Wildlife & Nature to See in September : Harvest

Wildlife to See in September : Harvest

The summer may have been a complete wash out but as we enter September the trees, bushes and hedgerows are laden with a ripening bounty.

Before long the evenings will be dark, so make the most of the light evenings and go foraging after work or school.

© Laurie Campbell: Blackberry - one of Autumn's fruits.

© Laurie Campbell: Blackberry – one of Autumn’s fruits.

Not only will your trips reward you with delicious foods which can be eaten raw or made into delicious puddings (see recipes below) but you will no doubt be rewarded by the sight of many birds who are making the most of the fruit before they head on long migrations south for the winter. Blackcaps and whitethroats adore blackberries and it will only be a matter of weeks before these birds leave our country for the winter so see if you can spot any before they go. If you are lucky you may also catch mammals preparing for hibernation by eating their way through as many nuts and berries as possible or perhaps even storing nuts like squirrels do.

It is an unfortunate fact that our knowledge of natural history has been disappearing over the last few years. Although there are measures being taken by various organisations to reintroduce natural history to schools and youth groups many parents are lack the knowledge to share with their children. This is not only sad as many have missed out on the joys of exploring and experiencing the wild but it can also be dangerous. Without the knowledge of what is harmless and what is toxic parents are nervous (and rightly so) about allowing children to gather nature’s harvest.

Picking berries, nuts and mushrooms can be an activity for the whole family to enjoy as can cooking and eating them once you get home (that is if any manage to make the journey home as I find most are eaten long before they get to the kitchen!). However it is an unfortunate fact that our knowledge of natural history has been disappearing over the last few years. Although there are measures being taken by various organisations to reintroduce natural history to schools and youth groups, many parents lack the knowledge to share with their children. The fact that so many people have missed out on the joys of exploring and experiencing the wild is not just sad but it can also be dangerous. Without the knowledge of what is harmless and what is toxic parents are nervous (and rightly so) about allowing children to gather nature’s harvest. Wild Food UK is a good resource here.

If you don’t feel confident about foraging why not see what is happening in an area near you.  These should help you find lots of ‘forays’ where you can learn from experts how to identify safe wild foods. It is important that you must teach children to never eat anything without asking an adult if it is safe first. If you are unable to identify it with 100% certainty DO NOT eat it. It is not worth the risk.

If you are lucky enough to have fruit trees in your garden then it is likely they will be ripening about now. Our little apple tree has done a good job but the plum tree is bare. If you don’t have fruit trees of your own don’t steal the fruit from other gardens. Many people with fruit trees in gardens or allotments are happy to give you some fruit and some allotments sell produce for a fraction of the cost of supermarkets. It’s well worth the bother of asking and they may even let you pick the fruit yourself.
Brambles can be found everywhere from disused waste land to nature reserves, along canal tow paths, along rivers and in woods. It’s best not to pick blackberries that grow too close to roads or other areas where there is a lot of pollution as they will have an accumulation of toxins.

Before picking any berries, nuts or mushrooms please check carefully that they are safe.

Once you’ve collected some fruit why not try the following recipes. They are great with custard, cream or ice-cream.

Apple and Blackberry Crumble
500g / 1lb mixture of apples and blackberries (make sure the blackberries have been washed well)
75g/ 3 oz sugar
100g / 4 oz flour
50 g/ 2 oz margarine
50g / 2 ox sugar for the fruit (amount of sugar needed depends on sweetness of fruit)

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 5 or 190C and make sure the shelf is just above the middle.
In a mixing bowl rub the flour into the margarine until it forms breadcrumbs.
Stir in the 75g/ 3 oz sugar.
Peel, core and slice apples and place with the blackberries into an oven proof dish.
Sprinkle with sugar, the amount needed will depend on how sweet the fruit is. I tend to use sweet apples and then do not add any sugar but this is down to personal taste.
Cover the fruit with the crumble mixture.
Bake for 30-40 minutes (this depends on whether you use a shallow or a deep dish). The crumble is ready when the apples are soft (test with knife) and the crumble is golden brown.

Apple and Blackberry Sponge

500g / 1lb mixture of apples and blackberries
100g / 4oz Self Raising Flour
100g/ 4 oz margarine
100g / 4oz of caster sugar
2 medium eggs

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 or 180 C with the shelf in the centre.
Cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs one at a time adding a little four with each.
Gently fold in the remaining flour.
Peel, core and slice the apples
Place the sliced apples and the blackberries into the bottom of an oven proof dish.
Lightly grease the exposed sides of the dish.
Pour the cake mixture on top of the fruit.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on depth of dish.
Pudding is cooked once the sponge mixture is lightly golden and when the top rebounds when touched.

Experiment

I am a great believer in experimenting when cooking. The quantities of fruit are given as a guideline. I often use more but then I also often double the quantity of crumble topping I make as well just to make sure there is plenty!

Be brave and try different types of fruit. Crumbles are great for using up any fruit that is becoming over ripe. It was only a few days ago I made a fruit crumble with apples that were just turning wrinkly, plums, a couple of pears that had been hanging around for a while, some nectarines and peaches all mixed in together. It was lovely and it saved the fruit from being wasted. I have to say that peeling very ripe plums was a tricky experience but I was unable to leave the skins on as Jack (aged 2) has a habit of choking on fruit skins.