or, Some Thoughts on Foraging
Cost: almost free, in this case, since it was made with foraged fruit and just a few spoonfuls of sugar.
I have to admit, for me a foraged meal would normally refer to a some kind of dish improvised out of incongruous leftovers or non-perishable ingredients, possibly both. For instance, after a particularly miscalculated barbecue at the weekend, the next night we “foraged” a pasta sauce made of caramelised onions and all the meat chopped into small pieces, cooked down with a bowl of cherry tomato salsa and half a bottle of leftover red wine. However, I understand that this would not be considered foraging in the classical sense.
We spent the recent Bank Holiday weekend in the Lake District, and perhaps through a combination of the recent heavy rain and dazzling sunlight, the hedges were heavy with brambles, ripe and ready for picking. Walking on the fells and on the paths along the river, I easily filled a sandwich bag with fruit, despite my eating almost as many as made it into the bag.
The wild fruit is smaller and more varied in taste than the blackberries on the supermarket shelves back in London. Some of them were subtly sweet, some were bitter and a few were mouth-puckeringly sharp. All of them were full of pips, which I love to crunch between my teeth, although I know not everyone is a fan.
Back at the cottage, I made this quick jam – the process speeded up by not adding water, which normally would take ages to boil off. It also uses much less sugar than most jam recipes, but could be adjusted for taste – the downside is that it doesn’t keep as long as normal jam, but I think it’s worth it because with less sugar and a shortened cooking time the delicate flavour of the wild fruit still shines through. It sets into a fairly loose jelly and keeps in the fridge in a sterilised jar for a few weeks.
We heaped the still-warm jam onto craggy homemade scones, and stirred spoonfuls into baked apples to make a crumble filling. It was also good the next day on toasted buns, and I have plans to make ice cream with the rest of the jar that we brought back. This is a great recipe – more of a method, really, for when you are on holiday and don’t have lots of equipment on hand. I make scones on holiday in much the same way – no recipe – and I can’t say they suffer for it.
Recipe: Bramble Jam
Blackberries, washed and checked for worms – about 400g worth
White granulated sugar, half the weight of the blackberries (pour over the fruit until the gaps in between are filled up, about half the height of the fruit)*
1 tsp lemon juice (if available, from concentrate is fine)
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional, but I think blackberries and vanilla go particularly well together)
*Note on sugar: at home I normally only buy golden unrefined caster/granulated sugar, but the holiday home had white so we used that, and I don’t think it was a bad thing in fact – having a more neutral sugar really let the flavour of the brambles shine
1. Using a saucepan big enough for the blackberries to only fill it half-full, heat all the ingredients over a medium-high heat until the fruit has given off enough inky juice to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
2. Cook for 20-25 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the fruit collapses. Stir well to make sure the consistency is even, and then leave to cool.
3. If storing in a jar, sterilise the jar and lid by filling with boiling water from the kettle and leaving to stand for 15 minutes. Then empty out the water and pour in the still-hot jam fasten the lid on. Tip the jar upside down briefly to ensure the lid and seal are covered with the jam to hopefully kill any lingering germs. The jar will make a startling popping noise as it cools.