Will's Wild Food Diary

 Wild food diary

Fresh, organic and free! Of all things bushcrafty, nothing gets me more excited than a foraging adventure.

From time to time, I update this page with a different wild food that is in season –  gradually building up a seasonal diary of some of the foraging delights available to us.

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Disclaimer: there's lots of good wild stuff to eat, and much of it is fairly easy to identify. Unfortunately, there are also some plants and fungi that can make you seriously ill or worse. This diary is a brief overview intended to inspire and not a substitute for an in-depth field guide and/or skilled teacher. I will endeavour to point out any obvious poisionous look alikes, but ultimately foraging is the individual's responsibility. Unless you are 100 per cent confident you know what something is, leave it alone! Also, please be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions. It is wise to try just a small amount first.

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Category: Sloe berry

  1. Sloe business.

    Posted on

    Sloe Berries close upAs autumn gathers momentum, many of our hedgerow berries are starting to fade. But not so for the shiny purple sloe (Prunus spinosa) which is just coming into its own down here in the south.

    Gin is probably the word most foragers think of when these dark-purple berries are mentioned. And with good reason, for the sweet but tangy flavour of a well-matured bottle makes for one of the finest hedgerow liquers.

    There are various recipes online, so I'll not elaborate, but it is well worth trying if you are into these sorts of things. I like to replace the sugar for local runny honey; firstly because it's tasty, and secondly because it makes my 'medicinal' justifications sound a bit more credible. Last year I also made sloe whisky which tastes almost as good – unfortunately though, the wonderful red colour that hangs so tantalisingly in the clear gin is somewhat lost in the dark whisky.

    Sloe ginI always try and leave such concoctions at least a year to really mellow, but a few months is enough for it to be passable – the trick is to get into a system of sipping on last year's creation while you're making this year's batch to replace it. For those with real patience, foraging expert, John Wright from River cottage admiringly recounts a 14 year old sloe gin that tasted like a fine madeiran port.

    Once the bottle is empty, and this applies to any spirit that I make, I like to take the fruit and add it to flapjacks or fruit cake. For goodness sake, make sure all the stones have been taken out, but it imparts a wonderful warming zing, and I'm sure it would work with all sorts of other sweet recipes too...Christmas mince pies anyone?

    Of course, there are other tasty applications for the humble sloe. They are generally extremelySloe juice tart when eaten raw; however cooking releases the sugars in the fruit. I won't go as far to say they become completely sweet, but added to stewed apples or apple crumble, they are really rather good. A similar process seems to happen after freezing – in previous years, I've eaten them straight off the branch after a few hard frosts.

    A couple of years ago I found a bag of frozen sloes that had sat forgotten in the freezer for about nine months. I simmered them very gently, and then mashed them through a sieve. With a little honey to mellow them out, they made a deliciously rich and fruity drink (see above pic).

    Foraging considerations.

    Sloe berry,leaf,thornSloes are the berries of our native blackthorn tree;  a shrubby kind of tree, growing to a maximum of 3–4 metres and often found in hedgerows. On the Purbeck coast, it perches itself along the cliff tops for miles and miles.

    Look at the oval lightly-toothed leaves and the horizontal markings on the trunk and you might well be reminded of a more familiar garden or orchard tree. The Latin name Prunus is the other clue, as it belongs to the same family as plum and cherry (and ultimately the Roseacea genus). Indeed, it's likely that some of our modern cultivated varieties of plum originate from the blackthorn.

    In case you're wondering, the spinosa part of blackthorn's Latin name comes from the fierce armour of large right-angled thorns. It's for this reason that you need to take care – gloves make things easier if you are picking large amounts. I have heard of the scratches getting badly infected due to an algae that can live on the spines. I think this may be down to personal sensitivity, as I have never experienced this, but the common advise is to seek immediate medical advice if you notice any reaction to a scratch.

    Finally, just to reiterate, there is a large stone in the middle of sloe berries, so unless you enjoy a trip to the dentist, take care!