This website uses cookies to ensure the best experience.

Read our cookie policy

Search Little Green Space  

The fruits of autumn

Foraging

It's always nice to get something for nothing, and autumn is a great time for taking advantage of Nature's harvest with a spot of foraging. Countryside hedgerows may well be loaded with fruit for free, with blackberries, elderberries, rosehips and rowan berries on offer.

  

Blackberries are instantly recognisable, and usually the first fruit that springs to mind when planning an autumn forage. There's an old folklore saying: Don't eat blackberries after Old Michaelmas – the Devil puts his foot on them! Old Michaelmas falls on 10th October, and it's true that blackberries picked after this may not taste so good – this is because of bitter-tasting tannins that build up in the fruit as autumn progresses. And as soon as prolonged wet or frosty weather sets in, the flavour of blackberries deteriorates – so if you fancy some foraged blackberries, don't delay!

  

Blackberries are high in vitamin C and low in calories, so are a healthy choice for dessert. Like many berries, they freeze well, so if you find you've picked more than you can eat they can be frozen for another day.

  

You can make blackberry purée by stewing blackberries in a little water and lemon juice, and adding sugar to taste, until soft. Push this mixture through a sieve to remove pips and create a smooth sauce to add to ice cream or drizzle over cheesecake.

Autumn berries can be found in hedgerows across the country. Here's what to look out for and how to use your harvest in the kitchen

Make a simple blackberry fool by combining equal parts whipped double cream and thick Greek yoghurt with blackberry purée. Eton mess can be made in the same way – just leave out the yoghurt and add some crushed meringue. You can also stir blackberry purée into rice pudding – or even add it to your morning porridge!

  

Blackberries and apples go beautifully together, of course – apple and blackberry crumbles and pies are classic autumn treats, and blackberry and apple jam is one of the easiest jams to make.

Fruitful hedgerows

Blackberries are not the only fruits to forage – there are many other wild foods that are there for the taking.

  

Elderberries will be ripening now, and the clusters of dark berries are easy to spot in the hedgerow. Pick them when they've turned black, and use to make wine, jellies, jams and syrups. They can also be added to stewed apples in pies and crumbles.

To make elderberry syrup, use a fork to remove the berries from the stalks. When you have a kilogram of berries, give them a quick rinse, put them in a large pan, add water until the berries are just covered, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the berries are very soft. Then strain off the juice and return it to the pan, discarding the pulp. Add 500g of sugar and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes, until the liquid has thickened.


Pour into sterilised glass bottles and store in a cool dark place for up to four months. Mix elderberry syrup with sparkling water – or prosecco if you're feeling extravagant – for a refreshing drink. It can also be used like maple syrup, poured over pancakes or ice cream.

  

Elderberry syrup has been used medicinally for centuries, and when you look at the health benefits of the berries, it's easy to see why. They are high in vitamin C, as well as being a good source of potassium and vitamins A and B. They are also said to be high in antioxidants, to strengthen the immune system and to lower cholesterol.

  

Elderberry syrup is particularly good for soothing colds and flu – and mixed with hot water and honey, the syrup can provide relief for coughs and sore throats.

  

Rosehips are another foraged fruit with reputed health benefits. The fruit of the wild dog-rose, these are best picked in October – preferably after being softened by the first frosts. Made into syrups and sauces, rosehips are a good source of vitamin C – so good, in fact, that during the Second World War volunteers were sent out to pick them, to be made into bottles of vitamin-rich syrup at a time when many fresh fruits were in short supply. They can also be used to make wine.

A more unusual offering to look out for is rowan berries. These bright orange berries are bitter and slightly poisonous when uncooked – although this doesn't seem to deter the blackbirds and thrushes, who enjoy stripping the berries from the branches.

  

Rowan berries are edible when cooked, though, with the most common culinary use for them being rowan jelly. Because of their bitter flavour, it's a good idea to combine the berries with apples – this adds just a little sweetness, producing a delicious, slightly tart jelly that's perfect with game or cheese.

Rowan berries are high in vitamin C, and are said to cure sore throats – the berries can boiled in water, and the liquid strained to use as a gargle.


