Autumn is a favourite time of year for foragers because when there's a chill in the air, the most robust, flavoursome and interesting of Mother Nature's goodies are in their prime. Andy Hamilton is a food forager extraordinaire, imparting his knowledge to viewers of BBC's Autumnwatch and via his website selfsufficientish.com, which he writes with his twin brother, Dave. For this story, Andy gave us some foraging tips and ideas about what to do with your haul. We also spoke to Hampshire-based mushroom queen, Mrs Tee, of Mrs Tee's Mushrooms, who provides fungi to some of the best restaurants in the country.
Fungi forager Mrs Tee of Mrs Tee's Mushrooms.
Above ground, the horseradish plant is similar in appearance to the dock plant - in fact they're often confused because their long, green, spear-shaped, ribbed leaves look so alike. Remember that the horseradish plant produces small white flowers and if you scrunch the leaves you'll get a strong whiff of horseradish - this should help you tell them apart. Horseradish plants are sometimes found on banks, in hedgerows and on ditch edges, but if you find them growing on private land, make sure you seek permission from the landowner before you start digging them up. Andy Hamilton agrees: "Digging up roots is illegal without the landowner's permission but once you have obtained it you can get cracking. Dig up the root and don't worry too much if it breaks as the plant will grow again from any leftover root. Horseradish sauce is the typical thing to make, but horseradish vodka is a far better use of your labour."
On Bing: Horseradish recipes
November is the perfect month in which to forage for sloes because it gives ample time for brewing sloe gin for Christmas. The sloe berry looks like a small damson - dark blue-purple skin with a dusty, frosted look to it. Raw, they're incredibly tart but if you make them into a jelly or jam, they're rather delicious. As with many autumn berries, sloes are sweeter after the first frost. If you can't wait that long, gather them and put them in the freezer overnight, it'll have the same effect. Be warned - the blackthorn bushes which bear the sloes have formidable thorns, so make sure you wear heavy-duty gloves and sleeves.
On Bing: Sloe recipes
Andy Hamilton takes a break with some rose hip wine.
Did you know that during WWII, children were sent out to forage for rose hips because of their high vitamin C content? Citrus fruits were in short supply and these little buds have about 1,000 times more vitamin C in them than oranges and lemons. The reason they've fallen out of favour is that they're a little tricky to process and they grow on thorny bushes so picking them can be treacherous. Once washed and cut in half, you also have to remove all the small seeds inside as well as the hairy pith. On the plus side, once the work is done, you're left with something nutritious and delicious that can be made into a syrup, jam or cordial. Andy Hamilton suggests: "Rose hips can be picked straight and gently sucked for a hit of vitamin C and flavour. If you make a bottle of rose hip wine, be sure to leave it for at least two years to improve the flavour."
On Bing: Rose hip recipes
If you're lucky enough to find some before Squirrel Nutkin pinches them all, then you're in for an autumnal treat. Do not confuse sweet chestnuts with the humble horse chestnut because you'll probably end up with an upset stomach or worse. The best way to tell them apart is by looking at the shape of the spikes on their casing - sweet chestnuts have long, thin porcupine-like spikes that stick out in all directions while the horse chestnut has short, bumpy spikes on a smooth, green surface. Always be 100% certain that you know which you have before you eat them! Leave them in a cool, dry place for a couple of days before you need them as this will allow the starch to convert to sugar, giving you a sweeter nut.
On Bing: Sweet chestnut recipes
Quinces resemble small apples or pears in shape. Quince trees are quite robust and are often seen growing in front gardens or even at the side of roads, though for safety reasons we wouldn't advise you to forage for them on a busy roadside. When ripe, quinces are a beautiful golden yellow colour and have a strong aroma, but their hard, dry texture means that they can't be eaten raw. When cooked, they take on a beautiful bluish-pink hue and a sweet, perfumed taste. They're often turned into a membrillo to be eaten with cheese and they also make delicious and wonderfully tangy jams and jellies. A peeled, sliced and poached quince added to an apple pie or crumble will turn it into something amazing.
On Bing: Quince recipes
Hen of the woods mushrooms growing on a tree trunk.
Autumn means truffle season to fungi enthusiasts but unless you're very lucky or you know someone in the know, then you're unlikely to stumble across them in the UK because they're so highly sought after. But don't despair because you can still forage for delicious wild mushrooms. Mrs Tee says; "At this time of the year you should be foraging for brown chanterelles, pied du mouton, red ceps and bay boletes. However, because of the unusual weather we've been having we are also seeing some early varieties still growing such as the cauliflower mushroom, which can be found at the bottom of pine trees, and also hen of the woods.
On Bing: Wild mushroom recipes
Andy Hamilton's new book Booze For Free (Beetroot Books) is out now, priced at £9.99.
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I know someone's already said this, but seriously, don't go near wild mushrooms. It's a very risky business and not worth the risk
my brother goes on PROPER mushroom foraging walks with an expert who can show people what to pick. Otherwise NEVER pick them .
So far this autumn, I have made lots of damson jam foraged from wild damsons , and blackberry coulis from wild blackberries, apple cake and crumbles from wild apples .
Rhubarb and raspberries from my garden have been turned into jams, crumbles and sauces .
They do go down very well when people visit and you can serve up some home-made scones and your own jams or home made puds ; and cheap too .
The impact of 60 million people attacking the forests and hedgerows has not been considered here.
Natures bounty in the countryside would soon be depleted due to over-grazing.
Be careful out there!
Lewis , ty . I have never made crab apple jam but i shall certainly give it a try.
Apart from being out in the lovely open air here in Cheshire when foraging , the food actually tastes better when it s been picked locally and cooked soon after picking .
damson gin ...........now there s a thought .It must double fermented ????? hic .....
Elderflower cordial made with freshly picked elderflowers is gorgeous.
I 'll find one ty . I usually use wild rosemary on lamb but elderberries sound good . You are obviously a foodie .
Ty for your help. I love trying out new recipes.