Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
Hedgerow berries are the ultimate banquet for our native birds and mammals.
Advent Day 17
Our native hedgerow berries create an early Autumn hedge-scape full of colour. By the Winter the native berries still twinkle through the bare stems. The feast they provided in the Autumn help the birds to gain weight. Ready for the big migrations or facing down the harshness of Winter.
Hedgerow berries are a rich source of vitamins and calories for our native wildlife but they can also provide a feast for us as well. Just be sure not to glean too many and there should be enough for everyone and make sure you know which ones to pick. Some berries are poisonous to humans so check, check, check.
Berries and nuts made up a substantial part of the diet of our early ancestors. They knew the fruits could sustain them in times of hardship which is why so many Medieval recipes are stuffed full of them.
What about the cranberry?
All sorts of chutneys, sauces and ketchups find their way to the Christmas table. They are packed full of the energy of the earlier seasons. The one that seems to be top of the list is not foraged from our own British hedgerows but from America. It is the Cranberry. The Pilgrims named the Cranberry because they thought the small pink blossoms in Spring looked like the head and bill of a crane. They recognized the berry because in southern England grows it’s cousin the European Cranberry. The fruit of the European Cranberry is a much inferior berry both in colour and taste. The Pilgrims ate the Cranberry as part of their Thanksgiving meal which then migrated to the Christmas dinner.
Hedgerow berries for Christmas.
Using some brilliant ideas from the Hedgerow Handbook by Adele Nozedar (which is one of our book choices for the Nature’s Path Book Box), we made Sloe Gin. We make Sloe Gin every year but the idea of using the gin soaked sloes and adding them to chocolate is inspired.
Bramble jam made with only a smidgeon of sugar is a glorious accompaniment to the cheese board. Rose Hip syrups and Haw berry syrups make wonderful additions to warming Winter drinks. However the biggest thrill of all are the memories of all that foraging on warm late Summer days, with the sweet sour smell of berries on the air. That is the real treat.
In August, the large masses of berries, which when in flower had attracted many wild bees, gradually assumed their bright velvety crimson hue and by their weight bent down and broke their tender limbs.