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Somerset Life goes foraging

PUBLISHED: 16:26 10 October 2012 | UPDATED: 22:02 20 February 2013

Caroline Packenham has lived in Somerset for over 35 years

Caroline Packenham has lived in Somerset for over 35 years

What better time of the year to get out into the countryside and harvest the fruits of the forests and hedgerows around us? Writes Caroline Packenham

Somerset Life goes foraging


What better time of the year to get out into the countryside and harvest the fruits of the forests and hedgerows around us? Writes Caroline Packenham

Forget the housework, switch off the radio and, taking a couple of bags and some secateurs, take yourself off for a walk in the beautiful English countryside, or call a friend and walk the children and dogs at the same time.
I know its been raining a lot this summer but there will be fruit. Through the summer the berries have been ripening, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries and the flavourings from the hedgerows and gardens, the scented elderflower, pungent pelargonium, mints, lavenders and herbs have been developing. How does one keep up with the quantity of fruits that appear at the busiest time of year? Freeze them! Technology can be a wonderful thing; use it and simply bag up the fresh fruit and herbs and put them in a freezer for another day.
Listen to the birds singing, smell the smells and watch the butterflies, gatekeepers, fritillaries, commas gently flying amongst the grasses. Now look for those berries. The creamy, perfumed elderflowers have gone by late July, replaced by large bunches of juicy, black elderberries. Heres where you need your secateurs to cut the bunches straight into your bag. Sloes, small, round, purple berries on very spikey branches are forming, leave these until October/November preferably after a frost which very slightly sweetens them. The blackberries, on the other hand, are ready for picking and should be found in practically every hedgerow. Pick at your own height as the lower ones will be eaten by the foxes and even the dogs. My Newfoundland and Retriever love to pick with me, pulling and sucking at the low-down fruit.
Rosehips are appearing after the simple, pink dog rose has come to an end. Cut these rather than pulling, youll find it easier. These are best cooked with another wild fruit unless you have hundreds, as they dont hold much juice but lots of vitamin C.


Cut only what you need, never take loads, as others, including wildlife, will want to share in the feast

The bright orange rowan is found hanging in bunches on the mountain ash tree. A small tree found on the edge of woodlands or along the roads where the council grow them for their shape, size and looks. Cut only what you need, never take loads, as others, including wildlife, will want to share in the feast.
Of course, I cant forget the crabapple. Small, round, green and very bitter but the backbone to jellymaking. These little fruits are filled with pectin, the main ingredient needed for setting your jelly; in fact most bitter fruits are full of pectin. They can be found in most hedgerows falling all over the ground.
I remember, when we were first married we lived in Clevedon and I went foraging. It was amazing what I found; hazelnuts along the lane, field mushrooms in the horse fields and best of all wild raspberries in the overgrown quarry next door to us, what a find!
We have lived in Somerset, on the border of Wiltshire, for over 35 years. The lanes and fields are full of wild fruit but when I need other fruits and vegetables, especially in large quantities, I always go down to the Frome market at Standerwick every Wednesday morning. There I buy boxes of lemons, oranges, pineapples, all sorts, far cheaper than at a supermarket, from Jamie and Julie who even put them into the car for me. Spa Farms sell local cheeses, eggs, hams and pies and I buy my fresh eggs and local cider from two lovely ladies from Cheddar. This is the sort of shopping I love; recycled carriers, no unnecessary packing, easy parking and friendly personal service with laughter. We have even been down to the market in midwinter, snow on the ground, icy winds and there Julie and Jamie still are, selling their fruit and veg.
My other haunts are White Row Farm at Beckington, my favourite farm shop where a lot of the produce is growing in the field in front, and if Im feeling lazy I go down to Mes Amis a small deli/restaurant where I buy take away salads and tarts from Elaine and Martha who make them on the premises.
Remember to keep to the footpaths or ask your local farmers permission to pick in his fields where the fruits will be clean and fresh. Never pull up plants or cut the branches and always leave the high berries are for the birds.



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