The spring and summer cause great issues for foragers in the fact what do we pick first? There is so much ready all at once that it drives me mad, I work on average this time of year 18 hours, plus a day, the phone rings off the hook with many friends, family, and customers with news of a find, a new secret place to forage or they do indeed a glut of fruit that needs picking and of course (anyone who cooks will tell you this ) they all demand, new and interesting for recipes along with special tips and new ideas! I do my best and there’s the garden to tend too. Would I change it? No! Do I love it yes.
However this year I am picking Rowan berries before elderberries that is a first for me. Elderberries need cooking before you eat them they can make you ill if uncooked.
The Leaves and stems mustn’t be used and these too can make you quite ill. So cook them first. So yes you can make an amazing syrup, jam and jelly but here I like to tell you about a soup.
To get to the soup we first have to travel back in time to Barland Estate in Powys Wales and into Garden Cottage. In the garden the plums are ready to pick, loganberries are ripping fast each day against the walled garden space dripping with flavour, the apples are promising a bumper crop and I am still picking raspberries, strawberries and of course, the currant cage is not giving in just yet. Our freezers are full and the larder is filling up. It’s early August and the kitchen hot from the Rayburn. A constant smell of cooking fruit fills our house.
A large bowl of water with a small hint of wine, is on the heat, the air is filled with warm smells, first the fresh fruity aroma, then a whisper of cinnamon with undertones of honey fill the air in between and remind me that the summer not going to last forever, my choice of school has been my undoing. I will at the end of this month get back on the bus and although my days will be busy, I not be with my mum & dad, my little brother and of the mad dog “hop along Cassidy” and I will miss them all so much along with the garden full of fruit and flowers, dinner will become just food. I indeed missed them more than I ever told them. (Turn back the clock).
My mum’s storytelling was always fascinating and all the time she was passing on everything she learnt, she had a thirst for knowledge, and her desire to pass on everything she knows was so important. She was like a missionary spreading and sharing the word! Especially when she was in the kitchen, so as she cooked she told stories, and apart from cooking lessons we had, history lessons, art lessons and life lessons! Why, and how certain dishes came about why we forage and the importance of not forgetting what we once knew.
My mum was and is still my hero, she could cook anything and did indeed cook everything, and could make a meal from nothing. Her heart still beats in mine and although I miss her every single day I know she is with me every second. She made me who I am today, she taught me the love of life, passion and of course cooking. She was outstanding at everything especially making soups, from all most anything from the garden. Even the hardened meat eater couldn’t resist her delicious green and bean soup. So as the seasons changed and slowly moved on so did the recipes and the soup. I not sure I could even to this day give you my favourite choice if I was to choose? Then I would choose them all a small tiny cup of each starting with the pea, then cold fennel, but always finishing with the Elderberry soup.
Elderberry Soup recipe
1.5 litres of water
500g of Elderberries
2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice (one large lemon)
100ml of white wine
1 stick of cinnamon
A little arrowroot to thicken or you can have this without if you would like a thin soup.
Place on the heat water, wine, lemon juice and spice.
Pick the elderberries off the stalks, discarding any leaves and stalks.
Add carefully to the warm water, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook gently for 10-15 mins
The fruit will so mushy, Add a teaspoon of honey at this point.
Strain the fruit and press out the juice. Then return the soup to the pan. (Discard the pulp)
If you would like a thicker soup, mix the arrow route with a drop of cold water and the rest of the lemon juice and pour into the soup and now season to your taste.
Return to a soft heat and slowly bring to a light boil to cook the arrowroot and thicken the soup.
Serve with roasted ground cobnuts and sourdough bread croutons drizzled with honey.
Possible side effects (Autoimmune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions: Elderberry might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of autoimmune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using elderberry.)
5 years ago I entered the World Marmalade Awards and won a bronze for my Seville with Cacao it was an epic day it lead me to decided that this is what really makes my world go around. So I thank Dalemain House for giving me the confidence that started me on this epic journey, this road has consisted of late nights and even hospital visits as I have fallen out of a trees. So thank you. (I am giving the world marmalade awards a rest, no other reason than I didn’t post it on time yet again!)
So now I make jam and the very fact you all wanted to buy eat and enjoy it well is nothing more than fabulous. Time has flown by and I moved out of my home kitchen, to one I built, started to keep bees, planted more fruit and vegetables, teamed up with the Chewton Glen to forage sustainably. So far so good.
