Hedgerow Tales

Wikipedia defines a hedgerow as “a line of closely spaced shrubs and tree species, planted and trained to form a barrier or to mark the boundary of an area.” In England many hedges are hundreds of years old and typically contain Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hazel and over native trees. In time the original hedge becomes colonized with other shrubs such as Brambles, Elder, Bullace, Crab apple and Dog Rose. In some areas the “hedges” can be the last remnant of an old country estate or market garden where you can stumble on old varities of apple, plum and pear, greengages, currants and raspberries reverted to wild.

Everywhere you look you will find wild fruit of some sort, have a look around. There is a grassy area behind our estate which is great for elderberries, blackberries, bullace plums and hawthorn berries. The local disused railway line has apples, rosehips and raspberries and part of a nearby canal marina is a bonanza of sloes. Get to know your local area. Avoid fruit growing next to main roads and industrial sites as they are covered in pollutants, yuck!

But what to do with it all when you’ve picked it? Here is a link to a fantastic recipe for hedgerow jelly which I’ve been making for a few years: http://www.countryliving.co.uk/create/food-and-drink/hedgerow-jelly Inspired by the recipe, this year I’m having a go at hedgerow liquour.

Hedgerow Liquour

You will need a large kilner jar or similar that will hold at least a litre of liquid.

  • 250g sugar
  • 250ml white wine
  • 150g blackberries
  • 100g elderberries
  • a large handful of hawthorn berries or rosehips
  • a large handful of bullace plums or sloes
  • a 750ml bottle of vodka

Sterilize the jar. Wash the fruit. Gently heat the wine and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved.

Elderberries contain toxins which are destroyed by heat and hawthorn berries are quite hard, put these in the saucepan with the wine and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 15 to 20 mins.

Prick the bullace plums all over with a skewer, put them in the jar with the blackberries. Pour the hot wine mixture into the jar as well. Top up the jar with as much vodka as it needs to reach the top.

Leave in the jar, shaking it every other day for a fortnight. Next (I haven’t got this far, mine is still mascerating) strain through muslin or a jelly bag into sterilized bottles. Leave to stand for a month so any remaining sediment can sink to the bottom. Strain again, this time through coffee filter paper, into fresh bottles. Enjoy neat, or with fizzy wine/tonicwater/whatever you fancy or maybe invent a new and exciting cocktail! I’ll update the post when mine is ready and let you know how it went.

First update: Just strained into bottles and my it’s delicious! Very sweet, very fruity with a tannin kick from the elderberries. Looking forward to seeing how it matures.

COTM: Blackberry and Apple Crumble

“O come at last, to whom the spring-tide’s hope

Looked for through blossoms, what hast thou for me?

Green grows the grass upon the dewy slope

Beaneath thy gold hung, grey leaved apple tree

Moveless, e’en as the autumn fain would be

That shades its sad eyes from the rising sun

And weeps at eve because the day is done”

September – William Morris

Autumn is the pefect season, crisp mornings giving way to warm sunshine, pretty coloured crispy leaves to kick around and every hedgerow bursting with free food (the best kind) Now is the time to go foraging for fruits, nuts and berries, mushrooms too if you feel brave (I’m not) Do make sure you know what you are picking, blackberries are easy to recognize but there are a multitude of other berries that look very much alike, you don’t want to be poisoned now do you? If you’re not experienced take a guide book with you. If in doubt DON’T EAT IT!! Some berries are fine cooked but not raw so don’t put your fingers in your mouth while picking, if you don’t believe me look up “purgative” in the dictionary and ponder it’s meaning.

First pick your blackberries (if you buy blackberries from the supermarket between August and October I will never respect you again, it only takes a few minutes to pop out to the nearest alleyway/wasteground/disused railway/neighbours garden to pick a couple of handfuls, which is all you need) Now it’s time to make September’s cake of the month, based on that wonderfully comforting British classic pudding, apple crumble.

Blackberry and Apple Crumble Cake

Based on a traditional Somerset apple cake

  • 4oz (120g) Butter
  • 6oz (180g) brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 8oz (240g) white or brown plain flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 cooking apples
  • a couple of handfuls of fresh blackberries
  • 4 tbsp milk

For the crumble topping:

  • 4oz (120g) plain flour
  • 2oz (60g) butter
  • 1oz (30g) granulated sugar

Pre heat the oven to 170ºc (325ºf). Grease and line an 8 inch cake tin, a springform one is the best, it’s tricky to get out of a loose bottomed tin because of the crumble topping!

Make the crumble first. Put all the ingredients ina bowl and rub together until they resemble breadcrumbs. Put to one side.

Chop the apple into small cubes:

apple chunksIn a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs. Sift in the flour, spices and baking powder and mix well.

Fold in the apples, blackberries and milk. Don’t worry it the mixture seems a bit stiff, the fruit releases moisture as it cooks so don’t add any more liquid.

blackberry mix

Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the surface. Sprinkle the crumble mix over the top. Bake for around 40 mins or until a skewer poked in the middle  comes out clean. If it seems to be too brown before being cooked in the centre, cover with a sheet of baking paper (not foil).

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins tham gently ease it out and cool on a wire tray.

Lovely served warm or cold, especially with clotted cream!

apple b cover

“Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness” – Keats


The King Of Covent Garden*

Today is the start of Bramley Apple Week. Everything has a day or a week these days. Some see  it  as an annoying gimmick and I can see their point, but I think it’s harmless fun and if you’re stuck for things to do or something to cook, it can give you a starting point. Some events such as marmalade week or apple day for instance, have local activities or competitions to join in with.

In England at any rate, Bramley’s are the most popular cooking apple (mainly because they’re the only ones supermarkets stock). Excellent for apple sauce because they cook down to a pulp. They also store very well, so with care you can enjoy them all year round.

bramley adAlthough planted from seed by a girl named Mary Ann Brailsford in her garden in Southwell, Nottinghamshire in 1809, they take their name from local butcher Matthew Bramley who bought the cottage in 1846.

The original tree blew down in a storm in 1900, but survived, growing again  where a branch touched the ground and rooted. It still bears fruit to this day.

Take a look: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13764153



*The nickname given to the fruit by wholesalers in London’s Covent Garden market.

Fact: Covent Garden was originally the garden surrounding the convent of St Peter of Westminster which went into decline with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Redeveloped by the 4th Earl of Bedford in the 1600’s to include a market and houses for the wealthy. By the 1800’s it had become a notorious red light district. In 1974, because of traffic problems, the market relocated to New Covent Garden about three miles down the road, where it can be found today.