The calendar may say summer but the hedgerows are saying autumn right now. The official start-date for autumn is either 1st September or 22nd September, depending on whether you opt for meteorological or astronomical seasonal markers. However, if you take a phenological approach to reading the weather, many of the signs of autumn are here.
There are ripe blackberries and haws in the hedgerows. The apples are falling, as are the first few leaves. And that’s before you even get into the weather.
While it’s bad news for sunbathers, it does mean nature’s giving gifts away early this year. Here are a few of the things you can get for free – and what you can turn them into.
Turn into pie and tarts to enjoy the comforting joys of the season.
Gifts-wise, you can make jam, jelly, fruit vinegar, fruit leather (puree then dehydrate. Cut into strips or bite-sized pieces then put in a tin), blackberry wine (add sugar and yeast and check regularly) and blackberry gin.
Blackberry is also a useful addition to any jams that aren’t as colourful as you’d like them to be.
It’s more faff to prepare haws than blackberries, but hawthorn jam is a vitamin C rich treat.
Simmer hawthorns in water or orange juice. Squeeze the pulp off the seeds and push it through a sieve, or use an old pair of tights to separate seeds from pulp (washed in clean soap free water first. Then, just squeeze hard.)
It can be quite therapeutic squeezing hawthorn pulp off the fruit – and you can plant the seeds afterwards. The hard coating means they are protected from the boiling water and may still germinate. Alternatively, you’ll make the birds happy by scattering the seeds….
The apples are staring to fall from the trees. Use to thicken jam and help it set; make fruit leather; or bake in a pie or crumble.
You can also bake apples whole, if you scoop out the core (again, plant the seeds) and fill with something tasty. Options include mincemeat and brandy; honey and chopped nuts; cream cheese mixed with maple syrup and cinnamon; stem ginger and ginger syrup-soaked breadcrumbs; and custard
You can also make apple dolls for Halloween. I use any apples that are inedible for this.
Pears are also appearing. Poach them in wine or ginger syrup and bottle them, for an indulgent dessert. Make pear and honey jam – I add apple or crabapple to help it set.
You can also grate pears through scone mix to make moist pear scones (you can do the same with apple. Orange and lemon zest are also tasty in scones.)
Again, these are great for jams, fruit leathers and jellies. Plums also make a great addition to any jam that isn’t setting. Try ‘jarmalade’ – combining orange peel with plum for a jam/marmalade hybrid.
If you start foraging and making now, you could easily fill several hampers by christmas, cutting the cost of gifts dramatically. I’ll write about how to make your own hamper in a future post.