Now you’ve picked your hedgerow fruit, here are some suggestions as to what to do with it.
Firstly, and most importantly, remember to wash it: anything near a road is liable to pick up pollution from vehicles, but crop spraying in fields is perhaps a bigger hazard. Although it’s tempting to eat brambles straight away, it’s even more vital to wash these first as they will not be sterilised by high cooking temperatures.
Brambles (wild blackberries) are probably the best known and most versatile hedgerow fruit and can be used in crumbles, fruit tarts and various other desserts, as well as being ideal for pureeing. Substituting around 50g of pureed brambles for raspberries makes a richer and deeper coloured top layer for coconut ice.
Elderberries are one of our most common hedgerow fruits, but are routinely ignored. The berries are too bitter to eat, but when boiled and sweetened, make a deliciously rich jelly, with a unique flavour. The great thing about jelly making is that you don’t need to core, or de-seed the fruit before boiling it.
1. Cut the berries off the stocks, add some apples (the humble crab apple is best, but ordinary cookers will do), chopped roughly, with cores and skin.
2. Cover with just enough water and boil gently until it resembles a soft pulp.
3. Strain through a muslin bag (jelly bag) – a clean linen tea towel will do – and allow to drip overnight. Avoid touching or moving it, or the jelly will tend to become cloudy.
4. Measure the liquid – as a general rule you need the equivalent amount of sugar, eg, 1pt liquid = 1lb sugar (preserving traditionally uses imperial measurements) – and bring to boil.
5. Add the sugar, then continue to boil till setting point is reached – best way is to use a jam thermometer, but test by putting a spoonful on a cold saucer to see if it wrinkles when you draw your finger across it, as a back up.
6. Bottle and cover immediately – make sure jars/bottles have been sterilised and are hot, otherwise the jars may crack and anything other than scrupulously clean jars will attract mould.
Rosehips and rowans can also be used in hedgerow jellies, but be careful with the rosehips as they should be chopped before boiling and, as their inner fibres contain irritants, it’s best to do this in a processor and handle them wearing gloves.
Sloes are just coming into fruit and you can pick them well into November. They look like tiny purple damsons, but as they cling to blackthorns, take care when you pick them. They make a deliciously rich (and potent) liqueur type drink, the best recipe I’ve found being an adaptation of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s damson vodka. Make it now for drinking next Christmas (allowing yourself a taster or two on bottling, of course). Makes around 1.5 litres. 1kg sloes, washed 500g sugar 1 litre vodka
- Prick each sloe several times with a pin, then transfer to a large, clean Kilner jar, demijohn or other suitable glass container with a tight-fitting lid or stopper.
- Add the sugar, pour in the vodka, seal and leave in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
- Every week or two, turn the jar on its head, then back again.
- After six months, strain the liquid through several layers of muslin, then bottle and seal tightly.
- Leave for at least another six months. It will be even better after two years – or more – provided you have the patience.