons from the hedgerows in country lanes. Make sure however that you try to visit a less well travelled lane due to pollution of the fruit from car fumes and try to pick the fruit that is higher up rather than at exhaust level. That said there is literally pounds and pounds of blackberries, damsons, plums, edible berries and the like just waiting to be harvested.

So, what to do with all this bountiful treasure when you get home? The obvious candidates for fruit are jams, crumbles, pies, the latter with a large helping of double cream or custard and the great thing about this type of fruit is that you can freeze it really easily and use it throughout the winter months.

One of my favourite ways to use it though is to make fruit liqueur and this is what we have done with the blackberries and damsons we harvested only last weekend. It’s really easy and there are loads of recipes available online but the basics are to prick the fruit (damsons, plus, sloes etc - not necessary for blackberries) and place them in a sterilised container. Add sugar and the alcohol of your choice - I did rum and gin - and then basically stir and leave for three months or longer to turn into the most amazing Christmas tipple. Cheers!

-- Jane Dubinski

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