Friday, 30 December 2011

Wild food from the park – September

Well, we reached September in our little local wild food project with 8 months of interesting discoveries, experiments and food and drink already behind us and documented on this blog. And, with September being more or less the peak of the natural produce ‘harvest’, we had a reasonable expectation of more good wild food opportunities.

Our opportunity to make the most of these was a bit truncated, however, as we spent two weeks away in our campervan in the first two weeks of the month. While we were away, unfortunately, the crop of blackberries on the bramble bushes peaked (and were picked – by others) and had largely vanished by the time we came home in mid-September. We managed to find a small number of ripe blackberries that hadn’t begun to rot. Plus, a hopeful sight, there were also quite a few green, unripe blackberries that, with a relatively dry, mid spell of weather might ripen (and they did indeed, by the end of October). More later on how we used the blackberries.

Honeysuckle (Latin name: Lonicera periclymum) is a widespread and common plant species of woodlands, growing as an entwining climber up into the trees. Richard Mabey’s ‘Flora Britannica’ describes honeysuckle as having: “one of the sweetest and best-loved scents of all British wild flowers.” He reports that children (and, I can confirm, some adults!) still pick the flowers to suck nectar from the base (although I doubt if Stirling children do this these days, at least not as far as I have spotted). Tess Darwin’s book: ‘The Scots Herbal. The plant lore of Scotland’ says that, as well as having been used for a number of medicinal purposes, honeysuckle flowers can also be made into tea and wine. Honeysuckle is widespread in the wooded areas of our park and we collected blossoms for yet another purpose:

We were really keen, knowing that the flowers are edible, to use them in some way that would make the most of that wonderful fragrance. The other ‘fragrant’ product that we make regularly is elderflower cordial, so we decided we’d have a go at making honeysuckle cordial. A quick search on t’Internet confirmed that people have done this successfully before so we just substituted honeysuckle blossoms for the elderflowers in our usual elderflower cordial recipe and made the cordial by our usual method. Honeysuckle blossoms in the park occur as either pink or yellow and we harvested blossoms of both colours:

The resulting cordial is the most fetching light pink colour and may be the most wonderful drink we have ever produced. It is delicate tasting and fragrant and we will make much more next year! It gets a gold star from me and has been my personal high point in this year-long wild food experience so far:

The pink delight that is honeysuckle cordial

From the Park, we managed to gather together enough brambles, some of the wild plums I wrote about in August, a very few wild greengages that had been growing unnoticed next to the plums, and a few elderberries, all cooked together and strained, the juice then being made into a very dark and well-setting hedgerow jelly:

Some remnant blackberries, with wild plums and greengages.
With elderberries, these became a hedgerow jelly.

Hedgerow jelly in preparation
 We harvested a few more hazelnuts that had escaped the attentions of the local grey squirrels, but many of the nuts proved to be hollow:

We also began to find, right at the end of September, that some of the beech trees were producing beech mast (the hard green cases that hold the beech tree’s seeds in the form of beech nuts). Most beech mast cases were empty or contained hollow beechnut cases but a few had little beech nuts, covered in a fine brick-red fuzz (which is quite bitter, in my experience, and should probably be scraped off, if you can be bothered). We began to collect these in dribs and drabs as a little wild food plan had begun to germinate which would deliver much later in the Autumn.

We had other wild food opportunities in September as a result of our holiday travels. On the way north, we stopped at Coylumbridge on the edge of the Rothiemurchus Forest near Aviemore and took a walk up the bottom two miles of the Lairig Ghru footpath (it cuts through the Lairig Ghru pass, connecting Aviemore with Braemar or, if you take a wrong turning, Blair Atholl!), to stretch our legs, and tire out the dog. The Aviemore end of the path lies within the great Scots Pine forest of Rothiemurchus and there we picked a couple of pounds of chanterelles, at a site we had visited and picked them at maybe five years ago. We ate those as part of several breakfasts during the following week of our holiday:

Rothiemurchus chanterelles plus a birch bolete

Then, the final day of our fortnight’s campervan holiday was spent in the glorious Culbin Forest and Sands on the north-east coast of Scotland, the Moray coast, near Findhorn. Long-established Scots Pine forests provide a habitat for many species of fungi – mushrooms and toadstools, including a number of edible (and much sought after) species. In Culbin, we picked some chanterelles, some (very) large orange birch boletes and, a brave first for us, a dark brown hedgehog mushroom we’d never seen before and which is restricted to northern Scots Pine forests. We ate these in a big mushroom risotto once we were back at home.

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