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Lifestyle Nature

Foraging: Enjoying Nature’s Harvest

What is better than enjoying the great outdoors and subsequently relishing nature’s bounty? It gives us the opportunity to feed our souls as well as filling our bellies. People have foraged for food for thousands of years out of necessity. Nowadays, we can benefit from seasonal gluts of fruits and nuts; eating them fresh, using them to concoct a variety of delicious preserves or by freezing them for later use. In the UK, the collection of fruits, flowers, foliage, and fungi is permitted, although digging up roots would need permission. So as not to have your stash of fruits confiscated by an indignant landowner, careful research should be conducted before foraging in your local area to verify if the land is truly public, or privately owned. The old English term to ‘scrump’ for apples (effectively stealing them from an orchard owned by someone else) should clearly be avoided here if one wishes to maintain harmonious relationships with one’s neighbors; however delicious that forbidden fruit is!

I hold very fond childhood memories of walking, early in the morning with an elderly Aunt and her Red Setter dog; the grass dotted with perfectly formed, beautiful, white mushrooms. My Aunt was well-versed in mushroom harvesting and species recognition; vital as some species can lead to sickness or worse. One might say, you’ll only ever get it wrong once! To air on the side of caution therefore, foraging for mushrooms with an expert, until you are confident with identification, would be advised. It may also lead to connecting with other people who hold the same appreciation for the hunter-gatherer days of old and enjoying what each season has to offer.

Err on the side of caution and only forage for mushrooms with an expert. (Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

Foraging for food can inspire you to choose healthy options, eating in season and reducing your intake of refined sugars and unhealthy sweet treats. Why buy a pre-made pie, laden with sugar when you can make your own with fruits you have picked yourself? Foraged foods have not been mass-produced in vast mono-culture fields and polytunnels, they have not been sprayed with chemicals, are not wrapped in plastic and have not been transported halfway around the world. Foraging is the ultimate in eating locally-sourced food. Fruit salads, chutneys and ‘Hedgerow’ jelly take on a whole new appeal when you know exactly where and when the fruits were sourced. Savour that warm, wholesome feeling you get when you have the chance to gift natural produce to friends and family and let them share in the love!  

Each season provides us with a variety of delicacies. Wild garlic can be found from late March, stinging nettles; a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals, should be picked in early spring, prior to flowering. Elderflowers, for cordial and wine, can be harvested from May to July as can wild strawberries or bilberries (a small, blueberry-like fruit) if you are lucky enough to find them. Blackberries, elderberries and, less commonly, quince can be sourced in the fall, the latter making wonderful jellies and a flavorful paste, known in Spain as Membrillo. Plums and their smaller, tarter relatives, damsons, can be found from July to September and make the most delicious, full-bodied jellies. Some may say, our most versatile fruit, the apple, can be harvested from the summer through to the fall, depending on the variety. Finally, a variety of delicious nuts including hazelnuts and walnuts are ready to be picked between September and November followed by the Christmas favorite, the sweet chestnut, the last to ripen, in December. The availability and emergence of the fruits, leaves, nuts, and seeds that are found in your local area will vary greatly. Here in the UK where four seasons can be encountered in a single afternoon, the timing of their availability can be changeable from county to county and year to year. 

(Unsplash)

Recently, my foraging exploits have resulted in the production of sloe gin, although last fall I also branched out into blackberry (the berries making a sumptuous, boozy desert once removed from the gin at the end of the steeping period). Sipping on this syrupy tipple, I recall the warm evening sunshine, and the buzz of the insects which accompanied me while picking the berries. I am grateful for the harvest which warms me, my friends and family on wintery nights and am almost able to forgive the blackthorn bushes that scraped and cut me as I plucked the plump little sloes from their branches.

Nature is generous; providing delicacies to be consumed fresh, to be pickled, preserved or soaked in alcohol; allowing us to stock our pantries and eat and drink well for the year to come. We must, however, always remember to leave plenty for the wildlife who do not have the good fortune to stockpile as we do and who pollinate and distribute seeds to maintain this rich bounty.

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Food Recipes

Linzertorte

From “Fireside Food for Cold Winter Nights: More than 75 Comforting and Warming Recipes” by Lizzie Kamenetzky (Ryland Peters & Small)
Photography by Nassima Rothacker copyright Ryland Peters & Small, 2015, 2021

“Fireside Food for Cold Winter Nights” can be purchased on Amazon or through Bookshop.org.

LINZERTORTE

Said to be the oldest cake in the world, this torte is named after the Austrian city of Linz. The crust is delightfully crumbly and its spiced, jammy filling is just the thing to take the edge off a wintry chill. A useful piece of advice to grind hazelnuts without them turning oily is to put them in a food processor with half the flour, and pulse them together until the hazelnuts are finely ground into the flour.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1⁄2 cups (150g) mixed finely ground hazelnuts and almonds
  • 2 cups (275g) plain/all-purpose flour, plus extra to dust
  • 1 teaspoon ground mixed spice/apple pie spice
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup (225g) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1⁄2 cup plus 1 2⁄3 tablespoons (85g) icing/confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 egg yolks, plus 1 egg yolk beaten with a little water, to glaze
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon and a squeeze of juice
  • 3 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
  • 10 tablespoons each of redcurrant jelly and raspberry jam/jelly, mixed together
  • 9-inch (23-cm) fluted, round, loose-bottomed tart pan, greased

SERVES 10 to 12

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) Gas 4.

Mix the ground nuts, flour, mixed spice/apple pie spice, and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the icing/confectioners’ sugar, stir well, then quickly mix in the two egg yolks, lemon zest, and juice, so that the mixture starts to come together.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly until smooth. Remove one-third of the dough. Shape the smaller piece into a disc, wrap in cling film/plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Roll out the remaining dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle large enough to line the tart pan. Lift into the pan and press into an even layer over the base and sides, patching any gaps, as the dough is very crumbly. Add any trimmings to the pastry disc in the fridge. Chill the base for 10 minutes.

Put the base in the preheated oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until it has barely begun to color, then set aside to cool. While the base is baking, roll out the remaining dough between 2 sheets of baking parchment into a circle about 10 inches (25cm), then return to the fridge for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle the cooked base of the torte with the breadcrumbs, then spoon the redcurrant jelly and raspberry jam/jelly evenly over the top (spoon on in blobs, and then use a palette knife/metal spatula to spread them out).

Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and take off the sheets of baking parchment. Cut the pastry into strips, about 3⁄4 inches (2cm) wide, across the diagonal. Lay these, one at a time, over the jam/jelly, using a long spatula, as the pastry is crumbly, to make a criss-cross lattice pattern. Neaten the edges by pressing any excess pastry against the side of the pan.

Brush the pastry with the egg yolk glaze, then bake for 45 to 50 minutes until golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.