When I think of a Quince, I picture it being dressed up in Armour, wielding a mace and being patted on the back by Henry XIII for adding a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ to his epic feasts. Far fetched perhaps, but this fruit has regal properties about it…a seat at the round table perhaps?
The Quince is one of those forgotten medieval fruits slowly clawing a comeback in Britain, you know, like the Medlar. It’s a fruit of still life paintings, jellies and delightful blossom. Fortunately for us, the Spaniards have taken it and turned into something a little better than a preserve. In Britain, we have a terrible habit of imprisoning hedgerow fruit in a jam jar with sugar…I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I am guilty of jarring up more members of the wild larder than most, but perhaps it is time indulge in more continental practices: take the raw inedible, and force it to be desirable on the palate, asap.
Back in my boarding school days, around the time of A-level examinations, myself and a few friends would meet for “Gin club” every Tuesday. Often held in one of our rooms, although we were all on the same floor at the top of the house (perfect positioning to avoid getting busted by our house master). Gin club consisted of sitting around in armchairs, having a good chinwag and a few G&T’s before bed after a hard evenings revision.
It’s been sometime since I have dedicated an entry to a single recipe…it’s been a bit treehouse filled of late. So much of the food I have had come and go through the outdoor kitchen has been truly memorable and most of it photographed for future use. But at what point does photographing every stage of an exploit detract from the fun and experience of taking part in escapade to begin with?
There are so many things down here That I want to capture, write up and tell the world so everyone can take home a little piece but sometimes there is too much (good thing I’m writing a book to put it all in to)! Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to cook a meal or do something without having to consider it for books, blogs, so on and so forth. Perhaps these are the moments the magic really happens and things move at the pace they should rather than having to wait for the sun to come out again to take that so-important shot…
I received an email last week from one of my readers; it was concerning the picking of wild garlic bulbs and the legality of such activities. The email got me thinking about just what the law does allow Hunter-gatherers to do and just how we should be looking after our chosen foraging environments.
In the email it was mentioned that it is illegal to pick the bulbs of wild garlic. This is not strictly true, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is illegal to dig up a plant by the root, however common it is, unless it is on your own land or you have the landowner’s permission. My favoured wild garlic harvesting spot is on a Friend’s farm and there is more of it than you could shake a stick at.
The other point that was raised was how essential it is to set good sustainable standards where our wild foods are concerned. Quite, I couldn’t agree more. So what are the rules of engagement when it comes to foraging?
At this time of year the hedgerows are peppered with pockets of bright red rosehips, gone are the pretty pink tinged flowers of summer and in their place is small oval capsule bursting with Vitamin C.
For years I have noticed the rosehip, yet rarely have I bothered to take the time to harvest it. I think this may have been due to fact that I like to harvest a morsel that can be enjoyed as part of a meal, something I can use in the solid sense and gorge myself on, rather than processing into a healthy liquid to aid me through winter.
Unfortunately for the poor Crab-apple, I have taken to calling them crap-apples over the years, call me childish if you will, but they are crap apples: Never one to please you on an autumn stroll, a crab-apple straight of the ground won’t do much for your taste buds, that tart sharpness is better put to use in the kitchen with a few store cupboard staples, than wolfed down straight off the tree.
In the same way as hawthorn berries, crab-apples pack a lot of pectin, especially in the skin. It is for this reason crab-apple jelly is the most obvious choice when converting this fruit into something edible. Surely there can be other uses for them than just jelly? After having a good think about it, I decided there were.
I never used to be overly keen on the hawthorn, as far as trees went. As a child I found it wasn’t really one to climb due to its thorny branches, in bush form they made impenetrable boundaries across the countryside that often thwarted my journeys everywhere I went, oh the obstacles! Why have thorns? It’s not as if it had anything worth stealing…or so I thought.
As I have grown older so has my appreciation for the humble hawthorn. When thinking about it, three uses spring to mind: year round it has excellent firewood, when it burns it gives off enough heat to melt raw (pig) iron. In spring it’s leaves (often the first of all leaves to appear) are a useful addition to any meal. The third is its berries which form in bright red clusters come autumn and have some rather strange properties.
So other than being employed as a primitive barbed wire fence, what makes the hawthorn useful as part of the wild larder?
A lot of people bang on about the great British strawberry, well this is it. Not the big juicy behemoths you get in a bowl with meringues and cream at Wimbledon, but this dainty little morsel. It maybe small but it packs one hell of a punch, a sharp, sweet yet pleasant flavour. Of course it varies from each berry and there are not ever that many to go round.
The name derives from the way in which they grow, originally “Strewberries” referring to the way in which the strawberries are found strewn about on runners from this incredibly invasive plant. When I was small we used to go to the PYO farm nearby and my father referred to them as Stawbuggers…good name! They can be found in almost any garden often growing in rockeries. They are, out in the wild, particularly fond of heath land, verges and grassy banks.