I’ve been in the house rather more than usual thanks to my ankle deciding to hamper my mobility. However, I’m used to it by now as it’s a seasonal occurrence – and my foraging earlier in the month has paid off by keeping me entertained.
The jams and compotes I made and froze a few weeks ago are now being turned into seasonal delights. For the first time, I truly understand ‘mellow fruitfulness’ – though the mists are still thankfully absent.
My elderberry port is fermenting; blackberries, plums and apples used to make a delicious and comforting pudding (with honeycomb ice cream – though not home made); and I now have fruit leathers in three varieties: blackberry and apple, pear and stem ginger, and apple, honey and vanilla.
To make fruit leather, just puree fruit, add sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste and spread around 1/4 inch layer in a silicone tray. Bake at 100 degrees until it is firm to touch and shiny when you peel it from the tray. It lasts for ages as long as you dry it enough. Roll into sausages after baking and slice into ‘wheels’ for easy lunch box snacks: a great way to get you 5-a-day (I leave seeds in the berry puree for extra goodness).
My christmas drinks cabinet -and present stash – is shaping up well too. So far I’ve made:
- Blackberry and apple vodka.
- Blackberry vodka.
- Blackberry gin.
- Satsuma, honey and mixed spice vodka (from leftover peel, not foraged)
- Elderberry gin.
- Blackberry and apple gin.
- Blackberry and apple brandy.
- Pear, ginger and vanilla vodka.
- Banana, vanilla and stem ginger brandy (made from over-ripe bananas rather than foraged food – and all the better for being too ripe to eat.)
To make fruit spirits, take your base spirit and add the fruit and sugar to taste (I err on the side of sharp as sugar can be added later – as can honey or stem ginger juice). Leave to steep for a month, shaking occasionally. Taste after a month (or earlier to check on its progress of you want). If there is still flavour in the fruit, leave it to steep some more.
Strain (through old tights or T-shirts of you don’t have muslin) before you bottle your drink for final use. You can leave the fruit in if you want, but it looks nicer for gifts to remove it (unless you use large fruit such as whole pears, or vibrant and tough fruit such as candied orange peel.)
Seeing light glinting through jewel-coloured bottles filled with Autumn fruits is a joy to behold. Better yet, blackberries, plums and elderberries all have loads of health benefits that are ideally suited to this time of year (particularly if you suffer from inflammatory conditions). Enjoy the fruit that is ripening now. It will be gone before long…
I’ve also got back into making apple dolls – something I last did as a child with my gran. I’ve remembered why I love it as it’s both easy and fun.
All you do is peel and carve an apple into a rough face shape, with eye sockets, a nose, mouth and shaped chin. Soak in lemon juice for an hour or so, then put in the oven on 100 degrees to slowly shrivel. Finish with googly eyes and felt tips or beads and paint.
(As apple dolls can take hours to shrivel to perfection, I cook fruit leather at the same time, and also slowly toast oatmeal and nut mix with honey drizzled over it, for easy breakfast. The low temperature means the sugar doesn’t catch. Vegetable stews and slow-roast peppers, tomatoes, heads of garlic and whole chillis will also make use of the oven.)
Apple dolls can make wise crones or jolly, apple-cheeked OAPs (mine always come out crone-like, witchy and a little wonky but they have character to me.) I make the bodies from old tights stuffed with fabric scraps that are too small to use or stuffing from old pillow that are too thin to sleep on; and use twigs or pipe cleaners for arms and legs.
Apple dolls are a fun, free project for adults and children alike (though don’t let children use sharp knives. You can carve a good enough face using the tip of a small teaspoon at a push.) They are also a great way to use maggoty windfalls, though remove the maggots before you start.
If you want to decorate your home for Halloween, what could be better than a room full of flying apple doll witches, rotting zombies or grumpy gnomes? Add apple bobbing with raw carved faces for extra darkness .
The delights of nature are abundant at this time of year. Use them to ease yourself into the new season – and save money ahead of christmas too.