I’ve lived and loved every minute, every disaster, every high, every low, they have all been fantastic. Although I feel that I may have lost the plot from time to time! But you, my friends, my children and my family have been there always encouraging me, every step of the way believing in me. Which means so much to me it hard to put into words.
So thank you all for supporting me in every way be it small large for helping me forage be it picking crab apples Carol,(Daisy cake company)or for growing them Darren Venables, to believing in my wacky ideas Martyn Nail, Luke Mathews, Leckford Farm, and of course the many bar tenders who have invited me in to help develop products cocktails and use jam in ways that made toast curl !
If I was to say I love what I do, it would underestimate the passion I have and my urgent need to cook everyday. I am always up early and chomping at the bit to get into the kitchen. So as I stop and reflect on the past five years, I shall share with you a few moments below.
Antonio Carluccio at Leckford Farm shop opening
Waitrose Charimans Award 2013
BBC Children in Need Carfest
Lunch Break with the Fabulous Baker Boys
Food & Drinks Award Hampshire
Foraging with nothing but the Bear essentials
Cooking at the Hotel & Catering Show
Cooking with Luke Mathews (my hero)
Talking Foraging with Estate Manger Darren Venables
Its been a rather busy year and I just wanted to show you what I built:
In January I moved out of my old unit in search of something a little more me, I look high and low and nothing suited, until I come across, a place that at the time was not resemble anything like a kitchen, it was a furniture shop!
I worried, I questioned and even argued with myself and I did just wonder if it was the right move. I spoke to the very nice man(landlord) Mr Stuart Bailey who said it could be anything you want, if your like it then go a head and change whatever you want to make it yours.
I looked and looked and walked around this little place, then I noticed the garden, a place for me to grown my own fruit, a greenhouse, and even a place for my next project bee keeping. So I signed on the dotted line and armed with a plan, a sledge hammer, and lots of hours learning DIY on YouTube. I set off to turn it into a commercial kitchen that I could cook in.
I’ve always had an instinct and natural urge for foraging, that has continued to push me outside.
As no matter where you are, no matter the time of year there always something to find to eat!. Foraging has always played a big part in my life but now it’s also instrumental to my work. Apart from the free food there are other benefits too. Exercise and this time of year leaf kicking is a great way to feel young! I am sure that I did once hear on radio 4 that there is something fundamental and beneficial about the bacteria on the leafs. That it is good for us to breathe in when kicking up the leaves during autumn, unfortunately I can’t remember all the details!
So on a bright afternoon, after the fog had cleared, I was off to forage for jam in the ground of the Chewton Glen, I take my usual route through the cut, across the road and then into the small woodland. I just can’t help but kick up the leaves, it’s then I notice them, little furry green husks, spiky balls and they are holding their very own crown jewels beautiful little brown chestnuts!
I’ve found treasure! wow o wow, I had almost forgotten about these little beauties I’ve been so busy with hedgerow fruits recently, just how could I forget about the season’s best tasting nut! So without a thought for rose hips I was down on damp ground picking through the leaves and gathering chestnuts.
So while my jeans were gathering mud as I rustled in the leaves, the moment begins to rekindles memories, and as always my memories always seem to start in the our family kitchen with my mum. I would watch her put together some wonderful recipes and I wish now I take a pen to paper and written them all down. But the smell of these chestnuts takes me to her kitchen, while after foraging for those angry spiky furry balls, we would pick out the nuts, and that distinct aromas of burnt ambers, almost earthy yes the chestnuts were roasting. Or we store the beauties for use later in the Christmas stuffing.
But what else did she do apart from the stuffing ? I hold still, kneeing on the wet ground trying hard to bring back “Christmas past”, I laugh! All I think of is the exploding chestnuts in the rayburn ( I haven’t forgotten to pierce the chestnuts since!)
I giggle and while I’m thinking, I get a message from Darren Venables, the wonderful head gardener from the Chewton Glen, he suggests a roast chestnut party just, what I was thinking! but hey what about a Jam? There is plenty here.
It’s not that we won’t have a party, however being a little obsessed with jam, I just can’t help but think about making a jam, it’s in my bones.
