Your challenge this week: to turn a forage into a feast, from hedgerow to jar. This challenge will give your children an insight into how a day out picking blackberries can, in a few short hours provide us something tasty to put on a crumpet!
This challenge encourages the following values:
Courage, Responsibility, Gratitude, Generosity, Resourcefulness, Optimism, Patience, Commitment.
What you need to complete your challenge this week:
- Decide what you want to forage. If you haven’t done it before, choose something safe and simple like we did, go blackberry picking.
- Find a good, unpolluted, and legal, foraging spot and be 100% sure you know what you are picking.
- Fill as many containers as you can trying not to eat your haul before you get home!
- Make something to eat together from your plentiful pickings. (Pop some jam sugar with added pectin on your shopping list – you’ll find it with all the other sugars in the supermarket)
Food for thought for the grown-ups:
Before I launch into a great spiel about why foraging is such a beneficial (and tasty) learning experience for all ages, the wonderful people at The Woodland Trust have put together an invaluable guide to foraging. Please do read this before you set out. There are regulations, laws and general safety guidelines that should be followed if you are going to take the intrepid step into the British countryside and forage for the first time with your family.
So what exactly is foraging? Well for the many who don’t often step out into our plentiful countryside, foraging is the identification, picking, and eating of plants that grow wild in nature. People have been eating and surviving on the plants growing in their natural environment since the beginning of time, but to ease you in gently I suggest you concentrate on an old favourite, blackberries. For those more accustomed to foraging, here in the UK, we’re lucky to have a huge number of forageable foods available over the course of the year. For the brave and knowledgeable among you try foraging for wild garlic, seaweed, nettles, berries and nuts but please do adhere to advice and don’t eat anything you aren’t sure about.
“Never consume a wild plant or fungus unless you are absolutely certain of its identification. It could be rare and protected, inedible or even deadly poisonous.”
The Woodland Trust
If you were to ask my mum or sister about foraging they’d be bending your ear about what a good hedgerow can provide to enhance your vodka or gin! Believe me, it’s worth venturing down that road but I am keeping it family friendly in this post and concentrating on these beautiful little black fruits for now. Blackberries are in an abundance down here in the South East right now making them a perfect picking, no worries about depleting the source for the wildlife. It’s an annual tradition for me and the boys to go blackberry picking and despite still eating way more than they pick they are enthusiastic pickers. This year, however, I wanted to introduce them to what we could make at home from their pickings. I wanted to teach them that beyond a free snack the blackberries could be turned, very simply, into something similar, but obviously better, to what we buy in the supermarket – jam.
Other than these obvious tasty benefits, why should we turn our hand to this foraging game?
- Foraging gets you outside and the great outdoors is free therapy for everyone, the science geeks studying what it takes for us to be happier can’t rate a good walk highly enough.
- Eating straight from the hedgerow forces you to explore and venture out of your usual eating boundaries, it excites the taste buds and heightens your senses. It is out of sensations like this that we find happiness and a sense of well-being, even just for a moment.
- Foraging is an education, a survival skill even and we should all look to learn something new every day.
- A simple foraging manual or even an identification app on your phone could make a walk that little more interesting if you just dare to venture into a park or wild space.
- It may seem like a tiny thing but it reduces your carbon footprint, maybe even your food budget if you get hooked and good at it.
- Foraging is a very ‘in the moment’ exercise, it forces you to stop and look at nature and appreciate its value.
These benefits really are just the tip of the iceberg and I haven’t even brought the children into the equation yet.
