A forager’s delight

Fiona improvising with a walking stick to make sure she gets to the best fruit!Today, I am delighted to bring you a guest blog from well-know professional forager, Fiona Bird, author of the wonderful ‘Forager’s Kitchen‘. Fiona has been travelling the length of the country and foraging all sorts of wonderful things along the way…

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to leave the Outer Hebridean, Isle of South Uist where I live, to participate at a food festival on the Inner Hebridean, Isle of Tiree. I took the opportunity to head on to the mainland to forage rock samphire and sea-buckthorn for a coastal foraging book that I am writing. I visited lots of lovely people too but exploring autumn Britain, in what has been a mast year for berries and nuts was a forager’s delight.

My mainland travels took me right down to Cornwall and also to Wiltshire where I foraged dusty, blue sloes. They shouldn’t be picked until after the first frost (‘bletted’) but of course wildlife and other foragers may then beat you to them. I forage sloes and pop them in the freezer, thereby avoiding the need to await a frost. If you make sloe gin or vodka it’s a good idea to make it in a wide-necked jar and you can then pick out the ‘alcohol soaked fruit’ with ease and use the fruit in a second recipe. There’s an alcohol soaked chocolate treat recipe in ‘The Forager’s Kitchen‘.

I’m ending my guest blog with a recipe using damsons, which are also in abundant supply this year. It’s a mini variation on a tart tatin and children will enjoy making it too. The damsons could be replaced by cooked quince scattered wild thyme. Wild thyme is fading as the autumn days shorten but, as with all foraged ingredients, ‘once you’ve got your eye in’ you’ll find it on moorland, sand dunes and scrubland. It is milder in flavour than garden thyme, so adjust quantities accordingly. Thank you for inviting me to blog about foraging Joanna, it’s a wonderful way, whatever the weather, to appreciate our beautiful countryside and gather food for free, for your lunch or supper.

What to forage and find:

  • About 200g (approximately 30) wild damson plums*
  • 75g soft light brown (light muscovado) sugar
  • 2 generous tablespoons (35g) butter
  • Plain flour, for dusting
  • 27 x 20cm sheet puff pastry
  • Yogurt or ice cream, to serve with 

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200ºC/gas mark 6). 
  2. Wash and cut the damsons in half, and remove the pits (stones). In a muffin pan (tin), put 6 damson halves, skin side down, in each muffin cup, filling 10 cups. 
  3. Meanwhile, heat the sugar and butter in a saucepan over low heat until melted. Stir well, and divide the mixture between the 10 cups.
  4. Lightly dust a working surface with flour, and lay out the pastry. Use a cutter to stamp out 7.5cm circles. Put a pastry circle on top of each filled muffin cup.
  5. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden.
  6. Take the tarts out of the oven, cool for a minute, and then run a knife around the pastry to loosen it. If you are brave: put a tray over the muffin pan, turn the muffin pan upside down, and fingers crossed, the mini damson tartes tatins will turn out. Alternatively, spoon the pastry (base) onto a serving dish, and spoon the damsons back on top. Either way, it’s yummy.

These are delicious cold or warm, with yogurt or ice cream. 

Wild Notes:

* In season, replace the damsons or plums with wild cherries or poached quince.

 

1 Comment

An autumnal treat…

My field mushroom collection from last Saturday. Very nice on buttered toast!Hen pal and partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, has been enjoying an autumn harvest for free – so I thought I would get her to tell the story…           

During the last week it has suddenly got very autumnal here on Dartmoor, lots of mist and rain, but still pleasantly warm. This is great news for mushroom hunters like me!

I was walking the dog last Saturday morning and, as I strolled through some fields where sheep had been grazing, I spotted some bright white blobs among the green grass. Aha – field mushrooms I thought! Luckily, I had a plastic bag with me and picked some, which we duly ate for breakfast – lovely! When picking mushrooms, you want to look for nice clean, firm specimens – hence usually gathering mushrooms early in the day before they have been nibbled by insects, rained on or, most likely here, trampled on by a passing ewe!

I have been foraging for fungi for about 25 years now and it is a really interesting and rewarding thing to do when you are out in the countryside, strolling in a park, or just walking along a grassy verge. Scaremongers will tell horror stories about people poisoning themselves but this happens very rarely and, if you are sensible, learn from an expert and follow a couple of simple rules, you won’t go wrong.

If you are starting from scratch, I’d suggest you go on a fungi forage. You’ll find lots of these foraging walks arranged locally, often by National Trust properties, or other local nature organisations. This is a great way to pick up tips from someone who really knows their stuff, get to see the type of habitats that are good for mushrooms, and ultimately, discover if you enjoy foraging or not.

Despite knowing roughly what I am looking for, I am no expert, and I always refer to my trusty reference book – Roger Phillips ‘Common and important mushrooms’. I would recommend everyone starting out on this hobby buys this book.

Shaggy Inkcap – looks bad, tastes good!The first maxim I was taught on day one was: ‘If in doubt, leave it out!’ So if you pick anything you are not 100% sure about, DON’T try it, leave it out of your collection. The majority of mushrooms are not edible – but they aren’t poisonous either – they just don’t taste very nice. Quite a few are mildly poisonous and a few are lethal. Some are decidedly contrary and are poisonous raw, but edible when cooked… I confess I’ve never felt inclined to try any of these! 

One of the most common edible mushrooms you will see, often standing defiantly up in the middle of someone’s neat lawn, are shaggy ink caps. These are pretty unmistakeable, looking like judges’ wigs and, provided you pick them before they get to the ‘shaggy’ stage, they are lovely quickly browned in butter and served on toast.

