Depending where you are in the country, the first frost might have been and gone weeks ago. If the temperature has already plummeted, you may have seen fruits of sloes, rosehips, rowan berries, haws and maybe even blackberries covered in a crisp and magically frosted outer.
Cornish Frost - Myth or Reality?
Here in West Cornwall I never know whether this moment is going to arrive, at all. This year that moment came last week, and it is a welcomed one for a forager. I celebrated by going out and picking a select few of the remaining Japanese rosehips (Rosa Rugosa) which I'll probably use to flavour chocolates for the February valentines foraging course. A time when we'll probably need something to lift our spirits, immune systems and hearts. Gifts and wild food always help, I think.
(Hawthorn fruit - Crataegus monogyna - awaiting the first frost)
So, here in my beloved Cornwall, where the warm currents and breezes from the sea can help keep the temperature here more ambient. Exposed to the prevailing Southwesterly winds that blow in from the Atlantic means that Cornwall is considered the mildest and warmest place in the UK. Here we can sometimes sit on the beach on Christmas Day, and sometimes the frost, never, ever arrives. It is true that the closer to the ocean you get, the milder the winters and the cooler the summers are. Those of you who know Cornwall know that the down side is here we can get more rain. Nothing is perfect.
All this weather effects the foraging too, and in this blog I'm going to discuss how that effects wild fruits. In previous blogs I've talked about how the frost and snow effects seaweeds; that's another read, if you're interested.
(Frozen sloes - Prunus spinosa)
What does the frost do to wild fruits and is there an alternative?
The frost has the effect of both breaking the skins of the fruits and sweetening them. A welcomed impact for desserts, flavoured gin, jams, jellies and much more. Of course, living in the modern age means you don't have to wait for the first frost - which is lucky for us in Cornwall as it may come late or not at all.
Why? Because we have freezers. It is true, popping the fruits in the freezer is not as romantic as getting up at dawn to collect glistening fruits breaking their frost virginity. Though hey, there are benefits to our modern world and there are many other wonderful things to do with our time and mornings too.
Enjoy the weather, fruits and the convenience of freezers. Freezers also mean that you can attend to your fruits - whatever you want to create with them - when you have ample time to enjoy the process, and not in a rushed moment between dawn and sun down.
All images by Rachel Lambert, except frozen blackberries which is courtesy of Snapguide. If you'd like to see more foraging images, why not visit or follow my Pinterest page.
Sometimes I feel creative, sometimes crazy, with the ideas I come up with for using wild food. This one is a complete labour of love; a custard tart topped with rosehips and a rosehip syrup glaze. Devoured by 14 appreciative people on a hazy October afternoon.
Here's the recipe;
Rosehip Fruit and Custard Tart
Ingredients (for pastry base)
- 200g plain flour
- 100g cold butter, cubed
- 20g ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1-4 tbsp cold water
- a little egg white
- 320ml whole milk
- 80g unrefined caster sugar
- 5 free-range eggs yolks (freeze the egg
- 25g cornflour, mixed to a paste with a little cold water
- 200ml rosehip syrup
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 2 tbsp honey
- 100g rosehips, fresh out the freezer
In a large bowl, add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, mix well and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the the beaten egg and 1-tablespoon at a time of cold water (just enough to bind the dough, no more). Alternatively you can blend the mixture in a food processor, adding the water at the end. Press the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and grease a 23cm diameter flan tin.
For the filling, in a medium saucepan bring the milk to the boil, whisking all the time. Remove from the heat and in a medium bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture falls in thick ribbons from the whisk. Slowly whisk in the cornflour paste until well combined. Slowly pour in the hot milk, stirring in well, before returning the mixture back into the saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until boiling. Cook for a further minute, then pour the mixture into a bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge.
Roll the pastry out on a floured work surface to about ½ cm thick and line the flan tin. Brush the pastry with a little egg white to seal it and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden-brown and crisp. Let the pastry cool a little, then carefully transfer to a wire rack. At this stage the cooked pastry can be covered and stored for a few days before using.
