This week I was privileged to work with some enthusiastic young people at the farm. Cambourne Scouts came along for an evening's Autumn Foraging and Fire Cooking. We spent the first part of the evening identifying the wild edibles that grow on the farm, and the second half back at the bushcraft shelter cooking and sampling.
Autumn wild edibles differ quite a bit from from those that are to be found in the spring. In the spring there are plenty of delicious young green leaves to use as you would spinach, or to put into a fabulous salad. Come the autumn, many of those same leaves have grown tough and bitter, so the focus moves to berries, nuts and roots.
Here's what we found within roughly a 100m diameter.....
Fruits: rosehips, rowan berries, blackberries, sloes, haws, apples, wild pear, elderberries, sea buckthorn berries
Seeds: poppy, mallow, fat hen
Leaves: fat hen (young leaves only), Jack By The Hedge (autumn growth), nettles
The sea buckthorn berries proved popular (possibly because they look like Tic-Tacs). The taste was variously likened to lemon, passion fruit and acid reflux! I think they would be excellent on a pavlova. We dug the roots of burdock, washed and peeled them, then cut them into matchstick-sized pieces and boiled them in a little water and soy sauce. We made flatbreads and added poppy seeds to them. Jack By The Hedge was added to Greek yoghurt as a dip. We ate cobnuts that I had found elsewhere and we washed it down with rosehip "tea".
I had earlier prepared a couple of different fruit leathers for the Scouts to try. The first was blackberry and elderberry. The second, rowan berry, hawthorn berry, apple, damson and crab apple. There was much interest in these and some of the Scouts wanted to try making it at home. So, here is my "recipe".
Autumn Fruits Leather
1) Put your fruit into a saucepan and soften it on a medium heat. You may need to add a couple of tablespoons of water to help it along. Don't worry about removing any stones or peel at this stage.
2) After about ten minutes, remove from the heat and pour the fruit into a sieve over a large bowl. (I prefer my fruit leather without tiny pips/peel etc. in it, but if you're not bothered you could skip this stage.)
3) Use a ladle to push the fruit through the sieve. This might take ten minutes to squeeze as much through as possible. Taste it. Add some honey if it needs sweetening.
4) Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pour the fruit pulp into the tray. Spread it out so that it is no more than the thickness of a pound coin.
5) Now you have a choice. You can either cover it with a muslin and put it outside on a very sunny day, or if you're impatient like me, or it's raining, put it in the oven. The lowest setting on my oven is 50C, so that's what it goes in on. I wedge the oven door open slightly with an oven glove, so that the pulp dehydrates more easily.
6) Depending on the thickness of the pulp it might take around 5 hours to dehydrate. It goes slightly wrinkling and shiny when it's ready. Leave it to cool for a while. Once it's cool you should be able to peel it off the paper fairly easily. If it doesn't want to come off, it might need a bit longer. Cut it into strips (still on the paper) with a pair of scissors. Roll it up. It should keep in the fridge for quite a while or you can freeze it if you want to.
I think it tastes just like the Rowntree's Fruit Gums that I remember from my childhood. It also has the same tooth-sticking qualities!