I don’t know why this has been sitting in drafts for weeks, when it’s illustrated and all. Foraging seems a long while ago, with most leaves down and a wind trying to blow them and us away these last two days.
A month ago in Yorkshire, Mrs T and I took a walk which included a stretch of easy going along the old railway above the cliffs. Someone, sometime in the past, must have tossed an apple core from a train onto the bank. The fruit are small; green but with russet patches, and sharp. Maybe someone had been there before us – someone with shorter arms than this writer’s, as the half-dozen fruit I harvested were high above my head.
Added to blackberries and sloes, we have a Yorkshire marinade for Christmas. A good set and sharp enough to counter the sweetness of the goose.
Where have I been all this time? Partly travelling across Europe: France, Belgium, Germany, Poland. We noticed one thing in common between Polish and British railways: the fruit trees beside the tracks, convenient for the railway workers’ rest huts. These plums were somewhere in Western Poland, between the border and Warsaw. At centre-right, in the opening between the trees, is the silhouette (take my word for it) of one of three young men foraging them.
Our local Saint Mildred, a Saxon princess who had a continental education and rejected the idea of a political marriage to become a nun, had her feast this week. She reminds me to harvest the walnuts.
It’s harvest time because right now they have not yet grown their woody shells inside those green carapaces. Off the tree they come to get pricked all over with a fork, then left to steep in brine for a few days before drying off for a few days more.
The juice has stained my fingers to the complexion of a chain-smoker, if only for a few days. But when the nuts are fully dry for pickling they will be as black as the habits of the Benedictine Sisters who live in Saint Mildred’s Abbey at Minster-in-Thanet. By Christmas the nuts will be sweet-and-sour and spicy.
Only the first and third of those adjectives apply to the sisters at Minster!
Saint Mildred from a window at Preston-next-Wingham, Kent. John Salmon
There are floods in my mother’s village in Yorkshire, so far well below her front door; down here in Kent, the storm has been less fierce, the temperature unusually mild. In flower today were: daffodils, violets, mimosa, roses, including our dear Mermaid and Thomas Becket; cyclamen, daisies and gorse of course; low-growing campanula, viburnum, prunus praecox, the watchful tree beloved of Jeremiah; camellia about to burst; ceanothus, winter jasmine. Someone at church reported a hawthorn in bloom; Glastonbury comes to Canterbury! Pussy Willow is not far behind.
It is worrying that the season is so topsy-turvy; of course the slugs are loving it, and loving the Jerusalem artichokes, but we had more than enough to make soup with leeks for yesterday’s feast. Rowan and apple jelly gave an edge to the goose, made earlier after a forage with Mrs Turnstone. It kept that lovely colour!
Mrs T brought bags to church on Sunday, intending to gather pine cones for winter fire-lighting. This happens every year, you could almost set your watch by it. And then we got sidetracked.
Following the success of her apricot jam, Mrs Turnstone has caught the preserving virus from her daughters and husband. She gathered sloes on the way home, while I threw in rowan berries; with bramley apples the latter made a tart jelly that will go well with lamb or venison (fat chance of that, but I had to pass by on the other side when I saw a road-killed roebuck whilst on holiday!) The sloe and apple jelly will go well with meat – turkey or goose or duck.
Then while I was at work Mrs T went out to gather blackberries and elder to add to apples and a few sloes for a hedgerow jelly. Even on her own, she reported, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. Purple fingers! Making this jam 12 years ago in Shropshire started NAIB’s addiction. We threw in rose hips and haws on that occasion; the recipe is flexible.
Oh yes, we gathered pine cones too. It’s as well my brother Chris was not with us; I recall his ambushes over at our old blackberry patch, with cones whizzing part the ear, and knocking pots of berries over; but he did help make the jam when all was gathered in.
Lunch with the cuckoo was special enough, but I had arrived at the Goods Shed just as Enzo was taking the bread from the oven. My loaf was wrapped in a flash and straight in my bag. Back home, I spread it with wild garlic pesto, tomato paste, cheese and olives. Satisfying!
Read NAIB’s account of foraging Welsh wild garlic, below.
Mrs Turnstone is trying to grow some in a shady part of our garden, thanks to a gift from a friend. We’ve allowed ourselves no more than a couple of leaves for salad this year, hoping the patch will spread.