Gardening Year, Gary, Grow Your Own, How To, Recipe

Humans have been foraging for food since we lived in caves, and the practice was common until the convenience food boom of the mid 1950s. Whilst it can often seem like the days of picking your own produce are consigned to the past, for many of our grandparents it was a necessity in relieving the strain of rationing. With only 50% of Britain’s food now being produced domestically and supermarkets considering discontinuing the sale of many home grown favourites we risk losing some key flavours of our cultural history.

foraging in autumn
Photo by Hedgerow Harvest

The benefits of foraging

It’s a sad fact that in today’s world we have largely lost our connection to nature, but in severing that connection we do harm to ourselves. The rise in obesity rates and in the numbers of those suffering from mental health issues can both be traced to the societal changes of the post-war period. Is foraging the answer to all these problems? No. But being outside has measurable benefits to both physical and mental health and through foraging you can diversify your diet for free.

Foraging correctly

Successful foraging has two basic steps: Identify and pick. These steps are the key to the whole thing and cover your bases in all situations. Identifying things in the wild can be made much easier with guides like Food For Free or Harrap’s Wildflowers, but even then things like mushrooms are best entirely avoided by beginners. The general rule of thumb is: When in doubt, leave it out.

How much to take

It is key to remember that it’s not just you who is after wild food. Always be respectful of local wildlife and try and stick to the 30% rule and only take a third of what’s on offer.

Where to forage

In general, foraging is completely legal in the UK as long as you are doing it on private or common land for personal consumption. You may begin hitting restrictions when it comes to foraging on public land. In general Royal Parks will not allow you to forage in order to protect local biodiversity, and it is best to always check the policy of a public park beforehand just in case. It is likely that you will be foraging for personal consumption so try to avoid picking foods close to busy roads or in farmed land to avoid pesticides and other pollutants.

When to forage & what to bring

Autumn is the best season to be out collecting, you can go out anytime of the day and fields remain stable for most of the season, only declining when the frost start to set in. Just try and avoid foraging immediately after rainfall since the extra moisture can cause rot and mildew in fruit. The basic foragers toolkit is simply: Guide book, wellies, basket (or carrier bag) scissors and gloves, if you begin collecting mushrooms it may be beneficial to get a mushroom knife but beyond that you can kit yourself out with items found around the home.

What to forage

Now for the fun bit, here is a short list of some of the best things to forage this autumn and some ideas of what to do with the bounty you collect.

Damson

The damson is a type of plum with a dark blue flesh and yellow-green flesh. It can be identified by the slightly pointed fruit. The flavour of a damson will vary by variety, but a good guidebook should be able to help you there. You can usually find damsons growing in hedgerows and border hedges, to pick just gently twist them off the stem. Damson can be used to make a wonderfully tart jam or thick wine.

Damsons
Jonathan Billinger/Prunus insititia/CC BY-SA 2.0

Rosehips

A key ingredient in herbal teas, the rosehip is an accessory fruit of the rose plant. They can be found on a rosebush and are best harvested in the late autumn, just after the first frost. To pick them, make sure you wear gloves, grab an entire clump at once and gently pull from the stem. A ripe rosehip will come free easily. Fresh rose hips make a wonderfully tangy tea, and are they key ingredient in Nyponsoppa, a Swedish soup.

rose hips
Max Pixels/Rosehips/CC0 1.0

Crab apples

Common to hedgerows across the country, the crab apple is a sharper tasting version of the apples we are used to and is best used as a cooking apple. Crab apple trees are a common sight and are best harvested in late summer/early autumn. They are as easy to pick as just pulling from the tree. Because of their high pectin levels they are ideal for making refreshing jellies or as a setting agent in items made with low pectin fruit.

Crab Apple
Mike Price / Crab Apples on Clyro Common / CC BY-SA 2.0

Acorns

Oak trees are the most common woodland tree in the UK, and are a common fixture of British folklore. The oak tree produces acorns in the early autumn at a high rate. The acorn is a great source of protein, starch and fats. Acorns are best harvested once they have naturally fallen from the tree, just before to check them before collecting to make sure they are OK. Before cooking with or eating acorns they must be leached in order to remove tannins and other bitter flavours.

Acorn
Chris Radcliff/Acorn/CC BY-SA 2.0

Hazelnut

The nut of the hazel tree is a favourite of many with a sweet tooth, the key ingredient in both praline and many chocolate spreads. The hazel tree is relatively easy to identify and the nut itself is ready to pick as soon the outer husks have yellowed (usually mid-autumn). They are best picked directly from the tree or shook off onto a sheet. The nut itself is very versatile and can be cooked in many ways.