Fly Agaric – looks good… but is deadly poisonous!Another mushroom that most of us are familiar with is the one with a red cap and white spots usually drawn with a fairy or pixie sitting neatly on the top. But don’t be fooled by its cheery looks – it is the deadly poisonous Fly Agaric and you shouldn’t even risk touching it. Which brings me to maxim number two: Always wash your hands thoroughly if you have been handling any fungi.

Fungi foraging is great fun and, like many things in the natural world, if you are sensible, and follow the rules, it is hugely rewarding.

0 Comments

Jean’s Very Berry Jam

Here’s another basic jam, surely a popular choice for keen jam maker Jean – another character from our novel ‘A Sticky End’!

This is fun to try with different ratios of berries – try more raspberry than strawberry for example – and you could always add blueberries too. You can also make a far larger batch if you have the fruit available, I just used a fairly small collection as I wanted to try all sorts of different variations.

  • 600g mixed berries (Redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries and raspberries)
  • 500g preserving sugar

Makes about 6 small jars

  1. Wash all fruit
  2. Put fruit and sugar into a large pan and boil for about 15mins
  3. Test for set
  4. Pass through a muslin and sieve
  5. Boil again for 5mins
  6. Pot up and seal at once.

 

0 Comments

It’s all in the detail…

It’s all in the detail…Jayne Netley Mayhew is a wonderfully talented artist who first wielded a paintbrush at the tender age of two! All her siblings are artists too and Jayne has gone on to establish a reputation as a first-class wildlife artist and embroidery designer. She has produced a wide range of designs for Joanna Sheen Ltd over the years and her work is always immensely popular. We had a chat with Jayne to find out a bit more about the lady behind the paintbrush…

I think most people would say ‘Exquisite detail’ when they think of Jayne’s work. When she paints animals – big cats being her absolute favourite subject – she paints them hair by hair. “I just love detail!” she says. “If I have to paint a landscape, there has to be something detailed in the foreground or I just couldn’t take it on.”

She paints from real life as much as she can and when this isn’t possible, from photographs that her husband, Ian, takes for her. Jayne at work in her studio in Widecombe-in-the-Moor.

A great animal lover, Jayne has two huge pet dogs – Henry, a Newfoundland, and Dennis a Bernese Mountain Dog collie cross – that share Jayne and Ian’s home in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, in the heart of Dartmoor. She also keeps hens that she finds endlessly fascinating to watch and paint as they roam free-range in her garden. 

“Again, it’s all about the detail,” she says. Look at one of her chicken paintings and you can see every feather individually painted.

Jayne is unusual in that she works across a wide range of different media and is equally skilled in all of them. She was originally trained in oils by a local artist who gave Jayne, and her older brother an excellent grounding in painting. Next, she took up freehand embroidery and thrived on the incredibly detailed stitch work. Publishers David & Charles snapped Jayne up and suggested she’d like to look at developing cross stitch patterns for them. Sid the cockerel immortalised in watercolour.“I found these very easy to design, but drawing all the crosses by hand was really hard work but then, luckily, in came computers and it became a breeze!”

Today, Jayne works in acrylic, watercolour, pencil, pen and ink and pastels using whatever best suits her subject matter be it flora or fauna, big cat or new born chick. “Watercolour was a tricky technique to master as it is so unforgiving. With oil and acrylic you can over paint, but with watercolour it has to be perfect from the outset. I adore the subtlety and, of course, the detail that I can achieve with it,” said Jayne.

Always looking for something new to try, she has recently acquired a felting machine and is busily creating pictures with fibre and wool. “It’s a technique I am really enjoying experimenting with and I’ve been working on some miniatures, it’s really exciting.”

Look closely – very closely – at any Jayne Netley Mayhew painting and you will eventually find a ladybird hidden somewhere within the design. Jayne laughs: “It’s quite funny watching people look at my work as they usually This stunning tiger is created using felt, fibre and wool.peer at it very close up, and then say ‘Aha!’ and I know they’ve found the ladybird. Only then do they stand back and appreciate the painting properly.”

So it seems it’s all in the detail for Jayne’s fans, just as much as it is for her…

To find out more about Jayne and her work on her website.

2 Comments

Paperback writers!

I promise this will be the last blog about the book for a while! Yesterday we launched the paperback version and, I am delighted to say, sales have been really good. Julia and I both have a touch of writers’ cramp this morning after signing hundreds of copies of the book last night!

We had a fun evening combining my birthday with a mini book launch party with partner in crime, Julia and her other half and members of my family all present. My daughter Emily produced a lovely sponge cake tribute to the book as had my stepmother who made a chocolate “inside” of the book! So we simply had to tuck into both to ensure they were as lovely as they looked! And they were…

I know it’s early days, but interestingly Kindle sales are almost double those of the paperback… but then the Kindle version has been around a few days longer, so we will watch with interest to see how this pans out over the next few months and report back!

I was so thrilled to wake up this morning to find we were number 1 in the British Detective section of Amazon and 152 on their bestsellers list …. which bearing in mind we were something like 56,000 only a week or so ago … is amazing!

Thank you to those of you that have read the Kindle version and seem to really like our characters and the idea that this will be the first in a series. It is very strange after tapping away on our various efforts over the years, usually in solitary isolation, to finally have your work ‘out there’ and being read by people! Julia has already been stopped in the street (admittedly, she lives in a village!) and asked by an enthusiastic reader of ‘A Sticky End’ where she got her inspiration from. It is also strange sitting here and seeing the paperbacks stacked up, waiting to be posted out today – it’s suddenly all so very ‘real’!

We each have our favourite characters in the book – mine would be Victoria, while Julia is very keen on the Reverend Ruminant – but it would be fun to know which ones you enjoyed most – no plot spoilers please!

 

5 Comments