Jen Perry from Room Forty takes us on a foraging trip to discover the joys of traditional English hedgerows…
The English Summer; deckchairs, picnics, sunshine, showers, the smell of cut grass, whirr of lawnmowers, the buzzing of bees, swatting of wasps, flowers in the garden, long lazy days and, as a foodie, the luscious harvest of summer fruit and vegetables.
Summer soft fruits are at their peak now and are one of the treasures and joys of the season. I’ve a little garden and grow a few strawberries and raspberries, sadly not enough to make a jam, not that they’d last long enough, they are normally eaten before they’ve made it into the house.
Succulent, delicious and bursting with vitamin C, it’s a shame that so few varieties of summer berries and currants are available. The Blueberry, much vaunted as a so called ‘superfood’ for its nutrient qualities is far outgunned by our native, semi-forgotten, blackcurrant which contains 37 more times vitamin C and twice the anthocyanins.
Sadly supermarkets only seem to regularly stock strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, the other berries and currants are neglected. Hunt out your independent green grocer however and unearth a treasure trove of summer bounty, or better still go direct to a fruit farm.
Our region is blessed with places to go and offer a lovely excuse for a summer trip out. To name but a few there’s Sandhill Strawberry Farm at Rainhill, Windy Arbour Farm in Wigan, The Walton Lea Project and Daresbury Fruit Farm in Warrington and Claremont farm on the Wirral.
At the fabulous Stockton Heath Festival a couple of weeks ago I was luckily positioned next to the Kenyon Hall Farm stand which brimmed over with the spoils of summer plenty; Gooseberries, Red, White and Black currants, Blackberries, Tayberries (a divine cross between a raspberry and a blackberry), apricots and of course many delicious varieties of plums. It really is worth seeking these out if you have never tried them.
A summer delight is the amount of fruit that is available growing free. There are a couple of damson bushes that grow wild near to my home that I plunder every year. I adore their glorious, bittersweet flavour and am excited that they will be ripe for picking soon. Sloes (a smaller astringent relative of the Damson) will be ripe in September. Though impossible to eat they make a delicious Sloe Gin ready in time for Christmas.
The bramble is a wild blackberry with a more intense flavour than the cultivated variety and with more seeds. They are ripening nicely now and I cannot walk past these juicy joys without picking them. Just always observe the foragers golden rules; never pick from too low on the ground (for obvious reasons!), be careful as the thorns can be lethal, don’t trespass or go climbing trees and just pick fruits that are firm and ripe. If you aren’t sure of what you are picking, leave it alone.
If the fruits are ‘blousy’ the likelihood is that the flies and wasps have been there first. Always wash the fruit and, as an extra precaution, soak your brambles in salted water for half an hour as it will kill off any nasties which will float to the top, then rinse in clean water.
It’s then just a case of what to do with your spoils and how to preserve your taste of summer. Brambles freeze well (freeze them in a layer on a baking sheet before bagging as they’ll stay separate), or make jams or chutneys. At Room Forty I can only use sourced, cultivated, fruits in the preserves that I sell, so my family and friends benefit from my foraging exploits.
Making a chutney is easy and plums make a gorgeous chutney
Room Forty’s Plum Chutney
- 1kg plums, stoned and roughly chopped
- 3 x onions, finely chopped
- 100g dried raisins or sultanas roughly chopped
- 1 x tbsp finely grated ginger
- 1 x tbsp ground cumin
- 1 x tbsp paprika (not smoked paprika)
- 1 x tsp chilli flakes
- 2 x tsp salt
- 400ml red wine vinegar
- 500g light muscovado sugar
- Place all the ingredients, except the sugar and salt, into a large pan and stir well.
- Bring slowly to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 mins, until the plums are tender.
- Stir in the sugar and salt and stir until it has dissolved.
- Boil the chutney for 20-30 mins, uncovered. Stir occasionally to prevent it catching on the bottom
- When the chutney is gloopy, thick and pulpy pot into sterilised jars, seal, and store
The longer that you can resist opening the jars the better as the chutney will mature but we’d recommend leaving it for at least 2 weeks before eating.
Once a jar is opened it’s best kept in the fridge. Unopened the cutney will keep for up to a year stored in a cool dark place.
About Room Forty
Room Forty is a mobile Afternoon Tea Emporium. Jen and her team make and bake everything, including the jams and chutneys, and deliver and serve the afternoon teas at your home or venue – which they will convert into a 1930’s tearoom. Teas are all loose leaf and everything is served on fine bone china. They then wash and clean up.
Their jams and chutneys are on sale in the Warrington area at Rowles Butchers, Snoutwood Trotters, the Walton Lea Project and at SaRnies
Room Forty also runs a mobile bakery school. Their bread classes are lively and fun and always sold out. For more information, see www.roomforty.co.uk