Festive forage and feast

Ho ho ho, merry insolvency! That’s right Christmas is upon us, bringing with it a tide of hideous glittery decor and bankruptcy. I for one am very excited.

This year I’ve been celebrating the festive season with a bit of light foraging. Although wild ingredients are scarce in winter there are still a few gems to be found and transformed into economic gifts. In this post I’ll be tasting my efforts and providing you with some recommendations for your own edible pressies.

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Some people may call homemade presents stingy but I subscribe to the ancient Greek philosophy:

A gift consists not of what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.

-Seneca the Younger

My intention is to share the love and still be able to pay my rent in January.

Crab apples

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The fruit of the crab apple tree is a ‘globose pome’. No, I don’t know what that means either. What I can tell you about crab apples is that they are small, sour and pretty unpleasant when eaten raw. However according to my sources (the minions of Wikipedia) the increased acidity and high pectin content of crab apples makes them perfect for preserving. I opted to make chutney with my harvest,  a homemade Christmas staple. We all have a jar of ancient festive chutney skulking moodily at the back of a cupboard.

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Conclusion

The taste

Hmmm…gritty. The spices are all there but the fruit itself is adding nothing enjoyable to the flavour. This recipe would be much nicer with Bramleys.

The verdict

Crab apples are basically just crap apples, which is why humanity has spent the last two millennia cultivating them in to something better. 4/10. I’ll be giving this batch to my office secret santa Sue, we’ve never met.

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Haws

According to Celtic folklore the fruit of the hawthorn has the power to heal a broken heart, demonstrating the enduring appeal of comfort eating. Haws would certainly make a healthy alternative to gin and peanut butter.

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In my experience the taste of haws is rather bland so I wanted to choose a recipe with a bit of punch. In the end I chose Monica Wilde’s chilli haw ketchup. If you want to make your own here’s the recipe. I love a good lick of heat so I doubled the quantity of red chillies.

Conclusion

The taste

Hah-hah-ah-ah *scrunches face*. Ooo-wow *fans face ineffectually with hand*. That has a kick! Now that the heat is pulling back I’m getting the tartness of the vinegar coming through and some rich fruity undertones from the haws.

The verdict

This will compliment my cold turkey nicely. 8/10

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Medlars

These curious ancient fruit were once commonplace in British kitchens but nowadays you will struggle to find them in even the most hipster of food markets. Perhaps the Medlar’s fall from grace has something to do with its unfortunate appearance; our friends across the Channel lovingly refer to the fruit as cul de chien, or ‘dog’s arse’  (excuse my French). Its decline in popularity might also have something to do with the preparation process. Before they are edible medlars must be allowed to decay or ‘blet’. Bletting isn’t difficult, it’s just disgusting.

I love you, rotten,
Delicious rottenness

Wineskins of brown morbidity,
Autumnal excrementa;

-D.H Lawrence (a man of peculiar tastes)

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They do look a bit buttholey don’t they?

I discovered a Medlar tree in  Merton College Gardens and wasted no time in surreptitiously filling my pockets. Once I’d bagged my haul I hid the slowly rotting fruit in our boiler cupboard, so as not to alarm my housemates. After two weeks of negligence I opened the door and gingerly lifted one of the handles. The contents of the bag shifted.  A gentle trickle of ‘dog’s arse’ juice dribbled through the plastic and the stench of putrifaction filled the air. Needless to say I threw the whole lot straight into the trash.

Conclusion

The taste

I can’t actually comment on the flavour, I wouldn’t let that excrement anywhere near my taste buds.

The verdict

The grimmest thing to grace the inside of my bin so far. 1/10

Sweet chestnuts

We know what a chestnut is, no introduction needed.

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I foraged a fair quantity of chestnuts this Autumn, despite staunch opposition from a certain squirrel (you can read about my arch nemesis Karl in My live local challenge: week 3). I used the last of my hard-won harvest to create the following liqueur.

Sweet chestnut brandy

Ingredients

  • 500g Sweet chestnuts
  • 200g Caster sugar
  • 50g Muscavado sugar
  • 1l Cheap brandy

Method

  1. Score the flat side of the chestnuts with a sharp knife.
  2. Boil in a large pan for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove nuts one at a time and peel as best as you can.
    WARNING: Peeling for extended periods of time will make you die inside.
  4. Combine the chestnuts and remaining ingredients in a 1.5l kilner jar.
  5. Seal and store the jar in a dark cupboard for 3 months, very gently shaking it twice a day until the sugar has dissolved.
  6. Double strain, bottle and leave to mature for six months.
  7. Toast to Karl’s demise.

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Conclusion

The taste

There’s an earthy richness to this drink and a cosy warmth, like a hot bath after a rainy day.  It’s quite a heavy drink, almost cloying but very comforting.

The verdict

A slightly sickly shot of Christmas 7/10. Too good for Sue. Seriously recommend mixing it with ginger beer.

Musing on bags and commitment

I was wondering if anyone else feels uncomfortable with the name ‘bag for life’? Life is a very long time. In my amateur foraging career I have accumulated a small army of reusable bags and dear as they are to me I am not ready to make them an undying commitment.

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