Autumn is one of our favourite seasons at Vale House. In years gone by, it would have been a time of preparation for the cold hard winter ahead, so many of the traditional country skills we teach are particularly appropriate to this time of year – from butchery to preserving. There’s something wonderfully cosy and comforting about preparing delicious goodies to keep you going when the weather gets cold and grim.
This is also a fantastic time of year for foraging – the hedgerows are overflowing with a positive banquet of fresh ingredients. Of course, we’ve all picked a blackberry or two, but not everyone knows how much else there is to be found in the countryside at this time of year – which is why our foraging courses are so popular. As well as blackberries, there’s a feast of other berries to pick: sloes, to infuse gin for a wonderful winter warmer, damsons for jam (great for infusing vodka too), and rowan berries, for jelly (delicious with game) and wine. There are also haws, the fruit of the hawthorn tree (not technically berries, although they do look like them) which make a great ketchup, and rose hips, which can be turned into a lovely rose syrup, although it’s best to pick these a little later, after the first frost.
Of course, it’s not just about the berries – there’s plenty of delicious greenery to be gathered as well. Peppery sorrel and pea-like vetch shoots are both delicious for spicing up your salad, and are easy to find in grassy banks and verges. There’s also a huge range of lovely recipes to make with every gardener’s nemesis, the common nettle. Nettles might be vicious blighters, but they’re incredibly versatile, and can be used in everything from soup to bread. They’re also rather delicious and very good for you too!
One very important thing to remember when you go foraging is that proper identification is key, because mistakes can make you very ill. That’s why we always recommend working with an expert – Adrian Boots, who leads our foraging courses, is a trained landscape ecologist and has been teaching foraging for well over ten years. Our next course is on the 27th of October and we still have a few spaces left, so why not click here for more information and book yourself a place?