It may seem early to mention the A word, particularly when glorious sun and blue skies are a recent memory, but the hedgerows are heralding the change of seasons.
Rather than resisting, embrace nature’s bounty and it will make the slide towards darkness a lot less bleak.
Cake is an easy way to add joy to your life. I weigh the eggs then use equal weights of sugar, butter (or vegan spread) and self raising flour (or almond flour for a gluten free cake). The flavourings vary depending on what I need to use up.
Cream together the butter and sugar. If you can afford a basic electric whisk this will take seconds. If not, it takes a little energy and is easiest in a warm kitchen. Add vanilla essence, spices, grated stem ginger, mashed banana, dried fruit or citrus peel at this point, if using.
Add the eggs, beat them into the butter and sugar mix then fold through the flour until well mixed but still airy.
Pour into a cake time and bake at 180 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until a skewer remains clean when you stab the cake, and the cake is golden brown.
Eat as it is, drizzle with ginger or lemon syrup, sandwich with jam or add buttercream too (I use equal amounts of butter and sugar plus a little vanilla essence). Just add a cup of tea or coffee for bliss.
There is so much coming into season at the moment that it seems rude to nature to ignore it.
The blackberries are ripening, the first apple and crab-apple windfalls are hitting the ground, plums and pears are abundant and the rosehips and haws are imminent.
Add elderberry for cordial and port, hazelnuts, and whatever produce gardener friends have a glut of and it’s a great time of year to eat your 5-a-day for free. Familiarise yourself with the Foraging Code then let yourself enjoy what nature offers.
If you want to relax, make jam. The chopping, stirring and gentle ‘ploc, ploc, ploc’ of the bubbling conserve is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Just don’t leave it unattended unless you like cleaning molten sugar from pans.
I balance the pectin naturally, mixing berries with apples and adding lemon juice as required. If it’s still too thin, it becomes coulis. If it sets too hard, it becomes sweets. Excess juice becomes cordial (with more lemon juice).
Most of the time, jam is easy enough once you get used to what it looks like at each stage. I sometimes use the freezer test to check the set: just dollop jam onto a frozen saucer and see if it wrinkles. If it does, it will set.
Eating dark purple berries as Autumn approaches feels beneficial to me, and some research suggests there are useful vitamins in dark purple berries. I make cough syrup with elderberries, blackberries, damson, ginger, honey and lemon, which is tasty and feels soothing when colds threaten.
Even if you aren’t protecting your health, by making jam, cordial and port from food you’ve foraged, you can cut costs. There’s a real joy in giving someone a hamper of food you’ve made – and if you start now, it needn’t be a time sap or an expensive exercise.
Start saving jars and bottles and you’ll remove the biggest cost. With little more than sugar, lemon juice and vinegar, you can make port, cordial, chutney, pickles, jams, coulis, fruit leather and loads more besides. Connect with the hedgerows to make the most of seasonal changes.