Summer, such as it was in August, continued to bring us fresh opportunities to eat (and drink) out of the Park. Earlier in the (so-called) summer, we spotted a short section of hedgerow in a discreet corner of the Park that had wild plums growing – the identification is uncertain – they might be cherry plums (particularly as the ripe fruits are bright red!). At that stage, they were small, hard, green fruit, a long way from being ripe. By August, the first of the plums were definitely ready for harvesting:
|Don't these look great! Sweet and juicy.|
It is maybe no surprise that our identification of this fruiting bush is a bit indeterminate - Richard Mabey, in ‘Flora Britannica’, discusses the “lineage of Byzantine complexity” of wild plums in Britain, then describes feral plums as one of the best wild foods, many being edible straight off the tree (unlike sloes). We decided to use our wild plum harvest, with sugar and vodka, to make a wild plum vodka:
|First, you add the sugar|
|Then, you add the vodka. Then you wait...|
This has already started taking on a red colour from the fruit and will be ready in a few weeks, or at least in time for Christmas.
Ray Mears and Professor Gordon Hillman, in their (BBC) book ‘Wild Food’, write very interestingly on the importance of hazel nuts in the diets of our prehistoric ancestors in Britain. The sophistication of our Mesolithic ancestors’ understanding of how to prepare hazelnuts to improve their palatability and storage potential was impressive. Archaeological sites across Britain have revealed many remains of shallow roasting pits and hazelnut shell middens (waste piles). We have had high hopes for a huge harvest of hazelnuts, which would provide us with lots of recipe options. All summer, we’ve watched as hazelnuts developed in profusion on most of the many hazel bushes and trees in King’s Park.
Then we went on holiday to Pembrokeshire for a week and when we returned, maybe 90% of the nuts had vanished! It turns out that the fiendish grey squirrels are capable of stripping hazelnuts from hazel bushes once they reach a sufficiently palatable stage (which presumably occurred when we were away).
My friend Martin, who is developing a forest garden on the Black Isle using the principles pioneered by the horticulturalist Robert Hart, advises me that where grey squirrels have colonised, as here in Stirling, it may be a waste of time trying to grow hazelnuts as a crop (or, it seems, to look for wild hazels as a reliable source of food) as they'll have the lot. Nevertheless, we persisted and collected a small stock of hazelnuts while they were still green and left them to go brown on a south-facing window sill (I have no idea if it is OK to eat them green).
|Hazelnuts, at the stage that we were still hopeful that they might feed us proportionately to the effort it took to collect them|
But when we cracked them all in September, 90% were either empty or undeveloped – a poor return for our efforts! How we made use of the meagre harvest, I’ll tell you in a later wild food post.
Wild sorrel (new young leaves only) and wood sorrel continued to be available in the Park and we used them to garnish a wild watercress and bean soup (we picked the watercress in a wee stream at Manorbier in Pembrokeshire just before we came home to Scotland):
|Wild watercress ready for cooking|
|Watercress and bean soup, with wild sorrell and wood sorrell|
We also continued to use our harvested raspberries from the freezer on yogurt with honey for pudding or, as here for example, in a (rare) gin and tonic as a fruity garnish:
An additional wild food bonanza landed in our laps on holiday in August in Pembrokeshire, when we found a thicket of densely fruiting damsons growing on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and collected a big bag. We used these for damson muffins:
and for damson gin:
|One for later in the Winter. Cleaned us out of cheap gin too! Still needs a bit of stirring though, to dissolve all of that sugar...|