Foraging for fun
Once the season of mellow fruitfulness beckons I tend to be one of the last to accept that summer is really over – remaining resolutely in short sleeves and flip flops till arms and toes are blue with cold. I don’t look forward to wrapping up in warm autumn colours, and as the leaves start to change I can only think wistfully back to Spring when everything was so fresh and bright green.
But there is one compensating factor: there are so many delicious foodstuffs growing for our delectation, and many of them come for free. Last week a friend kindly gave me several bags of Bramley apples. Not one of them was without a bruise or mark, yet once the brown bits were discarded I chopped the rest up and slowly simmered them with spices, vinegar and sugar for several hours. The result – 10 jars of the tastiest chutney. I cannot rationally explain the feeling of satisfaction that goes with the final cleaning and labelling of the full jars; all I know is that it hits something deep in my psyche.
One hot day in August we spent a merry hour in the sunshine by a railway line picking blackberries. These ones were ridiculously plump and juicy and almost jumped off the brambles into our sticky, stained hands. In less than an hour we had three boxes full to the brim with nearly ten pounds of fruit – okay, 4.5 kg. After picking I like to take a short break. All the blackberries go straight into the freezer until one dark wet Sunday in late autumn when something inside prompts me to reach for the preserving pan. Time to make bramble jelly, and as the translucent purple liquid bubbles and thickens in the pan I am happily transported back to the time of picking the fruit.
Then there’s the nuts – sweet chestnuts are delicious when roasted, and cobnuts look so pretty and taste wonderful when young and soft. They are great in salads or scattered into roast vegetables.
As if all this wasn’t enough, I have in recent years been introduced to the joys of picking edible wild mushrooms. I must be rediscovering my Eastern European roots, and am now totally converted.
Collecting mushrooms is quite a different experience to picking wild fruit. You walk in the woods, eyes darting from side to side, straining to be the first to spot a mushroom before your companions. Then you see one, and with a cry of excitement you dash over and inspect it carefully. If it is of the edible variety, you cut it off carefully at the base with a sharp knife and place it gently into your bag. The real aficionados carry wide shallow baskets so as not to damage the fragile fungi, but I find a plastic bag works well enough, as long as you don’t cram them in.
Of course, not all mushrooms are created equal, in that some are far tastier than others, so the sense of triumph when you find a cep or penny bun is hard to beat. You know that supper tonight is going to be truly delicious. Fried in butter with garlic and black pepper, the cep reigns supreme.