Oh how we adore this time of year in the woods! Late summer to early autumn paints a spectacular splash of colour across the canopies as the fruits and berries start ripening. And how tasty they look! Of course, we have to take great care to avoid the forbidden fruits, but we can’t overlook the fact that much of what nature grows for us is brimming with flavour and goodness.
The great thing is, providing you ask permission from the authority or trust responsible for maintaining the land where these wonderful gifts are bursting from the bushes, and of course make a suitable donation where required, nature’s glorious treats are not going to cost you much at all. But what to do once you’ve plucked your fill: what do you actually do with them? And what of the more nutty fruits like acorns? Surely it’s not just all about the juicy berries?
Here we take a look at three great things you can concoct in your kitchen following a forest foraging expedition, and yes, acorns ARE included!
Are acorns really edible? Oh yes, we know birds, squirrels and mice adore them, but for us humans, surely not? The acorn certainly doesn’t feature in Christmas nut selections that’s for sure, but did you know that these little wonders of the mighty oak tree are actually consumable? Yes there’s some work to do before you tuck in, but if the Woodland Trust says they’re good to eat, then who are we to think otherwise?
Before we start, you must never, ever, eat raw acorns; neither must you proceed with any acorn recipe using anything other than ripe, brown acorns. So don’t go scouting for them yet, as they’re far too young: you’ll have to wait a bit!
So you have your ripe acorns, now you need to leach them to get rid of the tannin which can be toxic to humans and in any case leaves a bitter after taste. First, shell the acorns, then soak in boiling water. As soon as the water turns brown, pour it off, then repeat the soaking process in fresh boiling water. Keep going till the water stays clear.
Next up, you need to roast the acorns. Place the damp chunks on a baking tray. Sprinkle some salt on top and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes on high. When you see them darken, pop them out. Once they’ve cooled down you can munch away, or steal yourself and make this delicious acorn brittle, perfect to satisfy the sweet tooth.
Yummy Acorn Brittle
For 100g of leached, roasted acorns use 100g of caster sugar. Add the sugar to a pan over a low heat. Once it starts to melt, give the pan a gentle shake. The sugar will start to clump and go translucent before turning into a caramel colour. Once it’s dark brown, tip the acorns in, stirring gently. Take the mixture off the heat and pour into a greaseproof lined baking tray, leaving to cool and harden at room temperature. Enjoy!
The bilberry is a dark blue to purple coloured fruit that is similar in appearance to the blueberry. Considered the new ‘super fruit’, the bilberry contains higher concentrations of antioxidants than its sister berry despite the fact it is smaller as well as being darker and softer. You’ll find them in hedgerows and on scrubland and they’ll appear shortly after the white bell flowers drop, ready to harvest August to September.
Bilberries can be used dried or fresh and are ideal for making pies, puddings and jam. They were traditionally used in the RAF for improving night vision thanks to their high concentration of flavonoids, which are said to help improve vision related symptoms of diabetes.
Scrumptious Bilberry Batter Pudding
Your taste buds will be taken on a joy ride with this little gem of a recipe. Imagine these delicious little berries, brimming with nutritious joy, all packed into a rich, vanilla flavoured batter. Yum! You can eat these delectable treats warm or cold. Here’s how to rustle them up.
Grab yourself a cup of full fat milk; 3 medium sized eggs; half a cup of caster sugar; a teaspoon of vanilla extract; a couple of tablespoons of melted butter; 75g of plain flour; 300g of bilberries and to dust at the end, a tablespoon of icing sugar.
You’ll need a preheated oven to 160 degrees or gas mark 3. Now, whisk the milk, eggs, caster sugar, vanilla extract and butter until smooth and creamy. Then whisk in the flour until you get a batter. Divide this between four ramekins and set them out on a baking tray. Then spoon most of the bilberries over the batter, but keep about 50g back. Bake for 25-30 minutes until set and golden then allow to cool. Serve up with the remaining berries and sprinkle the icing sugar on top. Mouth-wateringly scrumptious!
Damsons are plum-like fruits that are about the size of a large grape. Extremely rich in vitamin C and riboflavin, these plump berries are also high in dietary fibre. But their true nutritional value comes in the shape of their minerals, namely magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese and phosphorus: all health essentials.
Whilst they may look appetising plucked fresh from the tree, beware, as damsons do have a tendency to be sour to taste. Best keep them for more exciting things, like jams, pies, wines and, wait for it, damson vodka! Oh yes, eat your heart out sloe gin, here’s a fruit-based rival to keep you on your toes.
However, let’s refrain for the time being from talking about such indulgences on a family friendly blog. Instead, we’re going to take a look at a Rick Stein classic: the damson cobbler.
Delicious Damson Cobbler
Mouth ready to water? Here we go! Gather together a couple of pounds of damsons, give them a good wash and remove the stalks. You’ll also need 100g of caster sugar, and then for the crumble part, 225g of self-raising flour; 2 tablespoons of baking powder; 75g of diced, chilled butter; 100g of caster sugar plus another tablespoon; a pinch of salt; a medium sized egg; 100ml of buttermilk and 15g of flaked almonds.
Take a large, shallow ovenproof dish and sprinkle the first lot of caster sugar into it. Get the oven preheated to 190 degrees or gas mark 5. Then sift the flour, baking powder, second lot of caster sugar and pinch of salt into a bowl or if you prefer, a food processor. Throw in the butter then work it all into a mixture that resembles fine breadcrumbs. Next, beat the egg into the buttermilk and add it to the mixture, mixing well till you get a soft, sticky dough. Drop walnut sized spoonfuls over the damsons but be sure to leave a bit of a gap between each. Finally, sprinkle over the flaked almonds and the last tablespoon of caster sugar.
Get it into the oven and find yourself something to do to take your mind off the 30-35 minute wait whilst your masterpiece turns golden and starts temptingly bubbling. Check it’s done by pushing a skewer into the middle of the topping. If it’s clean, you’re good to go, but do wait a bit for it to cool down before you dig in. Use the time to whip up some custard, double cream or crème fraiche to plop on top. Bliss!
Other Forager’s Favourites
Whilst doing the research for this post, we also came across a few more recipes involving nature’s gifts that you may like to try…
The Hairy Bikers’ Chestnut and Mushroom Pie
Blackberry & Apple Frozen Yogurt Cake
Rose Hip Chutney
Hawthorn Berry Ketchup
A Word of Warning to Forest Foragers
Always be aware that not all berries are fit for human consumption, and that some are even toxic. It can be easy to wrongly identify some berries that look similar to edible varieties but in fact aren’t in the least bit safe to consume.
If you fancy picking berries during your outdoor escapades, be sure to read this handy guide first, as they say – be ‘berried’, not buried! And always apply this rule: if in doubt, leave it out!
Cooked something amazing following a forest foraging trip? Please share it!