Hazelnut
Simon A. Eugster/Ripe Hazelnut/CC BY-SA 3.0

Elderberries

The elderberry is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world, often cited as a supplement to treat cold and flu symptoms. These small black berries are ready to pick around early September, as soon as the cluster starts to droop due to the weight of the fruit. To pick, gently remove from the stem. You MUST cook these berries before eating. The elderberry is quite often used in home brewery and can be used to make port, wine or beer and is a versatile ingredient to cook with.

Elderberries
Stephen McKay / Elderberries / CC BY-SA 2.0

This is a small and basic list of things for the beginner to look at foraging for in the next few months. It is best, when starting to collect wild food, that you start slowly and get comfortable with your skill in identifying and harvesting before moving on to other items. With a good guidebook and a few months experience it won’t be long until you are picking a wide variety of foods for free.

Gary ClarkeGary works in the Primrose product loading team, writing product descriptions and other copy. With seven years as a professional chef under his belt, he can usually be found experimenting in the kitchen or sat reading a book.

See all of Gary’s posts.

Barbecues, Fire Pits, Gary, How To, Recipe

Cooking on firepits

It’s been a long hot summer, and we’ve been rushing to rescue our barbeques from the depths of the shed. With the heatwave finally on its way out, but a warm autumn predicted we have a few more weeks of pink sausages and overcooked burgers to look forward too. But does the barbeque risk becoming a bit – samey? Is it time for a new way of cooking outdoors? Perhaps one that has been sitting there unnoticed all along – the humble fire pit.

The Pit vs the BBQ

The BBQ is as synonymous with a British summer as ice pops and Wimbledon. So, why would we want to change this staple of our year ?

It all comes down to adaptability- the pit is not only a way of cooking, it’s a social experience.You might just want to bask in its glow with a bottle of wine. On some nights, You might want to invite the family round and cook over the open fire – on the best nights you’ll do both. Cooking over an open fire is an inherently social and primal experience that lends itself perfectly to a party where everyone sits, talks and cooks their own food.

The versatility of food you can cook on a firepit is impressive. Anything that can be cooked over a grill can be cooked on a firepit and if your pit comes with a lid you open up the world of roasting . You can also sear steak, hot dogs, and burgers over the fire as well as throwing a pan over the flames to fry seafood, vegetables and more. Some fancier pits will come with a rotisserie bar which allows you to cook whole poultry and game-birds and if your pit is big enough – suckling pig and lamb.

Sausages
by NPS Photo / Mackenzie Reed

The Basics

Cooking on a fire pit is probably alien to a lot of people. It’s not something we are used to doing, and it can be daunting to consider learning a whole new way of cooking and everything that comes with it . If you are willing to give to give it a go you are in for a culinary treat, but as with all forms of cooking there are a few rules that need to be followed:

Keep Water Nearby – This one may seem obvious, but it always worth reiterating. Open flames can be very dangerous and unpredictable, you may have pets and children to consider and some wood has a habit of spitting . Make sure that you always keep a bucket of water within easy reach of the pit just in case of accidents.

Prepare the Fire Correctly – The instinct may be to begin cooking as soon as you see flames, don’t do this. The ideal fire for cooking over will be mainly made up of hot coals and a few logs of burning wood. Light the fire and wait for 30-40 mins for the fire to burn down and the coals to start glowing – this is when it’s ideal to cook on.

Use the Right Fuel – The best fuel for fire pit cooking is a combination of coal and wood. The coals will be your main heat producer and can be bought from specialist retailers. Your choice of wood will decide flavour: If possible, use shop bought almond, cherry, hickory or mesquite wood for the best burn time and flavour. If you can’t find these near you charcoal can be used as a substitute. Do not use artificial firestarters or logs.

Use the Right Equipment – Your new outdoor kitchen will need some equipment before you get started. If you are planning on a more traditional selection of food then this toolset is a fun place to start. However, if you want to be a bit more adventurous then this Dutch oven cooking set is ideal.

The Cooking

So, both you and the fire are prepared; the beer is cold and the family are nattering – it’s time to cook. As soon as the coals are red hot you’re ready to go. But how do we actually go about cooking on the pit?

Grilling

Grilling

The firepit can still be used to cook our garden party faves, this familiar way of cooking is the best place to start since you already know the basic timings and method. Some fire pits will come with a grill, but you can buy grill racks to fit over the top of your pit. Another option is to lay out the raw ingredients and let your guests cook their own food in a grill basket – it frees you up to host and provides a bit of theatre and socialisation to the evening.

