Autumn fruits are packed full of vitamins and flavour. For modern palates which often prefer sweetness to bitter or sour tastes, eaten straight from the tree or bush they can be quite sharp, or, if you have ever popped a raw sloe in your mouth, eye wateringly astringent. Lightly cooking them with a little sweetener draws out the juices and makes the most of their rich and complex flavours.
If you are lucky enough to live by the coast, you may have come across Sea Buckthorn, the orange berries of which seem to be an acquired taste but I found their sour tartness mouth wateringly good and from reading up on their heath benefits they are cram packed full of goodness, an incredible super food. Picking them is a bit tricky – they are surrounded by a thorny armour and not long after they become ripe burst as soon as they are touched and exude bright orange juice everywhere. Holding a bowl underneath them to catch the delicious explosion seems to be the best way of harvesting them!
Gathering Rosehips also involves careful manoeuvring around thorns but they are well worth the effort. A jelly or syrup made from them and spooned over porridge on a cold Winters morning brings an amber glow to the belly and is like a ray of sunshine. All rose hips are edible – the mandarin shaped soft hips of the Rosa rugosa are the first to ripen, with the harder hips of the native dog rose needing a good blast of cold weather to soften them up. Whichever variety you use, they need to be minced and sieved very finely (though a jelly bag) to remove the irritating hairy seeds which are in the centre and have pretty much the same effect as itching powder!
Elder trees produce clusters of juicy dark berries which are reputed to be wonderful for treating cold and ‘flu symptoms. They need to be heated gently, as the raw fruits contain toxins which can cause upset stomachs. They also make an incredible Port-like wine and I have a couple of demi johns bubbling away for drinking next Winter.
The recipe below is perfect for making the most of whatever fruit is available to you and is suitable for all the fruits above.
Autumn fruit syrup
This will make about one and a half litres of syrup…
2kg mixed fruit. e.g. Crab apples, rosehips, elderberries, seabuckthorn berries, blackberries, damsons (you don’t need to peel or core, just make sure the harder fruits are chopped up).
About 500ml water – a little less if you are using mostly juicy berries
Add the harder fruits to the pan first such as the rosehips & crab apples as they will need to cook for a little longer (try about 10 minutes before adding the rest of the fruit) simmer the fruit until it breaks up. Bash it and mash it a bit with a wooden spoon to make sure that all the juice is extracted. Pass everything through a sieve or leave to drip through a jelly bag overnight (use the jelly bag method if you are using rosehips).
Measure the juice and return it to a clean pan. Gently heat and add 750g sugar for every litre of water. Once the sugar has dissolved and the juice begins to simmer take it off the heat – if you allow it to boil too furiously it may set like jelly (I have done this before, it is delicious but you won’t be able to get it out of the bottle easily) pour it straight into hot sterilised bottles. It will keep unopened for a good few months, just pop it into the fridge once you have unscrewed it.
This is delicious made into a drink, drizzled onto pancakes, ice cream, porridge or yoghurt and it also makes my favourite champagne cocktail!
Jade Mellor is a professional forager, based in West Wales, with over 8 years experience. She runs the delightful rural business Wild Pickings, which sells seasonal foraged foods at farmers markets, food festivals and restaurants.
Jade also runs wild food walks and courses throughout the year (the next of which is Fruits and Roots on Sunday 21st October); contact and booking details can be found on her website here.
You can also find a selection of Jade’s creations for sale on handmade in the hills (we have our eye on the wild picked teas and the beautifully illustrated set of foraged food recipe cards)…