Walking through the Secret Garden with a friend, we stopped by a large old rose overflowing with orange hips. She picked one, pulled it apart to take out the seeds and ate the remaining orange hip, taking advantage of how rich rose hips are in vitamin C. (Please only try this if you know it is a rose hip!) Of course, I immediately did the same, wanting the same benefits, and we swopped stories about what we can collect to eat at this time of year.
As a child I loved rose hip syrup, a recipe for which I have shared in my new book “Seasons at Highclere”. The other drink I loved was “Ribena” which is made from blackcurrants. Equally good though are elderberries, hanging in dark umbrellas alongside many paths at this time of year. Traditionally, elderberries help combat fever and rheumatism and make the most delicious syrup but must not be eaten raw. Today, it is most often taken as a supplement to treat cold and flu symptoms.
If you want to make an elderberry cordial, collect the berries and strip them with a fork into a large saucepan, adding enough water to cover the fruit. Simmer for 15-20 minutes and strain through a piece of muslin. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and 500g of sugar to each litre of the liquid and bring to the boil again. Once the sugar is dissolved completely and the mixture is syrupy, take off the heat and allow to cool. Pour into sterilised bottles and store in the fridge. It can be diluted to taste as a cordial or try a teaspoon neat to get a little vitamin boost in the colder months. In darker months of the year, it is packed with anti-oxidants as well as vitamin C which helps your immune system mitigate inflammation and stress.
Autumn brings an abundance at this time of year, from crab apples to medlars, plums, sloes, blackberries, greengage’s and, of course, apples, both for eating and for cooking. Many of these fruit trees do well growing up against the walls of a house so need not take much space. If you plant one, add a clematis or honeysuckle at the base for a little extra colour and pleasure. They also have the considerable advantage of being less prickly than roses when you come to pick the fruit.
Foraging has become rather a trendy word over recent years but in the past it would simply have been a way of life, something that everyone did simply as a matter of course. It is immensely satisfying, whoever you are, to gather what is essentially free food. However, as with all things, common sense and care is key.
This is particularly important with mushrooms which are another food abundant at this time of year. However much you may admire them nestled under trees or scattered in fields, please buy them from a shop as most of us do not know enough about what to pick and what not to pick and some of them are in fact deadly. However, field mushrooms, shitake, oyster and chestnut mushrooms are safe, seasonal and entirely easy to buy. They are just delicious: grilled, baked, sautéed, used in casseroles or raw in salads and extremely good for you. Rich in selenium, potassium, copper and vitamin B’s, they are also the only food source of vitamin D. Therefore they help our immune system, regulate blood sugar and support efforts to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
My favourite breakfast is to sauté them with some butter and herbs such as thyme or parsley served either with a slice of toast or on their own (I am trying not to eat bread with every meal and mushrooms have zero carbohydrate). “Seasons” also has a satisfying recipe for a mushroom lasagne and it becomes gluten free if you use the gluten free lasagne. Serve it with a large green salad tossed with a mustard vinaigrette.
A very easy foraging option is to enjoy a walk along old downland tracks or by woods and take a basket or a bag to eat and pick some blackberries. Choose the ones higher up (clear of dogs!) and make a cake or stewed blackberries on porridge for breakfast, make some frozen blackberry yoghurt or blackberry and apple crumble. It is a fun family occupation.
Our ancestors gave more time in each day to walking for a purpose, for doing and collecting, to pick and to store. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:…. a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”
I think walking and collecting gives me moments of peace and the aim is not to eat it all straightaway! That is the challenge.