Sunday, 10 September 2017

A Week In The Country

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....

Happy Days.

Hope you're all well?



  1. I love picking the wild harvest, especially when I turn it into jams or jellies like you. So satisfying. You got a really clear jelly with your Haws. It does seem to be a bumper harvest this year, so I wonder if we have a bad winter to "look forward to"?

    Romsey Show is one I used to go to every year without fail and I miss it still. A couple of times I showed New Forest ponies there. Gosh, that seems so long ago (half a lifetime and more).

  2. Our hawthorn berries are prolific this year. Never made jelly with them so maybe this is the year to try. Sounds like your meal was fun and you've had a very pleasant week despite the downpours. I've finished all Elly Griffiths novels now so I hope she gets a move on with the next one. I'm reading Paula Hawkins ( Girl on the Train) second novel 'Into The Water'. The jury's out at the moment, not enjoying it as much as the first. How's the knee, hopefully feeling better. B x

  3. The hedgerow harvesting has been so good here although I have restricted myself to blackberries and elderberries this year. The other half mentioned just yesterday about the possibility of a hard Winter because of the abundance of berries we saw on our walk.
    I had to chuckle at your pristine wellies comment. I see it so often. X

  4. Hey CT,
    Hawthorn jelly sounds v interesting. This weekend has been foraging heaven here; blackberries, elderberries, sloes (or poss bullace..), hips, crab apples, apples. Things ripen off earlier here (I've been picking blackberries since early August), so will have to double check these are sloes. I bung them in the freezer too; we rarely get frost, and then they can just be bashed instead of painstakingly pricked!
    Leanne xx

  5. Adorable doggies. Haven't tried Elly Griffiths, I shall look out for her. Gorgeous colour to that hawthorn jelly, good idea. It was our local country show today as well. We didn't go this year - other things on, plus it would have been a bit much for the puppy. The littlest boy wants to go next year though. Wishing you a good week. CJ xx

  6. Your jelly looks delicious, but I'd probably pick the wrong type and end up in A&E! It's our county show next weekend, so I'm hoping that the weather will improve by then. That last photo is adorable and my current library book is an Elly Griffiths too - good aren't they! Have a wonderful week. xx

  7. Your jelly looks wonderful but I would not know what to pick.
    I would pick the two sweet and damp gud dugs and take them home ! I know what is important !

    cheers, parsnip

  8. Wow, Wow and wow...its like reading a more real country version of Country Living! Love the real farmers with the twine belts and holey socks...gorgeous stuff! My kinda of country person.
    Fruits of the hedgerow seems to be the feature in your blog and The Running Wave Blog. Happy days.
    We've had a huge run on the most delicious oranges this season...our neighbour keeps handing bags over! They are so good that we are all getting mouth ulcers from eating too many. The other neighbour has two trees absolutely loaded...time to get a ladder out, if they wont hand them over willingly...they aren't picking them at all.
    Alas the berries here are mostly poisonous and they spray the blackberries as they are not indigenous and classed as weeds.
    Happy Jam to you - dogs look so sweet, cant wait to meet them!

  9. Oh, those dogs! So snuggly. Loads of haws and rosehips, etc, round these parts but I've not picked any. There have been blackberries for a while – lovely to sprinkle in with other fruits. (Must get myself a jelly bag/stand thingy – your jelly looks amazing.) Good to hear your making the most of your 'rest' and hope the knee is getting better. xx

  10. I love this jelly-making time of year! We did apple and rosemary (stunning) for pork and plain blackberry for toast. I was wondering about Haws and what to do with them as you are right, the hedgerows are heavy with berries. I'm a bit scared though of those other devils! Snap on Elly Griffiths, just the ticket for a blustery Autumn afternoon.xx


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x