As we slip gently into autumn, we look to finish off the business of summer and prepare for winter, knowing that from the equinox, the darkness and cold will grow. Even at the beginning of September there is a nip in the morning air, and the luscious blooms of summer are starting to go to seed.
This is the time of abundance for me, with a profusion of fresh garden produce and foraged food available. I’m harvesting main crop potatoes, carrots, swedes, turnips and beetroot, as well as cauliflowers, broccoli, beans, the last of the fresh salads, tomatoes, bell peppers, apples and pears. This is one of my favourite months for foraging too, and the hedgerows are bountiful with hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts, berries such as rosehips, elderberries, blackberries, rowan and hawthorn berries, and mushrooms spring up in the woods and meadows. There are still fresh herbs around too, and I preserve them by drying them by hanging them in bunches in a well ventilated space, or by freezing them in water in ice cube trays (one can then be dropped into a soup or a stew). This is a very busy month when the harvest must be gathered in before the first frosts, and food must be prepared, stored and preserved for the dead time of winter to come, with freezing, drying, canning, jam and chutney making, brewing wines and beers, apple and pear brandy and making my yearly batch of cider vinegar.
Naturally, I also use September’s bounty for making herb simples like blackberry vinegar and elderberry glycerite.
2 lb. blackberries
2 pt. malt vinegar
Place the washed blackberries in a bowl and break them up slightly with a wooden spoon. Pour on the malt vinegar. Cover with a cloth and stand for 3-4 days, stirring occasionally. Boil for 10 minutes, cool, strain and bottle the resulting liquid. This is very good for coughs. Quantities can easily be increased, allowing 1 lb. blackberries to 1 pt. fruit.
The same method can be used to make elderberry vinegar. Many people find this very good food colds – drink a tablespoon of blackberry or elderberry vinegar in hot water with a little honey.
Vegetable glycerine (food grade)
Strip the berries from the stem, using a fork. To make a glycerite put the berries into a clean jar and pour on slightly warmed glycerine until they are completely covered. Seal and keep in a warm place for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily. Strain through muslin and store in a dark bottle in a cool place for up to 2 years. Take a spoonful four times a day for colds and flu.
Mulled Hedgerow Punch
3 cups mixed autumn berries (such as blackberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries)
2 litres apple juice
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cm fresh ginger, grated
Put all the ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain into mugs, serve hot and sweeten with honey, if desired.