As the nights start drawing in and the daytime temperatures become a little more unpredictable, those of us with fruit or vegetable gardens are busy gathering in the produce we’ve tended and cared for throughout the summer season. There often seems to be an endless supply of fruit and vegetables to harvest, and the kitchen is permanently bustling as we pickle, preserve, freeze or dehydrate as much of it as we can. But for those without a large veg garden to enjoy, there are still plenty of opportunities to get in on the action with so much free produce to harvest from the hedgerows at this time of year. In today’s blog post, we take a look at just what is on offer right now, where to find it, and what to do with it.
Grab a glass bottle and make cordial
One of the simplest things that you can make at this time of year is fruit cordials. All you need is clean, sterilised glass bottles, sugar and fruit, of course. Just about any kind of fruit lends itself to making cordial with, but in particular elderberry and blackberry make superb thirst-quenching drinks. We’ve covered a basic cordial recipe recently, so simply use that one, substituting your choice of fruits.
A swing-top glass bottle is ideal for making cordials, and really helps to evoke that sense of nostalgia for days gone by, when so much more of what we ate and drank was homemade. If you’ve never gathered elderberries before, make sure you take someone knowledgeable along with you, to be absolutely certain that you are picking the right thing - they are fairly easily recognisable, but it pays to be cautious when foraging for wild berries or other fruits of the hedgerow.
Sloe gin for the next glass bottle
No autumn is complete without a batch of sloe gin doing its thing quietly in a cupboard. Sloes are pretty much ripe now and ready for harvesting. Years ago, it was traditional not to pick sloes until after they had been ‘bletted’, or softened by the first frosts, as this was thought to improve the taste of the sloe gin made with them. These days, sloes are one of the most visible signs of global warming, in that they are ripe long before most of the country is likely to see even the lightest of frosts. The solution to this dilemma is to pick your sloes when they are ripe and then to pop them into the freezer overnight, or until you’re ready, to simulate the effects of a frost.
Again, we’ve covered recipes for sloe gin before on our blog, so it’s just a matter of finding the recipe that appeals to you (they are all much the same) and you’re then good to go. What we would say, though, is that whilst it might be tempting to simply through in some sloes, sugar and gin, and not worry too much about precisely following a recipe, it really does pay dividends if you are meticulous about using a good recipe - pay careful attention to quantities and you’ll find you make the best sloe gin ever!
Other hedgerow treats to look out for
Sloes, elderberries and blackberries might be the most well-known berries to find in the hedgerow at this time of year, but there are plenty of other treats to look out for, that can be made into delicious homemade preserves. Crab apples are abundant at this time of year, and these can be used to make a sensational crab apple jelly that is perfect with cold meats and cheeses. Another great idea for crab apples is crab apple whisky - fill a large jar with crab apples, then top up with whisky and add a little honey, ground ginger, cloves and a cinnamon stick. Ensuring the apples are fully covered by the whisky, store the jar along with your sloe gin until just before Christmas, and then decant into a glass bottle, and enjoy over the festive season.
Another edible berry that is ready at this time of year is rowan. Since rowan is one of the few bright red berries that is actually edible, it’s important that you are certain of what you are harvesting. If in doubt, ask an expert or leave well alone. The principle for making rowan jelly is the same as for making many jellies - use apples to provide pectin and a little extra bulk, cook the apples and berries until soft and pulpy, and then strain overnight through a muslin cloth. Then measure the liquid, pour it into a pan and add the equivalent amount of sugar, bringing it to the boil and holding it at a simmering boil until setting point is reached (105°C). Then pour into clean, sterilised glass jars and label.
What hedgerow treats have you got planned for this autumn? Do share your makes with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!