Pert sparrows and tutling robins

Continuing John Clare’s delightful description of autumn, and we are with t’he poet as he walks the fields’; he sees the old ladies with their wicker baskets out and about gathering fruit from the hedgerows, elderberries, and blackberries hanging in ‘swathy bunches‘ and there are the little sparrows, their beaks black from the juice, and  the ‘tutling‘ robin… I can’t discover what Clare meant by this but I can guess it might be his chattering song!

In such lone spots these wild wood roamers dwell
On commons where no farmers claims appear
Nor tyrant justice rides to interfere
Such the abodes neath hedge or spreading oak
And but discovered by its curling smoak
Puffing and peeping up as wills the breeze
Between the branches of the colord trees
Such are the pictures that october yields
To please the poet as he walks the fields
Oft dames in faded cloak of red or grey
Loiters along the mornings dripping way
Wi wicker basket on their witherd arms
Searching the hedges of home close or farms
Where brashy elder trees to autum fade
Each cotters mossy hut and garden shade
Whose glossy berrys picturesquly weaves
Their swathy bunches mid the yellow leaves
Where the pert sparrow stains his little bill
And tutling robin picks his meals at will.

Maybe a little late for hedgerow sauce this year…

For some reason we haven’t collected any blackberries this year, except from the brambles growing wild along by our garden wall. I think it is maybe because we no longer eat desserts so no pies or puddings or crumbles – it isn’t for health or diet reasons, I’m not particularly sweet-toothed, and my husband doesn’t seem as pudding-oriented as he used to be. In the past we’ve gone out and picked other hedgerow fruit, hips, haws, elderberries, rowan berries, crab apples for chutney and pickle, and sloes for gin… this year we just haven’t.

I love making jams, jellies and chutneys, but again, we don’t really eat the, and i have a store cupboard left from previous years. However, I still get tempted by recipes, and if I had seen this from Ruth Drew in her little book earlier, I may have been tempted to go out foraging!

Hedgerow sauce

  •  1 pint of ripe elderberries
  • 1 pint rowan berries
  • 1 pint haws
  • 2 pints vinegar
  • 1 lb demerara sugar
  • 2 large onions chopped fine
  • spice bag of 2 oz peppercorns, ½oz cloves, ¼oz allspice
  • 4 oz salt
  1. dissolve sugar in the vinegar
  2. add all the other ingredients
  3. stir gently, bring to the boil
  4. turn down the heat and simmer for 3 hours
  5. rub through a sieve
  6. bottle when cold

Serve with roast meats or poultry

Doesn’t it sound delicious? it doesn’t say what type of vinegar, I guess Ruth would use malt, I might use cider i think!


Yesterday was Michaelmas, the Feast of St Michael the Archangel; it is one of the quarter days of the year which mark the changing seasons, but I’m not sure it is much celebrated or even noted any more. No doubt this autumnal celebration dates back to pre-Christian times, but was grafted on to the Christian calendar. Traditionally it is the 29th September, but in Suffolk it’s the 10th of October, and in Norfolk the 11th of October.

Michaelmas is very near the autumn equinox which is of course, harvest time, and particularly in the Middle Ages and through to Tudor times, was a reason for great celebration. it was also when farmers paid their rents and tithes, when servants were hired or paid off,  and customarily  animals, including and particularly geese were given in part payment. The reason geese were exchanged in this way was that this time of year was when they were fattest, having been put out in the fields after the drops had been gathered. Geese weren’t just given as payment, they were eaten at feasts and this was supposed to bring luck to the household or farm:

He who eats goose on Michaelmas day,
Shan’t money lack or debts pay.

Goose fairs have been held in various places, including Nottingham, since these times

archive_7025_TheLloydGillGallery-1A painting by Frankie partridge of Goose Fair

There are other traditions and superstitions connected to Michaelmas; apparently 29th September is also called ‘devil’s spit day’ – after this day blackberries shouldn’t be picked or eaten as the devil had breathed and peed on them! Charms and amulets to ward off evil were best made at Michaelmas, as St Michael was the warrior archangel, and a protector against evil… This surely must be a superstition left over from pre-Christian times!

Hedgerow jelly

My dad always said we had gypsy blood… but I think that might just have been a family story which had no root in facts as I’ve not been able to find any Romany or traveller connection… except for a lineage of dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned ancestors. My dad was a blond Elsden, his brother and cousin were dark, his father was dark, and his father’s mother was too… so who knows. With many of my dad’s stories there was a grain of truth in them somewhere.

I am fascinated by gypsy culture, and the foraging aspect of their lives; I get great satisfaction from using nettles,wild garlic, sloes and other delicious things I’ve picked myself. I came across a recipe for mixed hedgerow berries… sounds good to me!

