Taking a Leek and plugging Forager’s Friend

Bad joke, I know, but when you travel up the Leek arm of the Caldon Canal and it rains as soon as you pull in to moor, there are only bad jokes to crack.

We’ve made some distance since Tixall Wide and have left both the Staffs & Worcester and the Trent & Mersey way behind.  The number of heavily laden crab apple trees we have seen has been immense.  It is quite beyond me to tackle them at the moment.  Besides which, a lovely friend of mine raided her neighbour’s John Downie crab apple tree and brought me round thirteen kilos just the other week, so I am a bit sated with the whole crab apple experience.  I made jelly, cheese, butter and experimented with a batch of John Downie Brandy.

The proof of that will be in the drinking many months from now.  In the meantime, the best and perhaps most surprising success, to my mind at least, was the whole pickled crab apples.  Absolutely amazing!  I had a few that I could not quite squeeze into a jar so we had them for tea with sausages, mashed potato and a good onion gravy.  Yum.  I shall post the recipe at the end of this post.

I have been keeping my eyes peeled for sloes this trip.  For while I have a sneaking suspicion that I prefer Damson Gin to Sloe Gin, I feel further extensive research is required.  However, I am finding them somewhat illusive.  I can find damsons a plenty.  But if I buy any more cheap supermarket gin someone is going to alert the authorities and my photo will be circulated to all stores nationwide.  I have enough in stock for some sloe gin but I.  Must.  Not.  Buy.  Any.  More.

The Capt perfecting the boat hook technique

So, today we had damson pie.  Actually it was damson and cherry plum pie.  I am amazed these weeny plums are still fruiting.  I first picked these when we were on the Droitwich Canal at the beginning of July, and yet here we are in the middle of September and still the bright yellow and shiny red ones are around.  They are deliciously sweet and offset the tartness of the damsons perfectly.  I have no photo of our pie.  It was an aesthetic disaster.  I am not good with pastry.  Hot hands.  Plus, I had to roll it out with an empty gin bottle as I have no rolling-pin.  Which probably did not help.  Still, it tasted good.

Damsons & Cherry Plums before they were subjected to my pastry

This trip has been undoubtedly enhanced by discovering the little button on my Forager’s Friend iPhone app that pin points exactly where I am.  Marvellous.  It has always been there.  Only I am too much of a numpty to have noticed it.  Now, when I make a discovery, I can enter it immediately.  I love this app so much, but the website is excellent too.  The makers contacted me on Twitter and asked if I had any suggestions for enhancements.  I put in a request for more canal/towpath information to make it more user-friendly for those of us on the waterways.  But even without canal names and lock numbers, it is still a fabulous resource for any forager, with or without an iPhone.

Anyway, enough.  Time for a recipe:

Sweet Pickled Crab Apples

1kg crab apples

300ml cider vinegar

400g granulated sugar

25g root ginger, bruised

1tsp allspice berries

5cm piece cinnamon

1tsp cloves

Prick the crab apples all over with a needle or skewer to prevent the skins bursting.  Put the vinegar, sugar, ginger, allspice and cinnamon in a pan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.  Add the apples and cloves.  Simmer gently until apples soft but not mushy.  Remove with a slotted spoon and pack into warm, sterilised jars.  Bring vinegar syrup to the boil and boil for 5 mins.  Strain over apples.  Cover with vinegar proof lids.  Leave for 1 month before eating.  Use within one year.

Playing with Cherry Plums

Today the Captain and I are skipping off to celebrate our wedding anniversary by attempting to find our thrill on Bilberry Hill. You know you have been married for twenty-three years when that quite genuinely means finding vast quantities of bilberries. Or even just a few … *sigh*

While we skip forth, I am going to leave you with this very belated post. Belated as I have a horrible feeling that the cherry plums will be past their best by now. Those I found were at the peak of ripeness at the beginning of the month and I suspect their season is short. However, perhaps you will be lucky and find a retarded tree. If not there is always next year. Or simply substitute ordinary wild plums.

I have adapted this recipe from one I found on The Cottage Smallholder’s fabulous blog. Having picked the seven kilos while narrowboating to Droitwich, on top of the previous 5 kilos I picked two days before, I was desperate for suitable recipes.

Fiona’s recipe looked wonderful but, being boat bound, I inevitably did not have all the ingredients. Consequently I had to do a bit of experimenting. Seeing as I was at it, I decided to play around and make a spicy version too as I have a friend, for whom I am doing a birthday hamper, who is a chilli nut. First tastings were definitely favourable and I am very much looking forward to tasting proper, once the period of maturation is over.

