As each season comes to pass it is always exciting to see what the next brings and this year autumn has not disappointed with some spectacular early colour and a bounty of fruit across the board. Earlier in September, I found myself foraging for blackberries along the banks of the river Liffey and made some delicious preserves which we will enjoy well into winter. This is such a rewarding time of year especially when the fruiting crops are heavy. Many other native species have produced an abundance of fruit so I am looking forward to picking those and trying out some new recipes.
One of my favourites is the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) which produces the bluish black fruits called sloes
and are used to flavour gin for the festive season. Found growing in hedgerows, the berries otherwise known as drupes are packed with tannins so make for a very astringent fruit and are for the most part unpalatable but once mixed with sugar and gin and left to mature for a few months make a delicious ruby-red liqueur which is the perfect after dinner drink. Opinions differ as to when the best time to pick the fruit is whether before or after the first frost or what time, which in general is from mid-October onwards but the main piece of advise I will arm you with is beware when foraging as the rigid shrub is covered with sharp thorns, hence the name spinosa but nothing you cannot get around once caution is taken.
The hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) have also delivered a bumper crop this year and sitting alongside the blackthorn show off their bright red berries commonly known as haws. These are an important hedgerow species providing much needed shelter for wildlife, acting as a food source for butterfly larvae in summer and for waxwings and thrush in the winter. As for their culinary benefits, the leaf buds which emerge in spring were once eaten straight off the shrub by children playing in the countryside. These were commonly known as Bread and Cheese but tasted nothing like that! As for the haws, they lend themselves well to jam as they are packed with pectin which aids setting. Other popular recipes include ketchup and brandy, all of which can be readily prepared at home.
Other notable berries which are in abundance this year are the elderberry (Sambucus nigra). Clusters of tiny black berries can be seen dangling in the hedgerows ready to pick right now. The fruits are high in vitamin A and C and are commonly used to make jams and to flavour sauces for game. The elder flowers are more commonly used earlier in the summer to make delicious treats like cordial and for the adventurous elderflower champagne.
As fun as it is to forage for berries we must be mindful of the wildlife who rely on the fruit as their main food source and leave some for them to enjoy too. One theory that I recently heard about the abundance and early ripening of fruit this year is mother natures way of preparing the wildlife for a harsh winter ahead. If this is the case best get out and enjoy our beautiful country before its time to batten down the hatches!
GARDENING COURSES and EVENING LECTURES
This month kicks off the new year of gardening courses with a fresh batch of students gearing up for our year-long course starting this Wednesday to a new Weekend Course which starts this coming Saturday.
If you are interested in garden history join me for a series of Evening Lectures this November in the historic Botany Lecture Theatre in Trinity College Dublin to learn all about the Adventures of the Plant Hunters.
Call me on 086 393 8467 or email email@example.com for further details.
Hope you all enjoy the wonderful autumn colours that are emerging and have a wonderful October!