The first frost is a significant marker in the colder months of the year. Whether you look forward to it or dread it, it has an important function for wild fruits, us and the rest of the natural world.
Previously I've written about how frost and snow effects seaweeds in; Can seaweeds survive the frost and snow?
Cornish Frost - Myth or Reality?
Here in West Cornwall and by the coast, I never know whether the first frost will arrive at all. Where the warm currents and breezes from the sea can help keep the temperature 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.
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.
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 it is more convenient.
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.
Frost is beneficial to both the texture and sweetness of wild autumnal fruits. I have plenty of recipes for wild berries in my autumn blog. I also run hands on, practical foraging courses in autumn and all year round.
Blackberries - everyone knows them, everyone forages them. Blackberries make everyone a forager, and what a perfect fruit to be picked. Growing in abundance, and packed with vitamin C and fibre, this humble fruit unites cities, waysides, hedgerows, countryside and wasteland through their presence, it even connects us all back to the Stone Age, as there's evidence that we've been eating this fruit since then.
Back to the current day, a couple of weeks ago I was foraging with a group of keen staff and chefs from Bordeaux Quay deli, restaurant & cookery school. Based on the harbourside of Bristol, just off the city centre, for our foray we congregated on the Bristol Downs (one of my favourite green spaces within this city) to foray together. And guess what, amongst many other goodies, we picked blackberries.
Now, I could list the things we found, and various stages that different ingredients are in as they get experimented with, stored and process at BQ. However, that list of plant names might leave you scratching your head and non-the-wiser. Though if I talk about BLACKBERRIES - ah, blackberries, we know we're speaking the same language!
Blackberries on the Isles of Scilly, where they can taste slightly salty!
So what have you done with your foraged fruits? Blackberry and apple crumble or pie, syrup, ice cream, sorbet, blackberry vinegar or wine maybe?
Well, here's a new one for you, from the Kelly Sealey, the Head Chef at BQ. And by the way, incase you like the sound of it, Foraging Experiences followed by cooking tuition can now be booked for private groups in Bristol, at an award winning venue which specialises in local produce, click here to find out more!
Meanwhile, here's the recipe;
Mackerel salad with a blackberry dressing
By Kelly Sealey
For the fish
2 eggs, beaten
4 mackerel fillets
70g unsalted butter
1 lemon, juice only
Place the oats onto a plate and season with salt and black pepper. Pour the beaten eggs into a bowl. Dip each mackerel fillet into the beaten egg, roll it in the seasoned oats.
Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the coated mackerel fillets and fry for 1 ½-2 minutes on each side.
Turn the fillets carefully and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the fillets are crisp and golden-brown on both sides and completely cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze over the lemon juice
For the salad
Handful of blackberries
Radish, thinly sliced
A dash of red wine vinegar
Pinch of dried chilli
25ml olive oil
Place the vinegar, oil, chilli and 2 crushed berries in a bowl, whisk and add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the salad and toss lightly. To serve place the salad on the plate, fish neatly in the middle and drizzle extra dressing.
Everyone has there own traditions for Christmas Day. For me, I'm satisfied if I'm in good company, have a dip in the sea & there's a healthy amount of indulgence.
Down here in Cornwall I've plenty of people to share these common themes with; least of all bracing the elements & stripping off on the beach for that ceremonial plunge - nothing like it for feeling alive & building up an appetite! So on the morn of the 25th, Sennen beach (just a mile from Lands End) was pretty packed with rosy faces & cold toes as we raced towards those rolling waves to start the day splashing about, all with good company, of course.
The rest of the essentials for the day already prepared, there was little left to do except dry off, drink hot tea & eat. As a lover of good food, I enjoy the simplicity of a good roast with lots of colourful veg to accompany it. I could tell you a good story of a wild meal, but in all honesty, for this day I'm on holiday, want to think as little as possible about food & just allow it to happen.
However, I had put my creativity together in the form of gifts & brought out some wild ingredients to invent new chocolate recipes. For weeks I'd been thinking about combinations that would excite & please. Who in my family likes richness, who needs to watch there blood sugar levels & who prefers a savoury twist. Of course, its impossible to please everyone, though the fun for me is in the creating & the making.
I created 8 recipes in all, some wild, some not, some rich & dark (I'm a Green & Black's fan myself) & some with raw cacao & agave syrup (far richer in minerals & with less of a caffeine hit - though still chocolate!). Cinnamon, fruit, Cornish sea salt, nuts & vanilla all featured & for the wild ones; laced with sloe vodka of course, & a white chocolate with dried blackberries in (good for children if you want to reduce the risk of too much hyperactivity).
The verdict? Well the large box of chocolates is being taken to family tomorrow & I'll see which ones disappear first & let you know! Its a time a year for many things & for me, there's definitely a place for good, indulgent chocolate, especially handmade. Wishing you all a joyous festive season & here's a couple of recipes to be going on with. x
White Chocolate with dehydrated wild blackberries - goes like raisins, though with more seeds/texture!
Last year's sloes had been soaking in vodka for 12 months, de-stone & chop them, add a couple of tablespoons of the sloe vodka & stir into the melted chocolate. And one image of the final box of chocs! Most of them I've tasted, of course, so I'm quite confident about the results!