Sunday, 26 September 2010

Autumn Foraging

Sloe gin, Hawthorn jelly, Rosehip syrup, Nettle pesto and Nettle soup

Shiny powerhouses packed with Vitamin C

The swallows have departed for about a week, and earlier this week we have seen the autumn equinox with an equal balance of night and day. Now the nights rapidly become longer. Autumn is in full swing and the pickings are rich when out on any walk at the moment. I had a great foraging session in Kent on Friday with my Mum. We gathered haws, hips, sloes and nettles.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of demonstrating at Belsize Eco Week and used my gatherings for a cook up to the Hampstead Heath foragers. One of the most popular tasters was the nettle soup. Nettles are in season again and are highly nutritious, abundant and free. The nettle pesto served on little squares of bread is always a novelty and a big crowd pleaser.

Nettle pesto See here for Nettle Soup recipe and Nettle Pesto. (Note that soup & pesto recipes were made in the Spring, so omit the wild garlic and for the nettle pesto, use Kent cobnuts - now in season)

The magical hawthorn tree is a delight all year round and now the fragrant blossoms of May have born deep red berries. Haw jelly is said to be good with meat, and by coincidence I was making a huge venison stock today and realised how this would be a natural marriage, assuming that deer would probably be foraging on these berries. To finish a game sauce with a spoon of haw jelly would be an interesting experiment and one I will reporting on this week.

Amongst my haul were sloes, the fruit of the blackthorn, which is a relation of the plum. The blackthorn blossom is a joyful spring sighting. Miles Irving the forager told me that these blossoms make a wonderful almond flavoured infusion. The colour of these plump berries is magnificent. I pondered what to do with them..... sloe jelly is a possibility but my larder is somewhat groaning with various jellies and so opted for sloe gin. This takes about 3 months to mature and so will make a welcome fireside tipple in the mid winter.

Rosehips are a taste of childhood. At the demonstration many faces smiled at the evocation of taste memory on trying some rosehip syrup. One visitor from Belarus told how she made rosehips with her grandmother. They would scrape out the seeds from each hip, which seems greulling labour. However, what a lovely way to pass an evening to be chatting and story telling whilst making rosehips for tea and syrup for the winter ahead.

Rosehip Syrup

Wild rose hips

Rosehips are abundant and very easy to find. The hips are where a rose had been and now turns to seed. I followed Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe as follows:

The hips picked and cleaned

1Kg hips
1Kg sugar
  1. Pick through the hips, removing the stalks and remains of the rose. Wash, drain and roughly chop (or blitz in food processor).
  2. Bring 2 litres of water to the boil and add the rosehips, bring to the boil and turn off the heat - infuse for half an hour.
  3. Strain through a jelly bag or a colunder lined with a tea towel.
  4. Return the pulp back to the pan with 2 litres of water and repeat the same exercise.
  5. Discard the pulp.
  6. Combine the 2 rosehip waters and boil hard until reduced by half.
  7. Add the sugar and boil hard for 5 minutes.
  8. Pour into seralised bottles.
Sloe Gin

500gm sloes
750ml gin
125gm caster sugar
  1. Pick over the sloes and remove stalks. Wash and drain.
  2. Prick each sloe with a cocktail stick and put in a large steralised jar.
  3. Add the sugar, followed by the gin.
  4. Shake the jar until the sugar has melted.
  5. Put in a dark place and shake every other day for a week.
  6. Shake once a day until the sugar is dissolved. Store in a dark place for 3 months, giving it a shake every now and then, by which time the sloe gin will be ready for drinking or decanting into bottles for christmas presents. (It will keep longer if decanted).
Hawthorn Jelly

Haws from the hawthorn tree

Strain the pulp & juice over night

  • 500gms haws
  • 2 cups water
  • 125 gm sugar
  • 1 lemon
  1. Pick over the haws, removing stalks. Wash and drain.
  2. Add 2 cups of water and bring to the boil and simmer for an hour, mashing every now and then.
  3. Strain through a jelly bag, preferably all night.
  4. Measure the juice and add 450gms of sugar to each 600ml of juice.
  5. Heat the juice in a pan and add the sugar and juice of one lemon, bring to the boil and test for setting point.
  6. Pour into hot steralized jars and seal.


  1. Sarah, wonderful to come across your blogsite. Such lovely photos of such gorgeous foods. I live in Westerham Kent/Surrey border. I gather sloes for sloegin ready for Xmas, rose hips right across the path, nettles (above a certain height from weeing dogs/foxes), wild cherries if the birds don't get them first, hazel nuts and other stuff.

    Lovely area here if you want to make a day visit.

    I'm following you on Twitter now, my site is about sleeping and living well. Perhaps we can RSS each other? cheers, Linzi

  2. I hate cooking but this site has made me want to try again! Thanks Anne

  3. Sarah...what incredible looking pics...great inspiring colors!
    I enjoy my rosehip infusions...and now thanks to your photo, I now know how beautiful the hips are ;o)
    About the hawthorn...I wish I would have paid more attention when I used to have a gorgeous tree in my yard...and now no more...sigh.

    Great visiting and learning with you Sarah ;o)

    Have a great weekened,

  4. You pics are lovely. Autumn is my favourite time of year. Alll those lovely jams and jellies. I have never quite been able to do the nettles LOL They always look so nice but...... There are rose hips all round me. I love the way the hang like Christmas decorations and so pretty when the sun hits them.

  5. Sarah you have a wonderful blog here.

    I've been doing some foraging myself, but not having as much success as you!

    I tried making apple and elderberry jelly using a stool and pillowcase - it will take hours to clear up the mess :-{{{{

  6. Brownieville Girl, elderberry jelly, a stool and pillowcase! that's dedication I can relate to (or should I say madness). Do yourself a favour and buy a jellybag!

    Linzi, Jude, anonymous, Claudia and Brenda thank you for stopping by and your lovely comments. Sarah x

  7. Waw!! You are certainly on a foraging high!! thanks for the interesting & tasty recipes too!

    MMMMMMM,...lovely foods!


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