Tuesday 28 August 2012

Above us only sky

above us only sky

I'm getting rather tired of the continual exhortations to go foraging, do wild rambles, get back in touch with nature by eating it. From being a mildly eccentric nerdish thing to do it's become so mainstream that it's practically Disney and, although it's unlikely that the countryside will become entirely barren at the depredations of Sunday supplement hunter gatherers, every edible native plant that's taken is removed from the food chain of local fauna which might reasonably be assumed to have prior right.

Easy for me to say,  living as I do on nearly 25 acres of ancient meadows surrounded by a national park. Foraging for me is easier and more convenient than persuading myself to leave my bed in the morning. It's iniquitous to want to stop people from towns having the odd day in the sun and enjoying a return to nature, but having such accessible countryside all around has built my understanding of the interconnectedness of the environment and a horror of greedily stripping an area of any particular plant life.

25 acres

Every responsible wild foraging guru will advise their followers never to take all of a crop but of course, how many times can a population be halved before it becomes unsustainable?  The maths is inexorable.

Indeed, how many people actually enjoy their booty when they get away from the glamour of the celebrity who's using hogweed or ramsons as his flavour of the week. What's it all for?

morning glory

If you really want to get a grasp on your food and sustainability then put yourself down for an allotment or just get a few window boxes. For every success you enjoy (and you will) there will be balancing failure that will help you understand how fragile the growing world is and probably improve your opinion of farmers too.

The natural world is even more delicate than your managed garden and humans more damaging than slugs and caterpillars. Give it a rest.

blackberry picking

And so, with typical inconsistency, on to blackberry picking!

Well, we view the brambles here more as a threat than a promise. They are tremendous resources for many insects and small animals but they're so quick spreading that they can easily overwhelm meadowland and young coppice killing all that they swamp. For the one or two kilos of fruit we can use in a year there is more than enough to have plenty left over and it's quite unlikely that it makes any appreciable difference to the menace at all.

Pick your berries on wasteground or buy them in Waitrose, then make this jam.

Seedless Bramble Jam

1 kg blackberries (or raspberries if you're that lucky)
900g sugar
4 sterilised 400g jam jars and lids

Swill the fruit around in a big bowl of warm water to rinse off dust and insects then scoop out gently with your hands into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan to stop the fruit burning before it releases its juice and set over a gentle heat to simmer and become soft.

If you want a clear jelly then you'll need to put the softened fruit and juice into a jelly bag and allow it drip for several hours but I prefer to use a mouli food mill to separate the seeds from the pulp. It's quicker and keeps more blackberry goodness in the jam.

When you've removed the seeds by your chosen method weigh the liquid. You'll need a ratio of 4:5 sugar to liquid. Therefore 1000g liquid will take 800g sugar.  My berries produced about 1200g liquid so I used 900g (it's not an exact science!).

Put juice and sugar back into the pan and stir to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a fast boil. With occasional stirring it'll take about 10 minutes to reach setting point. I use the cold plate method, a teaspoonful on the plate, allowed to cool and checked for set by observing the wrinkles made when you push it with a finger, but if you'd rather use a sugar thermometer 104C is a soft set.

Pour into the warmed jars and seal while hot.


By the way, I'm not sure how many readers here have also read my food blog, the Stripey Cat Food Diary. I'm still in two minds whether to resurrect it or not. I feel most of what I needed to share about vegan cookery is now done and my personal interest in food is at an all time low but that will change again.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Maybe the last days of summer

The wonderful weather finally broke and we've had some stormy interludes but it's still excellently warm and when the wind slows down and the rain ceases there is still joy to be had in mooching around the place, just looking.

speckled wood

There is a late summer flush of speckled woods, one of the prettiest small butterflies in my opinion, and the local subspecies seems much more brightly coloured than the ones pictured on British sites.


There's also more soft fruit than might have been expected. The autumn raspberries are just beginning to come on line, there are late strawberries to pick and plenty of blackberries and despite my complaints earlier in the year some sloes too, enough to make a bottle or two of Patxaran for xmas. So although I'm lonely and there's a lot that's wrong with the world, not least the late summer fly invasion, it could be worse.

Sunday 19 August 2012

50 shades of shame

late summer

Oh my, I said, as my inner goddess chewed my lip to a bloody pulp, it's so long...

Since I wrote on this blog, but that's o.k. because I've been having a life. First, I had visitors, a party with my husband to celebrate our marriage, and then I've been horribly, horribly ill. Which is a shame because the weather has finally kicked into full summer and what should have been trips to the beach and long afternoons catching up with each other in the shade has turned into hacking coughs, recalcitrant high temperatures and snivelly noses.

Today, after having stayed on an extra five days to nurse me through the worst, Paul has gone back to the UK, the weather remains overheated and I'm very much alone for the first time in nearly a month.

swallow baby!

However, the good weather, and Paul cutting the long meadow grass, which sends no end of crickets and small flying insects straight into the mouths of the swallows means that the last brood of the year is feeding well and looking mighty fine.

These funny little babies sensibly hid well down in the nest when I went in to photograph them but for whatever odd evolutionary purpose popped right up with mouths opened every time the flash went off. Extremely strange but I didn't stay to exploit it for long as the parents were getting more and more anxious, trying to bring in the next meal.


We've been chasing some strange butterflies too, now that the weather has finally perked up enough to encourage any flying insect to show its face. We're very short on the smaller varieties this year, common blues and coppers, but have been plagued by an unidentifiable large brown and orange creature that never stops and can't be photographed.

Luckily this dragonfly, the common Golden Ring, Cordulegaster Boltonii, was taking a rest in the sun this afternoon, so I snapped it instead.