The two recipes follow:

Wild Yellow Cherry Plum Chutney

1.5kg wild yellow cherry plums

500g cooking apples, cored

500g onions, chopped finely

300g dried apricots, chopped into small pieces

200g raisins

225g soft brown sugar

2 large cloves of garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp salt

1 tsp allspice powder

2 inch piece of root ginger, grated

500ml white wine vinegar

250mls cider vinegar

1 small hot chilli, finely chopped

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

10 black peppercorns

Place cherry plums in a pan and simmer for 20mins in 75mls of the vinegar then leave overnight to cool. The following morning, remove the stones by squeezing them a handful at a time. Next, chop the apples into small pieces and add with all the other ingredients into a large preserving pan and bring slowly to the boil. *Reduce heat and simmer gently for as long as possible – 5 hours if you can – stirring occasionally. My cooker burns too hot to allow me to simmer for this long and the mixture was thickened and ready in about 3 hours. You can tell it is ready when you can draw a wooden spoon across the base of the pan and the chutney stays apart for a few seconds. Pour into sterilised jars and seal. Leave for four weeks before using.

Wild Yellow Cherry Plum & Chilli Chutney

Using the above recipe, take off 4 generous ladles-ful of chutney mixture at the asterisk *, just after all the ingredients have begun to boil. To this add the following:

3 green chillies, finely chopped, with seeds

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 inch piece of root ginger, grated

Bring back to the boil, then simmer very slowly for as long as possible as above. This version will be ready much sooner as the quantity is far less, but it should still be possible to simmer it for about 2 hours. Once thickened, pour into sterilised jars and seal. Leave for four weeks before using.

Wand’ring Bark Rumtopf

I am very excited.  It does not take much as has been noted before.  I have been watching a Rumtopf Jar on Ebay and it is due to end this evening.

The tension is almost too much to bear.  I have not placed my bid yet.  My ebay technique is to watch like a hawk, should a hawk ever browse ebay that is.  Then I swoop down, more hawk metaphors, and fling my bid in at the last-minute with the maximum I am prepared to spend.  As techniques go it is not a bad one, though I suspect real hawks may do better.  After all, one never sees them complaining about the ebay items that got away.

Anyway, anyway, anyway.  I have been keeping my beady eye fixed on ebay ever since I started Wand’ring Bark‘s Rumtopf during our Droitwich trip.  It was one of the things I decided had to be done with the vast quantities of cherry plums I acquired.  Only as a rumtopf virgin I did not realise that size really does matter.  I am not known as a mathematician.  Sums and numbers, I leave to the Captain.  However, I do think he could have pointed out to me that my 2 litre kilner jar was never going to fit the kilo of fruit, 500g of sugar and 2 litres of rum I was trying to fit in it.  I know, I know, it should have been obvious.  But like I said, I am not good with numbers.  Or sums.  Just ask any of my previous maths teachers.  They probably still shudder.  So instead of pointing the obvious out, the Captain sat back and sniggered at my vain attempts.  His defence?  It was good entertainment.  Hummphff.

Clearly, I was not going to get everything in my jar so compromise was in order.  I layered fruit.  First red cherry plums.  Then blackberries.  Next yellow cherry plums.  So far so good.  Finally I added wild raspberries.  It was looking very pretty.  At this point I poured in the sugar and my jar was already three-quarters full.  This did not bode well for the rum.  I probably managed to squeeze in just under a litre.  This was the compromise.  I decided getting a larger pot at a later date was always an option.

Which brings me back to my exciting evening of ebay watching.  I want this particular jar because it is big.  I have a LOT more rum to add.  I am also hoping to add fruit on every trip we take until the autumn.  So it will be a truly boating rumtopf.   I also want it because it is blue.  And for those who have watched Dougal and the Blue Cat:

you will understand that blue is beautiful, blue is best.  It appeals to the girly in me because it is the right blue to match my kitchen.  But most of all I want it because it will arrive in time for our trip to the Huddersfield Canal later this month.  Then it will live aboard, as I flit about the hedgerows gathering fruit hither and thither and tossing my bounty into its vast innards until the day it is ready to spew forth its contents in a delicious orgy of tipsy berries and alco-frolick nectar.  Yum.  Though I may have to work on my metaphors …

Update:

I won!  Got it 🙂

Boaters’ Foraging Tip

My gifts to you today are twofold. I am all bounteous munificence. It must be because Mother Nature’s generosity is rubbing off on me.

