Thursday, 17 March 2011

Dawn and Dusk - breakfast and dinner berries

I am planting more soft fruit bushes under the birches and along the fence lines of the field and on the boundary fences between my garden and the neighbours. If you are going to chat over something you might aswell both have something yummy to nibble on while you do it - garden canapes.
 I can't get enough soft fruit and the medicinal leaves and shoots, particularly the raspberries and blackcurrants for the dispensary.
  It reminded me of a sample piece I wrote ages ago for a friend putting together a new magazine. Seems a shame to leave it buried in my laptop files so I'm dusting it off to post here.

There is a quiet stillness in the very early morning light, filled with a sense of  magical potential, the epitome of hope for all that which the coming day may bring. It gives a sense of the old magic C.S.Lewis talked about in The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, the magic from the beginning of time that resurrected Aslan with the rising sun.
  The old stories tell of witches gathering Deadly Nightshade in the Church yard at night and modern science has explained why these wise women did this. The levels of the alkaloids found in the plant, Atropine and Hyoscyamine, fluctuate throughout the day, becoming more concentrated during the night and early hours and reducing as the day progresses.
   In the main, medicinal plants are generally gathered when the dew of the dawn had dried, in the mid morning but before the sun has become hot and evaporated the essential oils.
      An exception for me though, is in gathering berries in the early morning while the dew gives them an extra juicy appeal and it’s like finding sparkly bright coloured jewels amongst the leaves. Even the smallest bowl of them is enough to brighten any breakfast. There are many ways to preserve them to enjoy them throughout the year.
Wild Strawberries.
  All berries are rich in substances called flavonoids and Vitamin C, both which help to protect the cells of the body from the stresses and strains of life that cause damage and swelling. They are the secret of a long life, glowing blemish free skin, healthy blood vessels, resistance to infections and reducing inflammation and the risk of cells becoming cancerous. The leaves and roots of our indigenous berry plants have many other medicinal properties too.
    We have an abundance of berries that thrive in our climate. They are easy to grow even if you only have a small out door space; fruit bushes like blackcurrants and gooseberries can provide an abundant berry bounty and cane plants, like loganberries and raspberries can be trained up a wall or fence. There are also many wild berries available to forage for free. Brambles will thrive in almost any area and those that grown in the roughest ground seem to produce the juiciest fruits.
Hawthorn, blackberry, Cramp bark berries(Disgusting even with a bag of sugar) grapes, rosehips.

Pick of the crop.
  Blackcurrants are delightfully tart but the riper they become the sweeter they taste. The seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, both omega 3 and 6 and gamma linoleic acid that have anti-inflammatory effects. In herbal medicine, the leaf buds, gathered in the spring are used to treat allergy by raising cortisol levels. The leaves can also be collected and infused to make a refreshing drink, drunk hot or cold. The berries ripen during July. The leaves can be picked anytime they are green and fresh.
Raspberries until November frosts - sorry I'm too much of a electrickery ignoramus that I can't figure out how to turn this image round.
  Raspberries are delicate fruits that need to be eaten soon after picking but they can be easily preserved. There are Summer and Autumn fruiting plants. Raspberry leaves are prescribed by herbalists to tone the muscles of the womb, usually taken as a tea in the 8 weeks leading up to childbirth or to reduce bleeding and pain from problematic periods.  The tonic effects can also be used to treat diarrhoea that persists after an upset tummy or as a gargle to tighten up bleeding gums or swollen tonsils. Collect the fresh green leaves and dry them for storage before the plant flowers.
 Strawberries make wonderful ground cover, especially wild strawberries, which are quite abundant in the UK and not just something you read about in Enid Blyton books. A pulp of strawberry fruit will whiten the teeth and traditionally, when pale skin was the fashion, it was applied to the skin of the face as a face pack to fade
The leaves can also be used in the same way as raspberry leaves, to treat heavy periods and diarrhoea or loose bowels that contain mucous.

 Blackberries are so common in the UK and can be picked in huge quantities for free in the wild. You must get permission to pick anything on private land from the landowner. The fruits vary depending on the variety of blackberry bush you a picking from. Some can be small and quite hard even when they are ripe – they are more suited to making jellies, syrups or putting in wines. The bigger juicier berries are definitely worth freezing to eat as needed, either raw or cooked. The leaves and root bark of blackberry is used in the same way as raspberry and strawberry leaves for their tonic astringent action that tightens up relaxed tissues that are exuding too much fluid.

