Monday, 7 September 2009

Hedgerow Cuisine

We are surrounded by blackberries. They're closing in on us at this part of the season, found in nearly every hedgerow from here to Hertfordshire. As I have been driven to snacking on one to many walks, Chumley and I spent three hours or so gathering several pounds of blackberries for our freezer. Ah, nature. How many a faithful gatherer can stand to pick really depends on one's tolerance for pain. The bushes are thorny themselves, nevermind the wild roses and nettles they like to keep company with. After all our efforts, I thought an apple and blackberry crumble (crisp in American) was in order. Almost as popular as sticky toffee pudding, it could well be the national dessert of England. It was a product of rationing in World War II, when piecrusts took up too much coveted flour and sugar. Chumley made custard (like warm vanilla pudding) to finish it properly. Although I'm not a native chef, edibility did not appear to be an issue.

The hedgerows here are remarkably fruity, full of things I've only just heard of. In the first few weeks here on a walk, Chumley was intrigued by a nearby damson tree. Damsons are a type of plum, popular for making jam. I'm not much into jam making - is that where the term "jammie dodger" comes from? There's a golden version of damsons around these parts, called mirabelles.

Similar to damsons in color, but much smaller, are sloes. The hedges around our house are literally dripping with them, but after several failed taste tests, neither of us can figure out how they could turn into anything remotely edible. The best and highest use of those tarty sloes is sloe gin, where either gin and vodka and sloes infuse over the long haul. I have been known to enjoy a sloe gin fizz. Making my own sloe gin would definitely be a Martha moment. But they just taste so horribly bad! They're like trying to chew up a used tea bag! I cannot bring myself to risk good booze.

Apparently the term "sloe eyed" refers to someone with eyes as dark and deep as sloes. Amazing what hanging out in the hedgerows will teach you! I should take up a community college degree in hedgerow history and call myself, "The Hedgerow Whisperer."

Rumor had it that a particularly domesticated friend of Chumley's found what sounded like a Queen Anne cherry tree and helped himself to enough for a pie. This is an unconfirmed sighting, however. I'll continue to watch the hedges for future developments. It would be a fruity coup if it were true, but for now, I'll be happy with the six containers of Gladware full of blackberries in the freezer.

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