I am wholly enthusiastic when it comes to foraging, especially if someone else is foraging for me.
I’m one of those people who love the thought of gathering wild food. In my mind’s eye, I stroll through the woods wearing a swingy muslin frock and large floppy hat, basket in one hand, gently tossing fruit, mushrooms or leaves into it. The dogs walk alongside me, the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky etc etc. It’s like something out of Country Living.
In truth the dogs go charging through the undergrowth, putting up pheasants and trampling all the herbs underfoot. They greedily plunder any low-lying gooseberries and blackberries – I have a chance of picking the higher ones. Rosie is especially good at snaffling the low-lying fruit and in fact forages for herself, eating anything and everything in sight.
And the simple reality is that I have less time than I imagine to gather from nature’s freebie ‘all you can eat bar’. However I am fortunate to have friends and neighbours who rock up with the goods, not just fruit from the wild but blackberries, rhubarb, figs and more.
One of my contributors is the lovely Anna, who lives in the most gorgeous cottage with a beautiful and enormous garden. Recently, a load of crab apples suddenly appeared over my gate, followed by an email apologising that she’d abandoned them. Why she was sorry I have no idea – I was thrilled. I was also relieved to hear that she hadn’t been up the ladder, but she had found a man who can.
The crab apples were red skinned and just perfect so I got on with preserving them straight away. The joy of cooking with crab apples is that they add the most glorious pink tint to the jelly I make.
Here is the recipe…
2 kg crab apples
1litre medium cider
2 lemons, halved
1 -2 teaspoon chilli flakes
Approximately 1 + kg granulated sugar
Roughly chop the apples into 4 pieces. Put them in a pan with the 2 lemons, halved and squeeze by hand is fine, the juice into the saucepan. Add the cider to the pan and simmer these for about 20 minutes or so. Until the apples are softened. When they are soft drain the apples through a jelly bag (I use a pair of tights not worn or washed as they may well make your preserve taste of detergent). This I string over my cup hooks in the kitchen – but you can use a jelly bag and frame with something to collect the juice underneath. Often you will find loads of small flies around your preserve so I cover the entire thing with a tea towel. Leave this to drain overnight. Resist the temptation to squeeze the bag as you will end up with a cloudy jelly. Measure the resultant juice and for every 100ml you want 100g of sugar. Add the juice and sugar into a pan. Add the chilli flakes . Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and then boil it until you reach the setting point. Start checking it at about 20 minutes. To test the jelly drop `1 teaspoon of it onto a cold plate and leave it for 30 seconds. Then push your finger through the jelly.
The surface should crinkle. If it doesn’t then boil it again for a couple of minutes and check again.
Once ready pour it into warm, sterilised jars and seal.
To sterilise your jam jars pop them in a dishwasher on a hot wash or in an oven at gas mark 2 for 20 minutes.