Inexplicably, Autumn is already beckoning and there are brambles, plums, apples and a host of other fruits ripening aplenty.
It’s always a manic time for me. I’ve already made wines and cordial galore, a huge batch of jam and a vast quantity of chutney. Most of my produce ends up being given as presents but I also consider it a crucial bartering tool.
I’m lucky enough to have a sweet plum tree in my garden and a wild plum just round the corner, but my quest each year is to find enough apples to make everything. The problem is that I need apples to make wild plum chutney. In addition, the most easily foraged hedgerow fruits lack the pectin needed to give anything a long shelf life or a good setting point. Apples are the answer to this, containing a quantity of pectin.
Unfortunately, wild apples are pretty rare in these parts so I am constantly on the lookout for other options. A friend’s mum gives me sweet apples from her garden every year which I gladly swap for cordial and jams. But the apple I covert is the tart and versatile Bramley. My next-door neighbours but one have a huge old Bramley apple tree overhanging their back fence. The tree belongs to the house behind them but peppers their lawn with windfall apples every year.
Having spotted the apple possibilities from our side window I had already asked earlier in the year if they used the apples. They were just throwing them away and were happy for me to take them. Last week I went round to collect a basket-full in return for a jar of bramble and apple jelly, partly made with their windfall apples. I used the rest of the Bramley haul to make two batches of chutney. The first one was largely made with wild plum is an annual favourite. I call it Festive Chutney because it is such a lovely russet red colour and it has Christmassy spices in it. It is also ready to eat by Christmas and makes a very good gift, especially for men who are hard to buy for. You don’t have to use plums – damsons and other tart fruits work just as well.
1.5 – 2kg of wild plum/bullace/damson/eating plums – stoned and chopped
450g of windfall apples (preferably Bramley) peeled, cored and chopped
1 onion finely chopped
200g of dried raisins or sultanas chopped
200g of dried apricots chopped
220g of soft brown sugar – you can use less if your plums are sweet
3 cloves of garlic, either finely chopped or crushed
two big pinches of freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of salt
2 tsp of dried ginger
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp of cinnamon
2 x star anise
3 – 4 cloves
1 ½ pints of white wine or cider vinegar
Pre-sterilise your jars. Put all the ingredients into your jam pan and simmer for at least an hour. The soft fruits used break up quite quickly so there is no need to boil for hours like some chutney recipes. Once the ingredients have broken down and look suitably chutney-like, pop into the sterilised jars. Put a jam disc in each jar and, once cooled, screw on the lid and label.
My next-door neighbours have a rhubarb patch which would put some triffids to shame. They know I am a forager and they have kindly given us two massive bunches of rhubarb both of which have been made into wine. In exchange I have given them homemade ketchup and a jar of jam which seems a fair swap, plus they will also be getting a bottle of rhubarb wine at Christmas as a further thank-you.
Most of us don’t have a handy orchard or even a garden so it really does pay to politely ask neighbours, friends, relatives, anyone you know who has an excess of produce if they’d like to barter. If you swap good quality homemade products with whatever surplus they have, everyone wins. On my travels around the local area I see countless apple and pear trees groaning with fruit which just drops and eventually rots on the floor. This is crazy and a needless waste. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is expensive, so why not try to source as much free bounty as possible? Every little helps. In years gone by I have undoubtedly saved hundreds of pounds by making my own pickles, chutneys, jams and cordials.
This year we have also been experimenting with homemade wine. So far we have tried gorse flower, young oak leaf, elderflower, bramble and apple and, as I’ve already mentioned, rhubarb. When we moved here we discovered about 20 demijohns in the shed so it seemed rude not to have a go. The wines aren’t ready to drink yet but they all smell amazing and have been pretty easy to make. Despite having to buy a large quantity of sugar, yeast and other paraphernalia, it’s been fairly inexpensive. Once they are ready to drink we will still have spent substantially less than we normally do on bottles of plonk at Christmas. Here is how we made the rhubarb wine, which smells so potent we are calling it ‘Rhubarb Rocket Fuel’.
1.5kg rhubarb, washed and chopped
4.5 litres of water
½ cup of cold tea
1 sachet of wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
1 campden tablet
Put the chopped rhubarb and sugar in a plastic tub, stir until all the rhubarb is coated with sugar, then cover and leave for three days. Fill a pan with four litres of water, bring to the boil and then leave it to cool. Once the water has cooled to 70°F pour over the rhubarb and stir. Then pour the mixture through a muslin cloth into a second bucket. At this point add the cold tea, yeast and yeast nutrient. Then cover again and leave for a further five days to ferment. After the five days are up, transfer the liquid into a sterilised demijohn, fit a bung and an air lock and leave for at least a month before racking. Rack at least twice topping up the final demijohn with a campden tablet (diluted in water) to purify the wine. Ensure the fermentation process has finished before finally bottling. Leave at least five months before drinking.
We were given plastic tubs to ferment the ‘must’ which is the first stage of wine making. We were also given used wine bottles by various friends. In the true spirit of bartering, everyone who donated receptacles will receive a thank-you bottle of wine in return. And that’s really the essence of bartering and harvesting: it’s about sharing, giving and helping each other out.
DISCLAIMER: These are some of my personal experiences of using the above herbs combined with information I have researched over a number of years. I am not encouraging people to self-medicate; in the treatment of specific conditions it is best to consult a herbalist or your GP. Always check if any pharmaceutical medication you are taking is compatible before trying herbs. If you should develop an adverse reaction to any of the herbs mentioned above please stop using them immediately. Always take care when identifying plants.