Forage in hedgerows, woodlands, fields and parks this autumn and you’ll be richly rewarded – from fat, juicy blackberries to bright-red rosehips, lustrous clusters of elderberries and inky-blue sloes. Here’s how to make the most out of these treasures…
BERRIES TO LOOK OUT FOR
Prolific from late summer until mid October, they’re typically used in jams and jellies, bakes and puddings, but their warm spiciness makes them a perfect base for liqueurs.
You’ll spot these hanging in clusters of small, scarlet, pea-sized berries from September through to mid autumn. In their raw state their flesh is dense, dry and not particularly palatable, but once cooked they make a good base for jellies, and also work well in ketchups and fruit leather strips.
Many of us pick elderflowers in the summer to make fragrant syrups and cordials, but what follows is even better. Ready to pick from late summer to mid autumn, elderberries hang in dense clusters from elder trees and make lusciously dark, velvety jellies and syrups. You can also turn them into a spiced, vitamin-packed cordial or a delicious fruit wine. A couple of things to remember – the tiny berries stain badly and when eaten raw they are slightly toxic, so make sure to cook them before eating.
Available from September to November, their bright, reddish-orange hue makes these oval-shaped berries easy to spot. Packed with vitamin C, they can be used in teas and for infusing vinegars, but we love them in a richly tangy syrup (used in cocktails, or drizzled over porridge or pancakes). Their seeds are covered in tiny hairs that will irritate your digestive system if eaten, so when you’ve cooked down the fruit be sure to double sift the purée through a piece of muslin or jelly bag.
These blue-black berries are unappetisingly bitter when eaten raw but add a little sugar and their tartness is transformed. They are, of course, delicious infused in gin but also make excellent jellies and sauces that go beautifully with game, or with strong cheeses. Ready to pick from October to December.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Rowanberries – the fruit of the mountain ash tree – make a pretty, brightly coloured jelly that pairs well with roast meats.
Damsons are a wild plum that make excellent fruit cheeses and liqueurs.
Crab apples – smaller and more tart than their eating cousins – have high pectin levels which mean they’re a great addition to soft fruit preserves, to help them set.
FORAGING DOS AND DON’TS
• Take a good reference guide with you when you go out foraging. Never eat anything you’ve picked unless you’re certain what it is.
• Only pick when something is in abundance, take only what you need and leave enough behind for wildlife to feed on and to enable the plant to reproduce.
• Be careful not to trample foliage or do anything that might disturb the habits of nearby wildlife. Don’t uproot any plants.
For more detailed information, see The Woodland Trust’s foraging guidelines (woodlandtrust.org.uk).
Rosehips and sloes should ideally be picked after the first frost, when their skins break apart, but if you can’t wait just put them in the freezer for a couple of hours before using.
LOVE YOUR LEFTOVERS
Most autumn berries can be used to infuse spirits to make delicious liqueurs, and once finished the resulting boozy berries can be recycled. Gin-soaked sloes, for example, can be infused in dry cider to make a deliciously fruity ‘slider’. You can also remacerate them with red wine, sugar and a little brandy to make sloe ‘port’.