I dig deep and finally remember this recipe something that I made some many moons ago. So without rambling on! here’s the recipe:
– 1 kg of chestnuts
– 650g of vanilla sugar (can use granulated sugar if you wish)
– one vanilla pod (optional depends how much your sugar tastes of vanilla )
– Juice of a lemon
(check last blogs for sterilising jars etc)
Chestnuts have two skins so first your need to peel the outer skin it’s a little difficult and your need a sharp knife and insert it at the top of the nut and carefully peel away the first layer.
Then pop them into a large pan of boiled water and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, then remove the chestnuts a little at a time and peel the second layer of skin.
Once you have skinned all the nuts it can take some time. (I promise if I find a faster way or a tool to do this with I’ll let you know)
Now the messy bit press the chestnuts though a sieve to remove the husky bits. (this is the non technical bit and other jam makers hate this bit. if you add equal amounts of sugar to the nuts as you would in jam then your get a rather sweet jam nothing wrong with it).
However I like more of a chestnut taste so asto be more versatile so like to use less sugar.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for about 20-30mins and bring to a rolling boil check for the set (softer than fruit jams) and pot in sterilised jars.
This is great in a chestnut bellini and of course on pancakes it’s heaven
Its pairs very well with whiskey so great for a cake! (or even in a whiskey)
A still moment in time that I hope to be able to visualise in my heart for ever, for a photograph can only ever hold an image. It may rekindle memories but it could ever convey the my magical moment of sitting outside with a blanket and a hot cup of tea and a very confused cat!
It’s 2.15 and I am watching the sun eclipse the moon on a clear night so bright I can read the stars like a recipe. For the first time ever I looked up and without a map I knew exactly what each star in this night sky is and I was so excited, I could barely hold onto my voice and not shout out their names, at last it’s sunk in! So crystal clear and I can see everyone . I look back at the moon,and it has the appearance of someone draping a hearth rug over her while she sits by the fire, that gives her this earthly glow. Not wanting to move a muscle as not to miss a second of such beauty I stare and breath in this extraordinary moment. I have to share this time, but who dare I ring at such a late hour? I conect with a few friends, just knowing that we are together looking, dreaming and experiencing the same sight fills my heart, wondering just how they feel.
Then it begins a heartbeat so loud almost deafening, I almost jump out of my seat looking around I steady my nervous its my heart its has started to race with the excitement of the event. I breath in and smile all at the same time the air is motionless as it the world has stood still, and we watch her performance. My thoughts begins to accelerate, are you meant to wish upon the moon or do I sing a song of love or do I ?? What might my mum have done? she would have chosen a wish, then wished to see her daughter and I too would have wished to see them both.
I pour another cup of tea from my flask wondering how mad I must look in an English garden with a blanket and flask of tea a stone’s throw from my kitchen. Mrs moon how you make me laugh I look up at you above the cherry tree, where you have settled into your rug, and how very much you remind me a christmas bauble, and how surreal this all is, then without thinking my mind is in the vegetable plot! and without a moment to lose I jump up, I grow biodynamically this is perfect for planting! I plant as many winter salad seeds I can see with the world’s smallest touch and red moon light.
I laugh hoping not to wake the neighbors, they truly would then think that I was completely nuts! mmm then I start to think about Jam… wondering just how the fruit will set tomorrow, and although I have grown by biodynamic methods, I have yet to note the setting points of jams by this method, so a project begins!
So this morning at first light I picked as many blackberries as my basket could carry and set off into the kitchen to cook the delights. After a few hours my basket was bare so I was off again, finding plenty more hedgerow bounty, each fruit seemed fuller and juicier than before. The I remembered the mushrooms I picked the day before, and off course I truffle hunt biodynamically!!! why O why had I not thought of it in all of my fruit foraging !! So without fail I produced a little chart to record the results. (I Love my reserch!) So if and when I get tangible results of biodynamic setting points in jam I shall let you know. In the past I have recorded humidity measurements, it has and does affect, the jam setting point no matter the recipes. In the meantime a little blackberry jam recipe.
2kg of blackberries
2 kgs of sugar
juice of one lemon
Wash and hull the blackberries
Sit the blackberrie in the sugar over night
Pop a small plate into the fridge to check for setting point.Wash jars and place in an oven dish and turn your oven to 150C. Put your timer on for 12mins to remind you to turn off the oven.
Place the contents in a jam pan and cook on a low heat until all the sugar is dissolved
Once the sugar has dissolved and the blackberries have started to cook (about 35mins) bring the pan to a rolling boil