Sheila Spence: Autumn foraging
Hazelnuts, Sweet Chestnuts, Blackberries, Elderberries, Crab Apples and Sloes: just some of nature’s autumn wild harvest which surrounds us as we walk through the woods and fields. Hedgerows abound with fruits and nuts so stop awhile and pick a few before you pass by. Hazelnuts, if you can beat the squirrels, are lovely toasted or my favourite, coated in a light toffee for a special treat. Sweet Chestnuts roasted by the fire and Hips and Haws make lovely wine. Now is the time to preserve a few for use over the winter months in jams, chutneys, wines and syrups. Rose hip syrup for instance, a childhood memory, is also great poured over ice-cream or make some into a jelly with a few crab apples to help it set. Lots of different fungi are also out there to enjoy but be sure you know your Jelly Ears from your Ear Picks before you try them!
Autumn recipe: ‘Brittle’ Hazelnuts
Hazelnuts are so versatile and can be eaten ‘green’ fresh from the hedgerow but are great if dried down and stored for use later in the year. Try toasting them in a heavy based frypan or in a moderate oven for a richer, even tastier, treat.
• Hazelnuts, dried (Roasted gives a richer flavour)
• Sugar, ordinary white works best
First get some non-stick paper or baking parchment ready on a flat heatproof surface. Next melt a few tablespoons of sugar (depending on how many hazelnuts you have) in a heavy based pan with a very small amount of water, watch very carefully (don’t even look away never mind leave it or disaster WILL strike!) and bring to a rolling boil. As it turns a lovely rich golden colour remove from the heat and immediately pour in the dried hazelnuts stirring all the time to coat each nut.
Carefully pour out onto non-stick paper or baking parchment and separate quickly so that they cool individually. I always find that there is more toffee at the bottom of the pan so pour this separately with any remaining nuts and leave to cool in a ‘puddle’.
The individually coated nuts are a wonderful treat as they are. Store in an airtight jar or tin or they will go sticky very quickly. To use the ‘puddle’, once it is completely cold wrap in an old tea-towel and bash into small pieces with a rolling pin or mallet. You can use it like ‘Peanut Brittle’ as sweets or put it in a food processor, whiz it briefly and serve sprinkled onto ice-cream or swirled into creamy yoghurt for a sweat and nutty treat.