snowed under…

There is a lot of snow. Several inches over the week or two before Christmas, and a couple of massive falls in the past four days. 30cm last night. Temperatures: -11.2 the lowest so far recorded in the garden, -8.5 today. It went up to -4.2 and felt quite warm. Small birds are suffering. I have been feeding them; especially on apples. There are still two crates of random apples in the back porch and birds and possibly small mammals have helped themselves. The apples have frozen and thawed a few times, but seem still usable. Blackbirds love them, and I have had two fieldfares coming to the bird table every day, beautiful, fluffed up creatures looking for fruit and seeds. Sparkly speckly starlings come, too and a wood pigeon joins the collared doves who are resident. James over the road has had a spotted woodpecker.

There is no foraging to be done but we reap the rewards of a year spent squirreling away wild foods. At Christmas we broached the cider – it is sparkling, and not at all bad, but think will be even better in a couple more weeks. Got freshly pressed apple juice out of the freezer, too, and had plenty of rowan jelly for the turkey (yes, succumbed to a turkey even though we have home raised cockerels in the freezer), chutney for the sausage rolls, blaeberries and raspberries for the trifle and more home made wine and sloe gin that we can decently drink. Roasted hazelnuts from the copse, and a late jarring of rose hip syrup to keep up the vitamin C levels. Log foraging has sort of paid off – plenty of fuel for the stove but would be a darned sight more useful had Someone agreed with my desire to build a new log store out the back – wet logs in plastic fertiliser bags that fill with snow are limited in value.

My nursery is covered in snow. I cannot do anything about it and probably will lose a lot of plants in the extreme cold. I am going through the seed catalogues half-heartedly but not counting on an early start to production!

Blaeberry Harvest

We’ve been entertained since last weekend by a huge caterpillar on the willow herb outside the kitchen window – an elephant hawk-moth. S/he is still there, on the second full stem which is being systematically stripped of leaves, but is getting fatter and slower. The cat is scared of it.

We also had visitors, Tim and Gill and their daughters Lucy and Alice, and as is customary they were pressganged into picking blaeberries (bilberries). This absorbing task yielded enough of these tasty and nutritious fruits for jam, cakes, puddings, breakfasts and the freezer…. and there’s plenty more if we are back in the right habitat, which is acid woodland. Lucy was quite revolting with her blaeberries – squashed them to a mush in their plastic bag, bit off the corner of the bag and sucked the pulp out. Ugh! Fruit Smoothies the rustic way I suppose. Tim and Andrew were sidetracked by some nice big chanterelles, and Tim and I collected honey fungus on the way back – a big show of these and more to come. They were delicious in omelettes. There are a few other mushrooms about just now – several of the Russual genus are showing their faces, but not enough to get a selection of edible species, and in the Millenium Wood Tawny Grisettes (much chewed by slugs) mix with The Blusher (Amanita rubscens). We don’t eat the Blusher. It’s said to be edible, but a. it looks a bit like the poisonous Panther Cap which is also about just now and it wouldn’t take much of a deviant Panther Cap to get mistaken and b. so many creepy crawlies have already eaten it by the time we get there anyway.

Hazelnuts are swelling and becoming obvious in our local copse.

Wickedly Wild Strawberries

With so much fresh food coming out of the vegetable and fruit garden just now, there’s hardly time, let alone need, to forage for anything wild. It’s been hot and dry, so I’m not expecting much in the way of more fungi, but this week we’ve had a couple of downpours, so I must go and check out the woods soon.

I don’t have to wander far for one wild food mainstay, the wild strawberry, which starts in June and continues right through to the autumn. Andrew had one plant – one! – in his latest abortive attempt at a rock garden by the front door and from there it has smothered the alpines, flowed freely along the cracks in the paving, inserted itself at the base of the wall and marched off down the path towards the gate.

(I digress, but, much as we love alpine plants and admire them,  people like us shouldn’t be allowed to own them. Any plant so lacking in thuggish attributes doesn’t stand a prayer in our garden, given our predilection for rampant weeds like variegated ground elder and croppable monsters like Burdock and Bistort. And after all, there are some excellent botanic gardens and plant collections around here where we can visit happy alpines that are cared for as they deserve.)

So the wild strawberries hold sway, and we share them with a number of birds, for there are enough for us all. (Although I have to say the sheer greed of our resident blackbird is awe-inspiring. He pigs so many of our raspberries and blackcurrants sometimes he is seriously challenged when it comes to flying off and just squats still all day in a feathery-bothered heap under the bushes.)  I sprinkle them liberally over my breakfast cereal, make wild strawberry smoothies, muffins and any number of desserts. Gathering enough for a decent batch of jam or wine would be possible, but so far I haven’t had the patience! The fruits are small, but packed with flavour. We’re also gathering wild bilberries, or blaeberries, now – these are incomparable, messy and tasy, and make excellent jam. Maybe I’ll try a mix of the two.

I gathered the last of the elderflowers today and made another batch of cordial. Maybe it’s the recession making me act like there’s rationing and making me horde food, but, well, we gave one bottle of cordial away and there are only two more in the freezer…. Three weeks till the elderflower champagne is ready – I’m looking forward to that!