For the glaze, heat half the rosehip syrup in a saucepan until boiling then remove the pan from the heat. Dissolve the cornflour in the remaining syrup and quickly pour the mixture back into the saucepan, returning to the heat, stirring all the time, until the mixture has thickened. Next add the honey, bring back to the boil and remove the pan from the heat. Set aside to cool. When ready to assemble the tart, spoon in the custard filling, and with a sharp knife, carefully slice the ends off the rosehips, then slice them in half, lengthways and scoop out the ball of seeds with a teaspoon. Place the rosehips on top of the custard, cut-side down. Transfer the glaze to a pouring jug and drizzle over the glaze. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
I recently led a group of families on a foraging walk & as part of the day I provided sweet biscuits with rosehip fruit in them. I wanted to show how this fruit can be utilised in ways other than just for syrup. The biscuits went down really well, though what I didn’t provide was guidance on how to process the fruit into a versatile ingredient for many recipes, so here it is!
This is a labour of love. It is a process to be enjoyed, with a fruity goal in mind - a delicious and versatile sheet of pure fruit which can be used can be stored for months and used as a snack or to flavour many dishes, for example tarts, pies and ice cream. Best done when you feel you have the time, preferably with helpers - friends or family.
Using Japanese Rose (rosa rugosa) hips will enable you to reap more fruit for your work, they’re a larger hip than our native rosehips making them easier to handle.
Gather rosa rugosa ‘hips’ (the fruit), these plants have naturalised in many places, originally many were planted on sand dunes & shingle beach areas to help stabilise the ground. You can also find them on waste ground, or befriend someone who has them growing in their garden - a proportion of your foraged product afterwards is normally gratefully received.
Start looking out for hips from late summer & through autumn. You could of course wait for after the first frost, at the risk of the birds getting them first. Living in Cornwall, with a milder climate & being impatient to utilise these fruits, I normally pick them as soon as possible & freeze them to ‘fake’ the first frost. I’m looking for the dark red fruits, not too orange in colour. Freezing them also means you can store them until you’re ready to embark on processing them.
Defrost or pick the fruits after first frost. Start processing them as quickly as possible so not to loose valuable vitamin C. Carefully and patiently remove the flesh from around the outside of the fruit, careful not to dislodge the tight ball of hairy seeds. You want to avoid these seeds as they can irritate the digestive tract. This is a messy and fiddly job, so take your time, you’ll be left with a pile of fleshy rosehip pulp, and a pile of hairy seeds. Discard the latter. You may want to chop the pulp a little, to ensure that you don’t have too bigger pieces of flesh or fruit skin.
If you’re using a de-hydrator, follow the instructions for making fruit leather, and spread the fruit pulp onto the teflon sheet before drying the fruit for several hours. If using an oven, line a dish or baking tray with oven-proof clingfilm, and spread the pulp on, about 2mm thick. Put the oven on the lowest heat and leave for up to 12 hours.
The consistency of the fruit leather can be altered according to taste - slightly moist and chewy or dry and almost brittle. The latter will keep longer. When needed, rehydrate the fruit and blend of break into pieces.
What I love about processing fruit this way is that there is no need to add sugar. Instead, you can get to taste a mixture of natural sweetness & tarty-ness of this amazing super fruit.
What next & how to use... Now the fun bit. Once you’ve made your fruit leather, either keep it whole or cut it into strips & store in an air tight container. It will keep for over one year. Now your fruit can be used in various recipes, these are just some of the ones I’ve tried so far. Before using the leather, best to break it into small pieces & re-hydrate in a small amount of warm water.
Rosehip fruit ice cream, Rosehip fruit chocolate, Rosehip fruit biscuits or in simply in porridge. You can of course still use it in traditional recipes such as rosehip syrup or sweet soup, or simply chew on it as snack when out walking, or when you need a energy & vitamin C boost.