And for the children:
I can hear you now, children + foraging = potential for disaster but please don’t be put off, foraging with children is a wonderful experience and provided you heed some obvious rules (as set out in the guide link provided earlier) you, and they, will love it, I promise. So, in contrast with why foraging is beneficial to us, why is it good to involve our children? First and foremost, and as with most of my challenges, they get to spend time with you. You are strengthening that parent child bond whilst helping them to build a unique connection between themselves and their environment, experiencing the seasons first hand and understanding them better. It’s empowering learning how to safely identify and be able to provide sustenance for yourself using only the wild plants around you. Even better than that, edible wild food tastes new and amazing and is very nutritious. Given the choice I think children love to be outside, exploring, pushing their boundaries in terms of wading deeper, climbing higher and being allowed to use their ‘outside voice’ unheeded. Spending time outdoors with your children, giving them the tools to learn something new and exciting like foraging is time very well spent. Enable them, guide them every step of the way, ask them if they are 100% sure about what they are picking, talk to them about sensible picking spots and potential pollution, observe the environment, is it safe? is there plenty for others to pick and enough left for the animals to eat? Then ask them, what else could we do with this fruit besides stuffing our bellies here and now? My children and I did this last week, we picked blackberries, fought off the mosquitoes with our best kungfu moves and treated nettle stings with dock leaves, (because mummy came ill prepared – oops!), before getting back in the car to discuss what to do with our boxes of blackberries.
Lots of ideas came out, in a bowl with ice cream, make a jelly, a pie, in a bowl with ice cream, make jam, a tart, in a bowl with ice cream (have I mentioned my children like ice cream!). Anyway, we agreed that we’d make jam and do a taste test with the supermarket jar in the fridge. Within 3 hours of being home, we had a jar of bramble jam cooling on the windowsill. Now normally I’d keep the boys very much involved in the cooking process but the potential risk of a hot sugar accident made me think twice, so I tackled this one solo (see recipe at the bottom). Not to leave the children out and with the intention of involving them we filled a small sweet shortcrust pastry case with sweetened creme fraiche and I let the boys decorate the top with the leftovers – pudding sorted using our foraged fruit! When the jam was cool and set we did our taste test… our own jam won of course because apparently “eating what you’ve picked always tastes better!”. Couldn’t have put it better myself – job done!
So go for it, go forth and forage! Pack some mosquito spray or some bite/sting relief cream, some suntan lotion, a large box or two to collect your fruit in, some water, a phone with a good charge in case you get lost or want to research anything whilst you’re out. Then get creative back at home and make something amazing with your foraged fruit. Let me know how you get on and remember to be safe. Don’t eat anything unless you are 100% sure you know what it is.
Here’s my Bramble jam recipe (without bits!)
1lb of blackberries, foraged, washed and drained
1lb of jam sugar (or granulated sugar but I don’t know if it will behave the same as the jam sugar)
a good slug of lemon juice
NOTE: This recipe involves heating sugar to boiling – it’s hot – please please be careful!!!!
Directions: Put the blackberries and 170ml water into a heavy bottomed saucepan and simmer them slowly for half an hour. Mash them up well and add the sugar and the good slug of lemon juice, leave on a low heat stirring regularly for 15 – 20 minutes until the sugar has COMPLETELY dissolved. Put a plate in the freezer (seriously, do this). Once the sugar is DEFINITELY dissolved turn the heat up and boil rapidly for about 8 – 9 minutes stirring now and then to prevent sticking, then switch the heat off. Get your frozen plate out of the freezer and drop a teaspoon of your jam on the plate and return it to the freezer for 5 minutes. Take the plate out again and run your finger through the small blob of jam, if it wrinkles it’s ready for the next step, if not boil the jam in the pan again for a minute or two longer and repeat the chill test… When ready sieve the jam to lose the seeds, pour it into a sterilised jar and leave to cool somewhere, it’ll set whilst it’s cooling. If it doesn’t turn out perfect who cares, it’ll still taste amazing!
If all else fails…
Maybe you aren’t so confident about going out into the countryside and picking and eating straight from nature but don’t panic, there are lots of books out there on the subject to guide you safely in the art of foraging. It’s much easier than it may seem at first so build your confidence slowly by investing in a guide of some sort and doing some research first.