Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Late fall foraging

We seem to be having what the country folk call a 'long, open fall' here; no snow yet. And as this comes on the heels of the best wild fruit summer we've seen in our 10 years here, I am one happy camper these days.

I keep going for walks and coming home with the likes of this:

Top - dandelions
Left - nettles good for eatin' (and we did) Right - rosehips and wild grapes for juice

It's been drizzling a lot, when it isn't outright raining, which isn't great for the mood, but it sure is good for the nettles. So to relieve a case of early-onset cabin fever I've been out there, bundled against that bitter wind, scanning all areas of long grass for the tell tale pointy leaves. Generally they're lying flat, but just brushing the grass aside I find more. In cold weather they don't sting much, but let me tell you, get them home and let them warm up on the counter and fall nettles are mean. The air in my kitchen was pretty blue as I was making that soup. As a bonus, with the wood stove going the air in the house is nice and dry. What we haven't eaten dried beautifully for winter.

Drizzly weather makes for an easier dandelion harvest as well. (Not easy, but easier.). We have our supply of root tincture, plus I dried plenty for the deep decoctions I want to fool around with this winter. (If you like messing about with herbs, you'd best follow that link!).

Speaking of fooling around, that's where the fruit comes in. I have jars (and jars) of jellies, jams and preserves and they are mighty fine jellies, jams and preserves, too. Thing about wild fruit is, you don't need to add commercial pectin, it all jells up on its own. And if'n you don't have to use commercial pectin, you get away with using a lot less sugar. The result is less-bad-than-commercial, intensely flavoured, jewel coloured jars of goodness to get us through winter and hand out as gifts.

But doing without commercial pectin means standing over steaming pots of fruity goop for rather long periods of time (grapes can take an hour!), endless testing of said goop's goopiness and although that is a joy I was done, just d.o.n.e. with fruit by the end of the season..

Or so I thought. The leaves fell and I discovered there were still shit-tons masses of wild grapes out there on the fence by the schoolyard, some of the wild apple trees on the trail still held on to their apples and the hawthorns were still covered in haws. My roses have produced the best hips I've ever seen, too. It's not like I could just leave it all there.  While perusing an old book (don't ask) by Adele Davis (remember her? crazy lady) I came across her recommendation for preparing rosehips for the best hit of Vit C (because no one enjoys scurvy, and I hate taking vitamins). Cook, soak for 24 hrs, strain, add lemon juice, take a teaspoon daily. I looked out the window at my rosehips. Hmm. I didn't want to use lemon because I am, well, a bit of a purist about keeping it local, but hey, wild grapes are plenty acidic .. thus was born an amazing 'juice'.

It's more a decoction, really, as it was simmered for a long time, left to sit, simmered some more. I wouldn't recommend the method for domestic fruits, they just wouldn't stand up to that much cooking. But wild fruits with their tough skins are perfect. The more they cooked the better the kitchen smelled and the deeper the colour of the juice. I used rather more water than I would have for a jelly, and no sugar at all. The flavour is intense, no way you could knock back more than a shot-glass worth at a time. But not intense in the way wild grape would be on its own - which is to say it would pull all the saliva out of your mouth. The rosehips, which are unremarkable of flavour, bland even, yet with an apple-y hint, mellowed the grape beautifully. I am too lazy to remove the seeds so I just tossed them in whole, the seeds strained out later just fine. Over the course of 24 hours I simmered the rosehips and grape combo for a couple of hours, let it stand, mashed it all well, simmered then let it sit again, strained them, brought the juice to a rolling boil and put it into smallish, sterilized, piping hot jars. Will this 'juice' ferment? Perhaps, I don't know. The jars are in the extra fridge in the hopes that will slow things down. If they explode I'll be sure to inform you. Ditto if it makes us tipsy.

Next up, as there were still more grapes out there by the school (do check your local school yard!) I'm simmering those as we speak with some rather small, beat up looking haws. I tossed aside any that were downright rotting, but those that were drying on the branches still hold plenty of goodness, so there were more useful haws than not in the haul pictured here. For maximum benefit, (and to check for bugs which often spend the winter inside haws) I squished each one as it went into the pot. Yeah, it was time consuming and messy - and fun.
Unappetizing? Maybe. But pure gold
once you figure out what to do with them.

Like rosehips (they're cousins), haws are bland yet apple-y, and loaded with vitamin C and other goodness. Think bioflavanoids and the like. Powerhouses is what they are, and in midwinter that's what I want.

Urban foragers might find hawthorn in parks or landscaped rich people's yards, while country folk find them along gravel roads near farm fields. Just look for a bush or small tree with small red (or sometimes orange) apple-y looking fruits and lethal looking thorns. If it doesn't have those lethal thorns, it's not hawthorn.

Last but definitely not least, today's fruity decoction contains some tiny golden apples I found on a walk. These little guys were real spitters until they got hit by a frost, now they are sweet, delicious little gems, if a little mealy (but who cares). I ate several on the way home, all the way down to the core. Gawd I love apples.

Apparently this isn't the end. Just today my husband went for a (very) early morning swim at a pool in the nearest 'big' town, Pembroke. On the way home, before the sun was even up, he picked me some more grapes - and he had to use a flashlight to do it! That's dedication - but that's how it is once foraging gets under your skin.


  1. Outstanding! While not everyone can do this, everyone should at least try, for in this spirit of foraging is a mighty power of blessing.

    1. So true. Wild food not only nourishes the body with higher nutrient values, we can't help but feel a sense of wonder and gratitude that all of this is right there, under our noses, not just for the animals but us, too.

  2. I keep saying it..... I need to go on a walk with you! Now, what about teleportation? Ed, I need the tools they have in your AI books Ha ha