Like many people, the kids and I love to forage. Foraging is simply searching for and collecting wild food. There are many good reasons to forage; wild foods are far more nutrient dense than commercially produced crops, the foods in our hedgerows are what our ancestors evolved to eat, and are therefore important for our optimum health, and foraging allows us to learn and pass on our knowledge, as well as giving us a closer connection with the natural world around us.
A quick summary of the legality of foraging in the UK...
- it is illegal to uproot ANY wild plant without permission
- it is illegal to disturb or collect plant material from any PROTECTED wild plant
- it is illegal to trespass, so you must gain permission before foraging on private land
Common sense also says that if you entirely strip an area of wild food, you will damage that habitat, so only collect where food is bountiful, and only take sensible amounts. Only collect and eat wild food that you are 100% sure you have identified correctly. Be aware of what goes on in the area that you are collecting from; plants near busy roads may be absorbing emissions from vehicles. If nearby fields are sprayed with pesticides, chances are some will make their way onto wild plants too, and if water courses are polluted, your wild plants will be drinking that water.
We are really fortunate, as the farmer who owns the fields near our house is always happy for us to forage on his land - I'd recommend always popping round with a jar or bottle of whatever you make, its a great way to build up a good relationship!
So what should you do with all your foraged goodies? In the Autumn we collect Crab-Apples, Blackberries, Damsons, Sloes, Hawthorn Berries, Elderberries, and Rose-hips. I have learned over the years that if I wait until I have a clear couple of days to collect the fruit and process it all, I end up missing the crop altogether. So now I simply pick when the mood takes me, and then stick it in the freezer until I am ready to use it.
Freezing is one of the easiest, most convenient and least time-consuming ways to store foraged fruits. Properly frozen fruits will retain much of their fresh flavor and nutritive value. Their texture, however, may be somewhat softer than that of fresh fruit, this is because the process of freezing damages the structure of the cell wall. This may seem like a negative thing, until you consider what you are likely to be using your fruit for. If you look at recipes for wine making, sloe gin or rose-hip syrup, many of them will tell you to pick your fruit after the first frost. They will tell you that you will get a sweeter, more flavoursome result. In other words the colour and flavors will infuse into the preserve more readily due to the damage of the cell wall. This means you are getting more out of your fruit.
Foraged berries that have been frozen can be used for baking, making juices, jellies, jams, fruit spirits and wines. With Sloes, it means you don't have to faff about sticking pins into them, and with rose hips, you wont need to mince them up before making jelly or cordial. Freezing the fruit affords you the luxury of being able to make your preserves when you are ready to make them. If the blackberries are ready, but you're not... freeze them! Another advantage is sometimes you wont have enough fruit to make an entire batch of whatever you are planning to make. Not all fruits come into season evenly. Freezing the fruit allows you to hoard until you do have enough to make a full batch.
Here is a batch of Damsons we picked while walking the dog, and then threw into the freezer. We simply popped them into a couple of bottles (still frozen) and topped them up with gin. I tend not to add sugar at this stage, as it has been suggested that the spirit draws out the flavour of the fruit better if you leave adding it until after it has infused.
Another fruit I freeze every year is Seville Oranges for marmalade making. The season for these oranges is usually January, and very short. They freeze beautifully, and I always keep them until the autumn when I make a batch of marmalade to give to friends and family over Christmas. Interesting, for those who have never looked at them, Seville oranges tend to be quite discoloured with green patches when you buy them, but they always come out of the freezer looking like perfect, vibrant orange fruit, and it means I can make my marmalade when it suits me rather than waiting for the small seasonal window!