  • ½1 lb of hedgerow fruit ( ½ lb of blackberries and then another half pound of whatever you can find, sloes, elderberries, rose hips, haws, rowan, crab apples, mirabelles and other wild members of the plum family such as bullaces, which my mother-in-law used to gather as a child but which I’ve never seen…) if the fruit is very pippy you may need to strain it
  • 1 lb sugar
  • 2 lbs of preserving sugar
  • cinnamon sticks if you like cinnamon (I don’t so I miss it out!
  1. wash the fruit, picking out any that aren’t good, wash and chop up the apples, cutting off any bruises but don’t peel or core them
  2. put the fruit in a pan with just a little water and simmer it until it’s really soft become mostly juice
  3. pour through muslin or a jelly bag if you’ve got one and leave it over a large measuring jug or basin to drain for several hours or overnight – don’t press the fruit through the muslin or squeeze the jelly bag because it will make your jelly cloudy
  4. when it has all strained measure the amount of juice you have
  5. put the juice into a preserving pan and for every pint of juice you have add one pound of sugar and let the sugar dissolve over a very low heat
  6. when it is completely dissolved,bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached
  7. pour into sterilised jars, cover and label – don’t forget to label – I have and it’s disastrous, I gave someone chilli jam instead of marmalade once!

A taste of summer

It’s been cold today… sunny enough to walk through the village without a coat, but the wind was chilly. It has been a lovely summer but it is definitely autumn now, in fact we picked the last blackberries from the hedge by our garden wall. According to tradition, the devil spits on October blackberries, so maybe we should soak them in gin and drink the results when it gets really cold! Or alternatively I could try a new recipe a friend shared and make blackberry vinegar:

We still have a few tomatoes but very soon we’ll have to bring them in, even the green ones and ripen them indoors or make more green tomato chutney. There are also a few beans still on the vines, they too will have to be stripped off and either blanched and frozen, or if they are too old and leathery I’ll retrieve the actual beans and make a casserole.


So into autumn we go, and the only way to recapture summer is through food:

Photo0377Mmm…. the taste of summer!

Hedgerow harvest

We went out looking for sloes yesterday to make sloe gin… we found some sloes but we also found hips and haws and blackberries. I have a fancy to make a sort of Cumberland sauce for Christmas using the haws… I’ll let you know how that works out! I want to try and make a rose-hip syrup, and blackberries, well they scream out “PIE!” From the bottom left, hips, sloes, haws, blackberries.

Curds, butters and cheeses

Most people have heard of lemon curd, and most people love it, that rich soft, sweet and sour spread, lovely on buttered bread or toast, or in jam tarts or in puddings or as cake fillings. The idea of other curds such as orange or gooseberry is also quite well-known, but then some people mention lemon cheese or apple butter and then the quizzical looks appear. I think of fruit curds, butters and cheeses as typically English, but I am sure similar recipes appear all over the world as a delicious way of using up fruit after a summer’s glut.

At the weekend I helped out at a local church’s summer fair and on our stall as well as thwack-the-rat (no real rats were used) we had floating fruit, citrus fruit bobbing about in water on which a coin had to be balanced. The coins that tumbled off went to the church funds, any that balanced won a prize. At the end of the afternoon I had a bag full of oranges, lemons and limes.. and this is when I looked up the recipe for different curds, to use up the fruit.

A fruit curd is a mixture of fresh fruit, eggs, butter and sugar, cooked in a double saucepan, or in a bowl over a pan of water, beaten continually until a lovely thick consistency is achieved. It’s then bottled but only has a short shelf-life so has to be eaten quickly (what a good excuse, let’s make some scones to go with it!) or kept in the fridge, or even put into a freezer container and popped in the freezer. Good fruit for curds are apricots, blackberries and apples, oranges and/or lemons, gooseberries. I’ll have lots of raspberries later in the season so I’m going to try using some of them to make a curd rather than the jam I usually make.

A fruit butters and cheeses are a mixture of fruit pulp, sugar and water; the butter is thick but not completely set, the cheese is thick and can be sliced. Butters can be used like curds, spread on toast for example or bread or scones (get making the scones!) Cheeses can be sliced and served with cream or ice-cream or served with milk puddings, or even with savoury dishes (in a similar way to membrillo, Spanish quince paste – I have quinces in the garden, maybe I should make some quince cheese?!)  Good fruits for butter are cherries (how yummy!) and cider apples (sour apples) and cheeses can be made from blackberries, gooseberries, plums and apples, rhubarb or sloes (the fruit of the blackthorn, related to plums, and which are usually used to make the most delicious sloe gin – I bet they would make the most marvellous fruit cheese!)