From August to late autumn the hedgerows of Kent are bejewelled with berries of all shades of red and purple. It’s a shame to see them go to waste and a little resourcefulness can make good use of all of nature’s autumnal bounty.
Blackberries – Generally the first of the wild berries in these parts and their uses are endless. I use them to make wine, jam and ice-cream but you could use them for cordials and syrups also. This year was a bumper crop so blackberries were the star of the kitchen for a good couple of months! A large kilner jar stuffed with the fruit and covered with Vodka will infuse to make a beautiful purple tipple for around All Hallows. Just remember…it’s unlucky to pick Blackberries after Michaelmas (29th September)!
Elderberries – My favourite of all the hedgerow fruits. Elderberry wine is a must for me every year but I also dry a good jarful of berries for use in teas and tinctures. This year I made a rather delicious elderberry syrup for dry and chesty coughs and sore throats (Elder is great for soothing the respiratory system).
Rosehips – A beautiful fruit to follow the most beautiful of flowers. Packed with Vitamin C, rosehips are great for making immune boosting syrups and can also be dried for teas and tinctures. This year I am trying rosehip wine. Rosehips however must be washed well before use as they have tiny little hairs which can irritate and it is said they are better and sweeter after the first frosts have softened them a little, however if you can’t wait that long or your local crop is in danger of going over before then (as ours is), gather them as soon as you can and freeze them for a few days. Rosehips can also be strung onto thread and hung to dry and used as beads and are perfect for prayer beads or Rosaries dedicated to Our Lady.
Rowan Berries – Not strictly a hedgerow fruit but is in abundance this time of year nevertheless. The fruits emerge early (late summer) and hang in dense clusters from the ends of the Rowan tree branches often starting out a quite deep scarlet colour and gradually becoming a more brick / rusty red. The fruit lasts upon the tree well into early winter and often still after the Rowan has lost its leaves. Rowan trees are grown prolifically around here and are often planted down streets so I never have far to go to collect a few. Rowan berries must be cooked or fermented and shouldn’t be eaten raw as they are be mildly toxic until treated in some way. Rowan Jelly is my preferred application and is a perfect accompaniment to turkey, chicken, duck and pheasant. Rowan is also one of the protective plants par excellence…string the berries and waer them or hang them around the home to make use of those protective properties!
Haws – The fruit of the Hawthorn which emerges after the carpet of white has long subsided. Hawthorn is a great tonic for the heart and circulatory system. I tend to dry the berries now and use in tea in the early spring to get the blood flowing again once the thaw begins. Again they can be used in syrups and Jellys etc.
Crab Apples – The most tart and mouth drying fruit I know which has to be cooked to make the best Apple jelly for the All Hallows roast! The jelly can be flavoured with herbs such as Rosemary or Thyme or spices such as Cinnamon and Cloves. It’s far superior to store bought apple sauce in my opinion. Crab Apples are very high in pectin so Apple Jelly sets very well. Also you can make a pectin stock from crab apples by boiling the fruit until its soft and squidgy, straining through muslin and freezing the resulting liquor. A ladleful of this in with any other jam or jelly will help it set far easier. A very useful little fruit!
Sloes – Nothing makes me happier than seeing the damson like fruits of the Blackthorn hanging in abundance in our hedgerows. The Blackthorn has pretty much lost all its leaves by now and the Sloes are best picked after the first frost. This year they have started to rot and drop relatively early so I have picked them quick and frozen them at home to mimic the effect of the biting frost. I have used sloes in Wine before, but by far the best way to imbibe the wonderfully dark properties of Blackthorn is Sloe Gin. Once frozen (or frosted) prick a jarful of fruits with a fork and add ½ – 1 cup of sugar. Cover with Gin and toss in a few juniper berries, stir well until the sugar dissolves and leave to infuse for at least 6 weeks but the longer the better. The resulting liqueur is my favourite summer drink, topped up with a little tonic water and loads of ice. I always make around 1-1½ litres every year which lasts me pretty much the whole year. I always save a little of last year’s for the spirits of the Blackthorn, the Lunatishee who coincidentally have their festival during early November…just as we gather the last of the fruits…perhaps that’s why?
Take only what you need (leave some for the birds); give thanks for what you take and most of all enjoy the fruits of the autumn!