For my first present, I would like to pass on yet another reason why I love foraging while boating. To do this, I must refer you to my first foraging love, John Wright and his wonderful book Hedgerow. On page 15 in his How to Look section John writes, ‘Finally, a little-used hedgerow foraging technique that is my gift to you is the ‘standing on the roof of your car’ method. This is seriously effective – I once picked many kilos of plums from a tree whose lower branches had been stripped bare by less adventurous collectors. A proud moment.’ I have taken this technique to heart but adapted it for the narrowboater and I am delighted to present you with the Standing on the Roof of your Narrowboat method:

This tree was found as we left Worcester behind and headed back towards Droitwich once again. As you can see, I have tested Standing on the Roof of your Narrowboat and I think you’ll agree, it has the edge over the car roof method. For one thing, fewer traffic fumes. For another, the boat hook is to hand to bring even the highest branches within reach. Plus, the average boat roof is considerably sturdier than the average car roof. So hurrah for boaty foraging!

Of course, there’s also no distance to carry your harvest home. Which may be just as well. Within about ten minutes I had filled my basket:

In total I’d gathered over seven kilos! Some frantic recipe searching and adapting was in order. I decided to double the quantity of Cherry Plumbeena, make a batch of chutney, start a Narrowboat Rumtopf and bottle the remainder. The quantities involved have stretched my facilities and so I have had to improvise:

The end results promise to be good. Which brings me on to my second gift: the recipe for Cherry Plumbeena, adapted from Pam Corbin’s in Preserves.

Cherry Plumbeena

Makes about 1.5 litres

2kg cherry plums
600ml water
Granulated Sugar
Brandy

Place cherry plums in a large saucepan with water. Gradually bring to the boil crushing the cherry plums with the back of a wooden spoon, a potato masher or, as in my case, a pint glass. Cook gently until the fruit is soft and juicy – up to 45mins. Remove from heat.

Scald a muslin or jelly bag and set cherry plum mix to drip overnight.

Measure juice & pour into clean pan. For every litre of juice add 700g sugar. Heat gently to dissolve then remove from heat. Pour immediately into warm sterilised bottles adding 1-3tbsp brandy (depending on taste & size of bottle) to each bottle. Seal.

Will keep for for several months if sealed when hot & stored in a cool place.

Foraging Heaven or Netherwich (Droitwich) Basin

We arrived in Netherwich Basin, situated in the centre of Droitwich, yesterday soon after lunch.

The Captain had been itching to try out the newly opened Droitwich canal since he first heard about it and was a tad narked that we could not get there for the grand opening at the weekend.  Travelling in the opposite direction were a steady stream of boaters that he recognised from his blog.  The general impression seemed to be positive.  A bit of tweaking required here and there, but basically a wonderful new addition to the waterways.

Well, all this boaty talk was all very well and I was interested to a point.  But I could only muster enthusiasm for a short while before my attention wandered to the hedgerows.  Along the new stretch, there were no hedgerows yet to speak of.  Give it time.  I fully expect them to be abundant with exciting species soon enough.  I am confident because once under the low, make that very low, M5 bridge (actually we had 3″s to spare) we joined old Droitwich Barge Canal there were many exciting things to see.  Most thrilling were the wild plum trees which seem to line this stretch.

However, these were nothing compared to the delights waiting in the Basin.  Having moored on the new pontoons we took a walk into the town for a look around.  I was armed with my foraging basket and the Captain with his camera.  I had already scouted out a Wild Cherry Tree and some more Japanese Rosehips so went prepared.

To my delight and astonishment, we discovered a mini grove of Cherry Plum Trees growing wild!  The fruit was perfectly ripe, with both yellow and red available, and they pretty much fell into my basket.

I was enraptured.  We also found a bank of ripe brambles which seems ridiculously early but to pass them by on that pretext would have been rude.

Carrying my goods back to the boat was not easy (but look how pretty they were!).

Nor was dealing with all the fruit.  But breakfasting this morning on newly baked bread, butter and very fresh wild cherry plum jam was extremely delicious.

It is also very satisfying knowing that I picked enough fruit for eight jars of yellow Cherry Plum Jam, seven jars of Red Cherry Plum Jam, two large jars of Cherry Plum Gin, I large jar of Wild Cherry Brandy and 1 medium jar of Bramble Whisky.

This evening we are moored in Worcester.  Tomorrow, we shall be back in Droitwich and I shall make a return to the Cherry Plum Trees as I have plans to make some Plum ‘beena :o)