I can’t help but be filled with glee around this time of year when the autumnal equinox arrives in the Northern Hemisphere and like magic, hedgerows everywhere dress themselves in jewel-toned berries, hips and haws. John Keats encapsulated the season in six little words, my favourite description of this time of year: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.
One of the ways I like to welcome in the season is to spend an afternoon bumbling along hedgerows looking for wild fruit. It’s easier in the countryside but even in the most built up areas there are places where wild things grow. I’ve been blackberrying in Seattle‘s Discovery Park and London‘s Hampstead Heath. There are year round foraging tours through many of New York’s parks which make for a fascinating way to spend an afternoon. Central Park is home to a wealth of wild greens, nuts, berries, mushrooms, even an occasional persimmon tree. In Manhattan, however, I find myself more inclined to look but not pick. I figure Gotham wildlife have a hard enough time surviving without us humans trying to pinch their food. A more exciting approach to harvesting in urban areas comes from the UK’s charity The Urban Orchard Project. Around the country they are rejuvenating neglected orchards and planting new community orchards. In urban areas, apart from planting new orchards, they identify existing fruit trees where fruit would normally go to waste and organize groups to harvest and redistribute the fruit throughout the community.
This year I’ve been watching autumn progress along the winding lanes of the Irish countryside. Hedgerows are dripping with rosehips, elderberries and blackberries, and tree branches are groaning under the weight of sour, crunchy crab apples just begging to be made into jelly.
Yesterday I stole an hour to gather together some wild berries and apples for a hedgerow jelly, some rose hips for a batch of rose hip syrup (the sexiest way to get your daily dose of vitamin C) and a bunch of elderberries for a ye olde worlde (and super tasty) Elderberry Rob (syrup) to guard against flu.
I also spotted a clump of blackthorn trees sporting the elusive sloe berry and made a mental note to return after the first frosts have readied the sloes for a batch of sloe gin….
…took time out to make friends with the locals…
… then cooked up a batch of rose hip syrup.
Not a bad way to spend an autumn evening.