Sheila Spence: Autumnal foraging
Autumn is a great time for ‘red’ fruits. Rowanberries, Sloes, Blackberries and Elderberries are very common hedgerow fruits you can find all over the country. Bullace, a type of wild damson, are great if you can find them, a sort of cross between Sloe and Damson, they are usually only found in ancient hedgerows, especially round old orchards. Juniper berries, if you can dare to pick them, are great with pork dishes – but do mind those prickles! Cockles, mussels and clams are all good from mid-September onward, there is of course a wealth of fungi to be found in the woods and pastures. As with all wild foods only pick what you can identify with 100% certainty and never over-pick.
Autumn Recipe: Rowan Jelly
1kg Rowan Berries
1kg Crab Apples
Pick the rowan berries, remove any stalks then dry and freeze over night to help destroy the unpalatable parasorbic acid in the fruit. Wash the whole crab apples, removing any bruised parts and place in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan together with the rowan berries, adding just a covering of water. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook gently for about 25 minutes or until tender. Strain the pulp through a bag or muslin cloth (this can take several hours) but do not squeeze otherwise the jelly will become cloudy. Measure the volume of liquid you have and add 450g of pre-warmed sugar per 600ml of liquid. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is fully dissolved then bring to the boil and cook rapidly for about 15 minutes, until the setting point is reached. Test for setting by placing a teaspoon of the mixture on a saucer previously chilled in the fridge. Allow to cool for a minute to check setting consistency; if a skin forms when you push the mixture with your finger it’s ready to pot. If you don’t get a skin continue boiling for a further ten minutes and test again. Skim if necessary before potting in small, hot sterilized jars then cover with a lid straight away.
Leave to cool then label. Store in cool, dry and dark place.
Great served with game or mutton.
NB: Rowan berries should not be eaten raw as the acids in them can cause minor poisoning or severe indigestion in many people. These are destroyed by the freezing and cooking processes.