We're just back from lunch in an ancient flint-walled pub deep in Chalk country, where we helped my in laws celebrate their wedding anniversary. I was driving and everyone else fell asleep on the way home; the journey back through the drizzle and low clouds obscuring the Coombes soothed by the sound of gentle snoring. I felt tired myself: it was the most enormous meal and I have a slight food hangover as a result. I had wild boar pie with apricots, roast taters and veg and very nice it was too. I was a little less keen on all the ancient metal traps hanging from the walls of the pub.
There were an awful lot of pristine green wellies and country-checked shirts that had never seen a working day on a real farm in their life on display, but once they'd eaten and left, the real old country boys arrived: a quartet with bailer twine for belts whose shoes were taken off to reveal holey socks. Elbows and pints were propped on the bar and the conversation turned from feeding cattle to the possibility that a wild puma was busy savaging sheep up on the hills. The conclusion was eventually reached (after much sniggering) that it was probably a rabid dog that someone would have to go out and shoot, sooner or later.
I've been immersed in the countryside this week. The seasons are turning and the hedges are thick with berries (sign of a bad winter to come?). The dogs have switched from running mode to nose-on-the-ground-exploring-interesting-smells-while-mum-picks-berries mode. I've made rosehip, bullace and bramble jelly (heavenly), and hawthorn jelly (smokey and perfect with cheese).
Bullace, a plum hybrid of wild cherry and damson, are to be found in the hedgerows at this time of year. Lots of folk confuse them with sloes. Any fattish purple berry/ small plum-like fruit you've picked recently and thought was a sloe is all in likelihood a bullace. Sloes are still small and pretty rock hard in September. Country Lore states they shouldn't be picked until after the first frost, which breaks down the bitter chemical in them making them palatable for humans. My experience is if you leave it till then many of them have already been eaten by our wild cousins. I pick mine in October and freeze them.
Anyway, back to bullace. This is what they look like:
The addition of rosehips (shown here with a Robin's Pincushion gall which is home to a tiny wasp and is often found on wild rose bushes)...
and blackberries has made for the most delicious jelly. I've only made one pot so far but can't stop eating it. It's a rich, dark damson colour.
Hawthorn jelly is a new one on me, suggested when M asked why I never made jelly with hawthorn berries. I took the dogs out in bright sunshine yesterday to pick some, after we got back from Romsey's Country Show, at which the heavens opened and turned the tracks to mud pits, but we got a giant basket for logs and some handmade goats milk soap, saw the cattle and sheep parading in the arena and walked through the cattle tent admiring the Dexters and Charolais (which were behind huge signs warning you on pain of death not to touch the animals incase they transmit germs. And there was me thinking the human race has been living cheek-by-jowl with germs for the last quarter of a million years and we're still all here).
It was whilst we were picking berries that we got caught in another torrential rainstorm. I felt the air tighten and cool and the wind begin to stir and knew what was coming. We watched it coming towards us across the valley, a huge grey curtain of water blurring the trees and smudging the land. We took shelter in a hedge for a while, but it was the kind of downpour that was going to get you one way or another, so after ten minutes of being poked by thorns we made a run for it and got predictably soaked. We'd got enough berries to make the jelly with though so it didn't really matter...
Haw berries are found on Hawthorn trees and look like this...
Don't pick them unless you really know what you're doing, because to the uninitiated they look a lot like these, which often grow beside them on the same hedge and because of their twisting nature can appear to be growing on the same branch.....
Black Bryony, poisonous, capable of killing a dog who eats them, so best not to make a jelly with.
Here's the finished haw jelly. I've tried a bit and it's quite a strong taste but I like it. I added some haw berries from the garden too.
After all that excitement braving rain storms and making hedgerow delights there was really only one thing to do.....Curl up under a home-knitted blanket with the latest Elly Griffiths and two decidedly sleepy and to be honest still slightly damp dogs....
Hope you're all well?