Skewering

We ’ve all seen it in the films – people toasting marshmallows on a stick over a fire. This quintessential camping practice is a great way to end an evening and get the conversation flowing. But smores are not the only thing you can cook with a skewer. Sausages are a given but small chunks of meat and veg are also great when cooked like this. This method of cooking is simple, you need nothing but the skewer – just make sure it’s metal.

Roasting Marshmallows
By cyrusbulsara from Flickr under CCBY2.0

Pot Cooking

This kind of cooking requires the most equipment, but really expands the repertoire of what can be made. With the right recipe, you can be cooking a variety of foods that would not be possible on a barbeque. This method is best utilised with one-pot dishes like stews or curries and is a homely way of serving pre-made dishes whilst keeping them warm.

Cooking in the pot can be done in a few ways:

For keeping food warm or slow cooking. Hanging your pot from a tripod is the best option – You keep the heat constant and serving is easy (this is a great way of making and serving mulled wine). Or, if your fire is cool enough you can put the pot directly on the coals.

Pot over fire
by Roland Balik, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

For frying – Put a pan or pot on the grill and cook as normal.

For faster cooking dishes – Rake the coals and wood to one side of the firepit, and put your pot in the empty space. This is a good method for dishes that require boiling.

You can really let your imagination be free with this one. If you have a Firepit Table or a spare pan, why not have a fondue for afters, or bake bread on a quiet weekend.

Spit Roasting

This way of cooking has been around for over 8,000 years and strips cookery back to its core – fire and meat. Yes, it can be time-consuming, but as soon as you take the first bite of tender, slightly smoked chicken you’ll never want to go back to the oven. Spit roasting can be a complex way of cooking but guides can be found online.

Glazed Duck
Image source

Most firepits won’t be big enough to do a full hog roast, but some get close. You will get your best results from poultry and game birds to start off with, but as your confidence and skills grow you can attempt small suckling pigs and larger birds like turkey. Just remember to turn the spit regularly and adhere to standard roasting times and you’ll be fine.

Cooking on the firepit needn’t be something to fear or shy away from, and this is just a very basic guide on how to start. Once you gain confidence you will keep finding new ways to push your skills. Cooking on a pit is great but they are also great ways to just relax in your garden. For whatever reason a firepit may appeal to you Primrose has you covered.

Gary ClarkeGary works in the Primrose product loading team, writing product descriptions and other copy. With seven years as a professional chef under his belt, he can usually be found experimenting in the kitchen or sat reading a book.

See all of Gary’s posts.

Allotment, Charlie, Composting, Current Issues, Gardening Year, Grow Your Own, How To, Recipe

Nothing says autumn like the sight of earthy, delicious apples falling from the trees. But have you ever thought about turning those same apples into something a little more refreshing? Yes, I’m talking about cider making, and how it can be easily done even in your own back garden. Follow these steps and you’ll soon be enjoying a rewarding glass of cider of your own creation.

Step 1 – Collect the Apples

apples on the grass

While the ideal is to have an apple tree or two in one’s own garden, don’t despair if you don’t – market bought apples will do, or even wild apples from the roadside or country lanes. If you do have your own apple tree, a good tactic is to place a sheet under the tree and then shake the tree onto the sheet, this will ensure only the ripe apples fall from the tree. You’ll need approximately 2kg of apples for every 1 litre of cider you want to produce. It is worth spending some time here thinking about what kind of cider you’d like to produce, as the kind of apples you pick for the cider will, naturally, have the biggest impact on this. Sweet or sharp depends on the apples!

Step 2 – Preparation for Pressing

It never hurts to give the apples a good wash before you do anything else. The apples may have pesticides or bacteria on them which could harm the brewing process. Then, it’s crushing time. You can use a fruit crusher available here from Primrose, although if you are aiming for a lower quantity of cider a normal kitchen fruit juicer may also do the job – you could even try simply smashing them up in a bucket with a piece of timber if you’re so inclined – watch out for splinters though! At the end of this stage, you should end up with a mushy substance known as pulp.

Step 3 – Pressing the Pulp

Apple Press

Once your pulp is prepared, the next step towards making your cider is to press it. This can be done using Primrose’s range of fruit presses. Simply put the apple pulp into the provided mesh and place in the fruit press – then squeeze! Not forgetting to place a container below the press to collect the apple juice and always remember to perform this step outside – things can get a little messy! One good tip is to let the pulp “breathe” for a while after pressing, let the juice pour out then come back and press some more – this way you’ll ensure you get all the juice out of your apples that you can, and you let the press do the work.

