As the school holidays reach their end, many parents are finding their wallets stretched thin. Here are some free ways to have fun this weekend (whether you have kids or not). They could even save you money…
I’ve picked all the above in the last few weeks (in a town, not the depths of the countryside). It’s amazing how quickly you can fill your larder if you add foraging to your day. This is particularly handy if you’re on a tight budget but want a vitamin-rich diet.
It’s also a fun way to spend an afternoon, whether alone or with family. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much you can pick in half an hour if you find the right spot. I find the canalside a particularly abundant place to find wild food.
Look for blackberries, elderberries, hawthorn, rosehips, plums, crabapples, damsons and maybe even apples and pears (often from people whose gardens overlook the canal).
There’s lots more in season too – this guide will help you identify what you can eat (and is currently on sale at £2.99 rather than £6.99). There are lots of other guides online too, but John Lewis Stempel is a particular joy to read, and Foraging: A Practical Guide… covers all you need to know to really enjoy foraging (including how to use what you forage).
However, if you’re going foraging, never take anything you can’t identify for sure and read the Forager’s Code to stay safe (and ensure you are nature-aware when you forage).
Visit an Allotment
It’s National Allotments Week and many allotments are having open days this weekend. Check out the National Allotments Week website for details of allotments near you.
You could just visit. However, joining a community allotment is a great way to meet other garden lovers – and learn about gardening if you’re a beginner. It’s also a great way to get food for free – and share what you make.
Make Jam and/or Chutney
Once you have your free food, make it last longer (at least in theory) by turning it into jam or chutney.
For the former, add sugar and lemon juice to your fruit. Balance pectin levels in fruit to avoid having to buy pectin.
It can take playing to get the consistency right but can also lead to interesting flavour combinations (crabapples are my go-to jam thickener that doesn’t overwhelm other flavours. Plums work well too, but I think the taste is stronger. And I’ll often use honey in place of sugar, which also adds to the tastiness)
For chutney, add vinegar as well as sugar or honey. It’s a similar process to jam, with more herbs and spices (I’ve even turned jam into chutney after accidentally adding garlic and ginger ice cubes to rhubarb, rather than ginger alone…)
Chutney is also a great way to use up tired veg in the fridge. I use a ‘base’ such as apple, plum, rhubarb or squash, then add whatever else needs using up and adjust spicing accordingly.
I’ll use chilli, horseradish or coriander with tomato-based chutneys; mustard with green veg and cauliflower based chutneys and (gentle) mulling spices with dark berry based chutneys (eg, elderberry and red onion).
There’s so much more to enjoy outdoors at the moment too, from feeding the ducks to bug-spotting, cloud-watching to wildflower spotting. And if the weather’s uninspiring, making jam will soon warm you up…