Thursday, 13 August 2015

Hedgerow Fruits

(Foreword: This was originally posted May last year, but seeing as it's fruit picking season, at least here in Blighty, and some of you might be interested in picking your own fruits and making your own jams, jellies, wines and so on I thought I might re-post it.)

Foraged or Hedgerow foods might not seem like a topic you'd expect to seen on a blog that usually talks about men's issues in society (political, social, economic etc), but seeing as man is supposed to be a go-getter, an entrepreneur, a survivor, that means that he must have some capacity for self-reliance, and one area of self-reliance that every John Doe can do with little effort is collecting and processing hedgerow foods. It won't provide you with your kilogram of meat or wheat (~2500 kCals) that you need for your body for the day, but it will provide you with some variety.

Below are the three main stages that you will go through if you intend to go out foraging for foods - scouting, collecting, and processing - and some brief comments on each them:

1. Scouting:
To engage in some foraging then you must first be aware of where you can successfully forage wild foods. If you walk or cycle around your town and/or the surrounding countryside then you'll almost certainly be more aware of hedgerows and what they contain than if you're driving in a car at 40mph.

Once you've spotted an area of hedgerow that yields one or more wild foods then, just like a supermarket, you can return to that area time after time knowing what to expect. After that, it's simply a case of adding more locations to your database (either mental or physical), which will happen over time, and thus increasing the quantity and variety of foods that you can forage.

2. Collecting:
Fruits are more often than not soft and nuts are hard, so if you want to collect some fruits to put on top of a sundae or some desert, and appearance is important, then get a firm container that isn't going to distort the shape of your fruits. But if you're just making jam something where appearance isn't important at all then a plastic carrier bag, or plastic bread bag will suffice (so long as you don't go over the top and pile kilogram after kilogram in the bag, 'cause the fruits will get squashed and lose their all important juice).

Before you start picking you should be aware of whether the plants that your picking from are on public or private property, because you don't want to get arrested for trespassing or theft. You should also be aware of whether collecting wild food is legal or not in your respective country (or State if you're from the USA) so that you don't get nabbed by the police. For example THIS MAN was banned from foraging on Southampton Common. Silly laws are out there so try and be aware of them if you can.

Respecting other peoples property is important, as is respecting the plant that your harvesting. Pick only as much as you need. And try to leave some fruit on the plant for other insects, animals and people. Foraging is about collecting with respect, rather than Kolonial Raubwirtschaft.

3. Processing:
After you've collected you're hedgerow harvest there's then the question of what you're going to do with it: Eat it raw? Process it into another product (like jam or wine)? Perhaps process it again and turn it into another product (like jam tarts or jam roly-poly)? Read around and see what different recipes are available, and what takes your fancy. There are plenty of recipes on the Internet and in books both old and new. If you live near a second hand book shop then it might be worth checking their shelves because there are plenty of old cookery books that were written for housewives and women before the 1960s (when the so-called 'liberation movement' started to take place) and so they contain recipes for hedgerow foods (like rose hips, stinging nettles etc). An observation that you might make while perusing the recipes is that all of the jam recipes (that I've seen over the years) are based on a simple ratio - 1 weight of fruit to 1 weight of sugar. For instance 500 grams of blackberries requires 500 grams of sugar. The same ratio can also be applied to most home brew wines. This is a useful ratio to know because it saves you the bother of learning the same ratio many times in numerous different recipes.

Final Thoughts
One of the bonuses of making homemade food like jam is that they contain a higher fruit content than many, possibly most, of the jams and preserves that supermarkets sell. If you look at the label on a typical jar of jam then you'll see that it contains somewhere between 25% and 45% fruit (depending on the quality), the rest is sugar. A jam with more sugar than fruit obviously means it's going to have less flavour than a homemade equivalent.

I haven't gone into any detail about what types of fruits, fungi, nuts, plants, shellfish etc to look out for because the internet has readers from all over the world, and I can't provide data for every country and ecosystem out there. There are books on foraging that will have data (edible plants, where to find them, what time of year to harvest them etc) relevant to your country (or State if your from a continental country like the USA or Russia) so keep an eye out for them.

Finally, there is a particular website called Nutrition Data, which, as you might gather by the title, contains a veritable cornucopia of nutritional data on foodstuffs, including wild foods such as acorns and blackberries that you might find useful if you take an interest in the nutritional content of what you eat.

Other than that, bon voyage and bon appetit(!)


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