Step 4 – Sterilisation

This is where things can get a little complicated. Firstly, you might want to sterilize your juice, particularly if many over the apples are over-ripe or have many brown and rotten bits in them. This will help kill off any harmful bacteria that might spoil your juice. You can do this by adding sodium metabisulphite (also known as E223) in the form of a Campden Tablet. You CAN skip this step, especially if you want to produce an all natural product, however this is not really advisable. All natural cider is very difficult to get right. If you want to try it though, good luck! If your goal was simply to make delicious homemade apple juice – then congratulations! You’ve made it. If you’d like turn it into cider, however, then read on.

Step 5 – Fermentation

Cider Fermentation

Once you’ve got your sterilised juice, the next stage is the fermentation itself. If you’re going for an all natural brew, you can simply leave the juice in a plastic or glass sterilised container and wait, hopefully, with enough time the natural yeasts already present will start to ferment the apple juice. However, the safer bet is to add some yeast yourself, remembering, however to wait 24 hours after sterilising to do this, otherwise the sterilising agent may kill off your yeast before it has a chance to turn those sugars into alcohol. Any wine or beer grade yeast should do the job. Bread yeast does not yield such good quality cider.

Fermentation should take between 5 and 21 days and be in a sterilised container at a temperature of about 20 – 27 degrees celsius. If you’re going the techie road you could use a hydrometer to measure when the fermentation is finished, otherwise you’ll have to go by taste. It might also be a good idea to conduct most of the fermentation in a demijohn or similar container with an airlock or fermentation trap. This will prevent oxidisation of your cider, which leads to vinegar being produced. You’ll only want to use an airlocked container, however, after a few day of leaving your brew exposed to the air, as at the start the yeast will need some air to do its job.

Step 6 – Bottling

Once the cider is fermented, you’ll want to get the cider ready for drinking. Ensure that the sediment left at the bottom after fermentation doesn’t get into the bottle. You can achieve this by either pouring carefully from whatever container you used for fermentation, or by using a sieve. If you’re a purist like me you’ll be wanting flat, not sparkling cider, in that case remember to give the cider a good stir to release any extra gas before storing it.

And that’s it, enjoy your cider!

cider glass

CharlieCharlie works in the Primrose marketing team, mainly on online marketing.

When not writing for the Primrose Blog, Charlie likes nothing more than a good book and a cool cider.

How To, Kathryn, Recipe

Chestnut RecipeIt’s that time of the season where the roads and paths are littered with browned leaves and twigs, the sky is largely grey and there’s a new, chilly wind which bites at your fingers – Autumn has arrived.

But before you sulk and mourn for summer, take a harder look at the ground next time you walk through a rural area and notice the treasures the season has brought for us. I speak of course of those spiky green balls which will soon plummet to the ground from the tree tops, our old friend the chestnut.

Chestnuts ripen around October – November and can be enjoyed raw, roasted and used as ingredients in various delicious dishes.

If ever you should fancy a little natural nibble whilst walking in the wilderness, ensure that the chestnut is good, firm and healthy looking before peeling back the brown skin, revealing creamy greenish flesh. Raw chestnut flesh has the texture of a carrot and tastes a little bit like a nutty pea with a slightly smokey aftertaste.

If you’re looking for a more traditional and less Bear Grylls approach to enjoying our favourite wild nut, then collecting a pocketful ready to roast at home is a classical option. Roasting chestnuts around an open fire has been a winter past time going back centuries. So whether you just want a tasty treat or fancy reminiscing your time with the scouts, here’s how to roast a chestnut, the sensible, indoor way.

  1. Preheat your oven to 400ºF (205ºC).
  2. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut an ‘x’ into the nuts to allow steam to escape.
  3. Spread the nuts across a rimmed baking sheet with their cut side up, and slide directly into the oven.
  4. Now you have fifteen to twenty minutes to wait. Make a cuppa or pour some scotch and ready a hot towel and a large bowl. Ensure that the nuts don’t burn by moving them frequently.
  5. After 20 minutes, wrap the chestnuts in a hot towel and squeeze them in order to loosen the skins. Leave wrapped in towel for five minutes.
  6. Now, take a chestnut and peel the skin while the nut is still warm.
  7. Take a bite and enjoy the warm, nutty goodness.

Best of all, unlike other nuts, chestnuts are low in saturated fat, so that’s at least one guilt-free winter indulgence.

KathrynKathryn works on the marketing team and spends most of her time making our website read better.

She has a degree in English & Creative Writing and loves classic cars, 1970s music and ginger beer.

She writes our fictional stories and seasonal posts.

See all of Kathryn’s posts.