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20 minutes in my local park (september 3rd).

Is summer over? Did I blink and miss it? Has autumn begun? It’s a strange year, apparently the wettest summer since 1910 or something like that.Even so,the trees in my local North London park are already busting with wild treats.Most of them are not quite ready but I thought I’d do this post anyway.So, from top left heading clockwise….Sloes(aka blackthorn).These extremely tart berries are traditionally picked around the first frost when they have been on the branch for a decent time ,are at their juiciest and their skins are starting to crack open…Numerous slow gin recipes are on line but the general rule of thumb is about 500g of sloes to 250g of sugar used to half fill the bottles , topped up with gin(good gin is best) and then left until xmas.This is really so simple and delicious and sloes are generally abundant.

Next to the sloes are some rose hips, ideal for rose hip syrup and stuffed full of vitamin C so great at keeping autumn colds at bay.Even better are the elderberries(top right) with extremely effective anti viral properties, masses of anti oxidants and vitamin C. Last year I made an elderberry and clove cordial but ended up drinking it neat every day like cough mixture, for a cough that never happened.I need to find a whole selection of new words for delicious but for the time being that is the best description I have for both of these autumn/winter drinks.Below these are some mulberries, quite sharp but good in preserves and I have added them with great success to my very spicy pickle recipe “John’s Hardcore Christmas Chutney”.Bottom right are a few crab apples,excellent for making crab apple jelly( well, essential actually) and also for making verjuice,a lemon substitute that is having a bit of a revival at the moment.They also contain lots of malic acid which is terrific for liver cleansing( in turn helping keep you healthy when winter approaches).The orange berries next to the crab apples are rowan berries or Mountain Ash.These, like the sloes are best picked in late October when the frost has had a chance to break down the tough outer skin.These berries , like many things, are poisonous raw but edible when cooked and useful for jams and preserves etc.

The green spiky things are sweet chestnuts, not ready yet but they look nice in the picture.They’re ripe when they fall off the tree and have numerous culinary uses although the best of all is to roast them on coals, the husks removed and all but one of them split with a knife.Leave one unsplit and when it explodes,which it will do with some force,the others are ready.The red berries either side of the pear are haws, from the hawthorn tree.There are plenty of uses of these  and the spring leaves from this tree are a brilliant  salad ingredient when they are still young and pale with a lovely nutty flavour.The berries also have numerous medicinal uses ,lots of these concerning the heart.They are rich in anti oxidants, good for the circulation,help lower high blood pressure, have a relaxing effect on the heart muscle,keep arteries clear and help reduce collagen.They really are a “super food”. The pear is from a tree that probably escaped from someone’s garden and is now covered in fruit just waiting for me to collect it in a few weeks and right in the centre of the picture are some wild plums, perfectly ripe right now and great to eat straight off the tree (which is a long way from the road so hopefully pollution free, if such a thing is possible in London) but best washed first.So, there you go, twenty minutes well spent.

With not enough of any of these to make anything specific, I cooked them all together just covered in water for 15 minutes with some cloves ,a star anise and a little sugar (more sugar and it would have become a decent mixed fruit cordial) .Then I drained the liquid through muslin and let it cool.It tasted fantastic mixed half and half with fizzy water.


{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Rosey Lyall November 10, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Hi John
    I’m a member of King Henry’s Walk Community Garden, on the border of Islington/Hackney and I organise (voluntarily) the education/events programme for the year. I’m very taken by your autumn forage and wonder if you would consider coming to KHWG next autumn to talk about and show some of the things you illustrate here, some of which grow in our garden but we don’t do anything with them! We have a small budget to pay speakers. Look forward to hearing from you.
    Best wishes

  • John November 29, 2012, 10:04 am

    Thanks Rosey, only just seen your post..looking forward to making a plan with you in the new year..all the best

  • Heidi hales September 30, 2015, 2:18 pm

    Hi. Any guide on where I may find sloes near archway? I want to try making some slow gin – but figure it is only authentic if I pick the sloes!

    • John October 5, 2015, 12:58 pm

      They grow everywhere Heidi, have you tried your local park, or the old railway walk from finsbury park to crouch end

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