Harvesting the Hedgerows

This weekend’s foraging adventure took me to the West Country, amongst the beautiful rolling hills of Herefordshire and Great Malvern. I was fortunate to be accompanied by the lovely Rosie, who not only brought dedicated and discerning blackberry picking abilities but also far superior culinary skills (check out www.rawfoodrosies.com to see her work and try out some amazing raw food recipes).

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We started with some blackberry picking – perhaps the most common British foraging activity, with good reason – blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) are abundant, tasty and easy to identify. That said, there are a few tips for picking. Firstly, the blackberry right at the end of the stalk is meant to be the ripest. Secondly, blackberries show incredible genetic diversity, so each bush can produce different tasting berries, some sweet, some more sour. Finding a really good one is part of the challenge.

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Next on the agenda was rosehip collection. These are the swollen, red/orange extensions of the stems of the Wild Rose (Rosa arvensis) and Dog Rose (Rosa canina), both commonly found in hedgerows. They can be made into rosehip syrup or you can keep the flesh intact and, as John Wright recommends, make Rosehip tart or other desserts.

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The most important thing to remember is to remove the hairy seeds from the fleshy shell of the hip. As a child we used these seeds as itching powder, as they are an irritant to the skin, but an even more serious irritant to the sensitive lining of our gut. You can split the hips open and thoroughly scoop out all the hairs and seeds and then eat the hips raw (as shown in this helpful video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0CGenlJ80s) or cook them up whole using 250ml water for every 150g hips, mashing them with a potato masher as they soften and simmering for 15 minutes. Then, to get rid of the seeds and hairs, pass the juice through a double layer of muslin twice.

In whatever form you prepare them, they are a delicious superfood, with 426 mg of vitamin C per 100g compared to the 53mg vitamin C per 100mg found in oranges, along with vitamins A, B and K. They were widely collected by school children in the Second World War when oranges were not available.

We also collected some Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) berries (or ‘haws’).

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These are rich in pectin and meant to be good for the heart and circulation, so I have used them as a base to make medicinal yet tasty fruit leathers. Please note that I don’t think the berries taste that good on their own (Rosie seems to like them though…) but with other fruits such as apple, plum or blackberry added to the mix, the fruit leather is delicious. Take your fruit and hawthorn berries, add half their volume of water, simmer for 15 minutes then mash or blend the mixture and rub the pulp through a coarse sieve or jelly bag. Pour the strained pulp into parchment lined baking trays forming a layer less than 0.5cm and leave to dry in an oven at the lowest temperature, or, if you have one, use a food dehydrator.

As the day went on we found some lovely, juicy damsons growing around an abandoned farm cottage, (Prunus domestica insititia) as well as some beautiful apples – all for free!

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Our day of foraging ended on the Malvern Hills, where we found some Parasol Mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera).

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These are some of the largest fungi you will find in the UK, reaching up to 25cm tall with a cap measuring up to 35cm in diameter. They smell intriguingly like warm milk, and have a stem with snakeskin-like markings and a distinct double ring that can be slid up and down. The cap is cream coloured, with light brown scales forming a central brown patch. They grow in grassland, so if you find one in the woods and it is particularly shaggy, with larger scales, it is probably the Shaggy Parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes) which also characteristically bruises red on the gills close to where the stem attaches and lacks the snakeskin markings. Both are edible but some people are allergic to the Shaggy Parasol. The standard parasol forms a hearty meal for the lucky forager and I can recommend it deep-fried in batter. Please note, that you must only ever pick and eat parasols that have caps larger than 12cm in diameter; this avoids confusion with similar smaller Lepiota species, some of which are deadly.

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