Free food all year

Foraging is not only an autumn activity. With careful planning you could find wild food for much of the year.

  

One of the delights of late spring is a woodland walk through carpets of bluebells and wild garlic. Wild garlic is easy to spot (and smell) during spring – and is well worth seeking out, as it has a number of uses in the kitchen.          

  

The plant is identified by its silky, sword-shaped green leaves, white star-like flowers and distinctive garlicky aroma. With their mild flavour the leaves make a great addition to a salad or a sandwich, or can be chopped and added to pasta, pizza, or mayonnaise.

Garlic butter can be made by combining finely-chopped wild garlic leaves with softened butter – use to make garlic bread. In fact, wild garlic can be used in pretty much any recipe that calls for spring onions, or when you want a more subtle flavour than traditional garlic can offer.

  

Although less potent than standard garlic, wild garlic shares similar health benefits. It can lower cholesterol and high blood pressure and has antibacterial and antibiotic properties that can help fight off coughs, colds and flu.

Wild food rules

Whenever foraging for wild food it's important to remember a few golden rules. Always make sure you know what you are picking – although there are relatively few poisonous plants commonly found in the UK, it's best to be on the safe side. Take along a good reference book, with clear photos – Food for Free by Richard Mabey is a good choice – or go gathering with someone who has foraging experience. And if you are in any doubt at all, leave well alone.

  

This is particularly true when foraging for mushrooms. Lots of wild fungi in the UK are poisonous, and some can be fatal.


Fly agaric (pictured left), with its bright red, spotted cap is a poisonous mushroom that's easy to identify and avoid – but others, such as the deadly death cap, aren't so obvious.

So, if you're interested in foraging for fungi, it's best to join a guided tour run by an expert. The National Trust is a good place to start – they hold regular Fungi Forays at properties across the UK.

Avoid collecting plants from the side of a road, where they may be contaminated by traffic pollution, and only gather from areas where you can be sure no pesticides or herbicides have been sprayed.

  

Take just a few leaves, berries or flowers from each plant. This avoids stressing the plant – and will also leave plenty of food for the many species of wildlife which rely on wild food sources to survive.

Apple and Rowan Jelly

700g rowan berries

700g apples

840ml water

about 600g sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice


Remove the rowan berries from their stalks and rinse thoroughly. Wash and roughly chop the apples – no need to peel or core them, as the pectin in the peel and cores will help the jelly to set. Put the apples, rowan berries and water into a large pan and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for about 45 minutes until the fruit is very soft. Allow to cool a little, then pour into a jelly bag suspended above a clean, large pan. Leave overnight to strain.

  

Measure the strained juice and return to the pan with the lemon juice and the sugar – allow 600g sugar for 800ml juice. Heat very gently, stirring continuously until all the sugar has dissolved. Then turn up the heat and boil rapidly until the setting point is reached – this should take about 10 minutes. To test if the jelly has reached setting point, put a teaspoonful onto a chilled plate and pop in the fridge for a minute or two – if the jelly is ready, it will appear more solid and will crinkle slightly when pushed with a finger. If setting point has not been reached, continue to boil rapidly and keep testing every two minutes to see if the jelly is ready.

  

Pour into warm, sterilised jars and cover with lids or cellophane covers. Label and store in a cool, dry place for up to a year.

Two wild food recipes

Wild garlic and cheese scones

Makes 8

225g self-raising flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

50g butter

120g cheddar cheese, grated

8 wild garlic leaves

1 egg, beaten

100ml milk


Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl, then rub in the butter, using your fingertips. Finely chop the wild garlic leaves by holding three or four leaves together and snipping them into fine shreds with a pair of scissors.

  

Add the garlic leaves to the bowl along with the cheese and mix well. Stir in the egg and milk, and keep stirring until a soft, slightly sticky dough is formed – you may need to use your hands to knead the mixture into a ball.

  

Turn onto a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of about 2cm, then cut into rounds. Bake at 220C for 12 minutes, until the scones are well-risen and golden brown. Serve warm with butter.

Little Green Space September 2017