 Elderberries are a much-neglected wild fruit. They were used during the war as a valued source of Vitamin C for treating colds and fevers. What has been recently discovered is the ability of compounds found in elderberries to stop the flu virus reproducing. They also promote sweating, something herbalists use to treat high temperatures to encourage natural cooling and elimination of toxins during infection. Elderberry syrup is a wonderful winter remedy and its actions are enhanced by the addition of cloves and ginger. They are laxative in their raw state and best eaten cooked in combination with the apple that shares the season with them. They ripen in September and can be gathered by the basket load. Then sit your self comfortably and strip the berries from the stalks with a fork.


All berries make lovely syrups that can be enjoyed on their own poured over yoghurt, porridge and ice cream or diluted and drunk cool as a cordial or hot in a mug as a winter warmer drink.
To make a basic syrup.
Place the fruits into a pan with a cup of water in the bottom to prevent them burning. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15-20mins until they are yielding all of their juice and they become very soft. Strain this through a fine mesh sieve or jelly bag into a measuring jug. For each 550ml (pint) of juice add 450g (1 lb) of sugar or an equal amount in volume of honey. Return this to the pan and heat gently, stirring all the time until the sugar dissolves. Bottle in sterilised bottles.  Store in the refrigerator once opened.
All fruits can be made into fruit leather. Heat the berries very gently for 5-10mins in a pan, until the berries burst and yield their juice. Then reduce to a smooth puree by pressing it through a fine mesh sieve, removing the skins and seeds. You can add a little lemon juice to preserve the colour if you like. A tablespoon per 100mls of puree should be fine. Sweetening is also optional, use a little honey or sugar to suit your taste, obviously they are better for you if they are sugar free but they won’t have as long a shelf life. Most households will find berry leathers are eaten very quickly because they are so delicious!
If you have a dehydrator spread the puree out on the sheet, about ¼ or an inch thick and dry in the dehydrator. They can also be done in the oven. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and grease the paper. Spread the puree to about ¼ inch thick and place in the oven on the lowest heat setting, with the oven door ajar for 4-6 hours. The leather is ready when it can be peeled in a pliable sheet and doesn’t tear. It will remain slightly sticky to touch. Cut into strips that can be rolled up and stored in airtight containers. Dusting with cornflower, arrowroot or icing sugar will prevent them sticking together.
The best way to freeze berries is spread out on trays so they do not freeze into a big mush. You can then bag them and remove small amounts to defrost, as you need them. Gooseberry tip: the stalks and nubs can be quickly rubbed off once they are frozen rather than the time consuming top and tailing when they are fresh.
This is a Traditional method of preserving fruit from Germany. It literally means Rum Pot. It is a similar method to making sloe gin and is an edible version of the herbalists medicinal tincture but retains the whole fruits within it.
At the beginning of the season the jar is prepared with the first fruits and then stored in a dark, cool place gradually being filled as the other berries come into season. It is very simple to make.
Weigh your berries. Cover them with and equal amount of sugar or honey. Leave overnight or for a few hours until the sugar is drawing out the juice of the fruit. Pour this into your chosen pot; you can use a big-lidded crock-pot, kilner jar or even a large jam jar. Pour over Rum to cover the fruit and then weigh it down with a saucer. Each time you get a new harvest weigh the fruit and cover it this time with half the weight of sugar, leave for an hour or so and then gently add them to the jar. Top up with Rum again. Continue to do this throughout the harvest season. Leave for at least 8 weeks before eating. Rumtoff fruits are traditionally eaten at Christmas with ice cream but you could use them in cooking or as a boozy dessert with yoghurt or cream.

These little jars and bottles of bright jewel gems can be stored away in your cupboards to be enjoyed in the dark of the winter evenings when they will bring a little summer sunshine into your middle and remind you of warmer lighter days to come as well as imparting all of their stored goodness to keep you healthy and well.

Sunset - The evil cows start to take on their night form!

No comments:

Post a Comment