COLUMN: This time of the year can really bear fruit

Sample some fruits of the season
Sample some fruits of the season

RSPB Frampton Marsh’s Dr Chris Andrews on the fruity treats offered up by nature at this time of year...

Did you have a nice summer? We certainly did at RSPB Frampton Marsh.

Our kids activities were well attended with lots of local children all having a fun time learning about wildlife. And the Big Birthday Bash pulled in the crowds to celebrate 30 years of the reserve.

But now summer has passed and we are into autumn. A time of mists and mellow fruitfulness, to quote the poet Keats. Not the fruits down the fresh produce aisle at the supermarket either. If you look, there are lots to be found out there in the countryside.

I’m sure, like me, you have gone brambling. Staining faces and clothing with splashes of starling colour as the plump black berries squish under over-eager fingers. One of the delights of seasonal food is the tang of a really good blackberry and apple crumble. Or, our family favourite, straining the cooked fruit mixture through a sieve to get rid of the pips, then floating a dollop of ice cream on top of the resulting red puree. Red Sea icebergs we used to call them. But don’t just keep to the old favourites, there are other fruits out there too.

As I sit here in the office, outside the window I can see large dark bunches of elderberries. Not grown commercially, picking them wild is the only option. Like blackberries, they can add a burst of flavour when mixed with other fruits in pies and crumbles. They also make a rather nice wine...

Keeping on the alcoholic theme, the fruits of the blackthorn are another natural delight. Called sloes, they are really not something to be eaten raw. Very tart and bitter. It always makes a great addition to any guided walk to tell people this, then five minutes later spot from the scrunched up faces who didn’t believe it! But whilst they maybe aren’t so good for a hedgerow snack, when added with sugar to gin for a suitable length of time, they do add lovely colour and flavour. Even better, the suitable length of time is such that it is usually ready just in time for Christmas!

Maybe all that is a bit too hedonistic and you’d rather have something that does you good? Well, the humble rosehip is ideal. When gathered in, the hips can be chopped, boiled with water to extract the juice then mixed with sugar and reduced to make a syrup. This not only tastes nice, but is full of vitamin C. One teaspoon has more than a whole lemon in fact. It used to be a popular cold remedy.

So why not get looking for what free food you can find this coming month? As well as the fruits mentioned there is plenty else to be discovered. Not least the edible fungi that sprout everywhere. One word of caution though. It is best to have a guide (either person or book) to tell you what is what. And apply the “If you aren’t sure, leave it” rule of picking. Else the tasty treat might turn out to be something that makes you rather ill...