I go for a walk most days at this time of year. It’s partly for the exercise, but mostly because I’m addicted to collecting the seasonal treasures that appear in the hedgerows during late summer and early autumn. I rarely come back empty handed, whether it’s a bunch of cow parsley stems to spray white and put in a jug, stripy or spotted feathers, some leaves, just on the turn, to press and print with, or maybe a haul of juicy fruit, such as the wild cherry plums that I was excited to find recently and which ended up as a scarlet jelly to spread on toast.
When I had a stressful full time job last year, lunch time walks were an essential part of the day, and I still find them very calming, even now that I am my own boss. Focussing on my surroundings, really searching the landscape for things to paint, photograph or craft with is a kind of mindfulness, or living in the moment and not fretting about things that can’t be changed.
What to look for in late summer
Fruit and berries are my top choice. Wild yellow plums called mirabelles are beautiful. I found several tree-fulls in my doctor’s surgery car park recently, and I made a scrumptious golden wild fruit jam with them. Elderberries are hanging in thick, glossy black clusters just now. I have made cordial with these in the past, and although I wasn’t convinced by the taste, it is apparently soothing when you have a cold. Last autumn, I was given some quince by a gardening journalist friend who has a tree, and I made a huge batch of jelly from these fantastically knobbly fruits.
But walking and collecting shouldn’t result in yet another pressure to make or produce something, otherwise it defeats the object. Quite often, I just like to pick up objects to display on my grown-up nature table.
Jams and jellies
There’s no mystery to making jam or jelly. This is my basic recipe for almost any fruit.
1 kg fruits (try plums, quince or any sort of apple)
1 litre water
Clean jam jars and a muslin jelly bag
- Wash the fruit and put it in a large saucepan with the water. Bring to the boil. Simmer it for about half an hour, stirring and mashing up the fruit.
- Strain through a muslin jelly bag (available from Lakeland or most cooking shops) hung over a large bowl. I tie mine to a kitchen cupboard knob. Don’t press the bag or squeeze it, or you’ll make the jelly cloudy. Allow to drip through overnight.
- Compost the fruit solids, and measure the liquid. Return this to the saucepan, adding 450g of caster sugar for every 600ml of liquid.
- Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring to the boil for about 10-15 minutes. Test to see if it’s done by spooning a small amount on to a saucer. If a skin forms over the top, wrinkling slightly, it’s ready. If not, boil up for another 5 or 10 minutes and try again. Different fruits vary in setting time. Sometimes it takes about half an hour to get there.
- When it’s reached setting point, take the pan off the heat. Allow to cool briefly, then pour into clean jars. Allow it to cool before labelling and store in a cupboard. It’ll bring a taste of summer to the winter months.
- I found these cool jam jar labels on http://www.talkingtables.com