Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The Little Green Ride goes foraging

Autumn is the season for all the senses. You may feel the warmth of the sun in the summer, smell the blossom in the spring and hear the soft silence of the falling snow in the winter but in the autumn all your senses are accosted as we found out on the Little Green Ride a couple of weeks ago.

Above all there are the autumn colours, such a spectrum along the hedgerows and in the woodlands across the fields that, in the words of our group, the ride should be renamed the little multi-coloured ride.  Then there is the scent of the smoke from bonfires and fireplaces drifting across our path as we cycle by; or what about the smell of the newly turned earth in the fields? And for sound there is the autumn wind rattling at the branches and tugging at the leaves sending them circling to the ground and dancing along the road ahead of us. There is even a sense of touch when we felt the welcome warmth of the Church Farm Cafe (my favourite haunt these days) to interrupt the autumn chill. Finally, autumn is the season of taste as the hedgerows overflow with blackberries, elderberries, sloeberries and many more.

There was only a handful of hardy souls on the Little Green Ride this month. A few new faces but some very old ones as well who it was great to catch up with. It was also good to find ourselves bumping into the Central London CTC 3* riders at lunchtime. They were just about to leave as we arrived, planning to take advantage of a tailwind to cycle back to London.Our post-prandial ride would be much more leisurely.

I had been on the lookout all day for sloeberries. They are a secretive berry hidden away behind the leaves and thorns of the blackthorn bush. They do not hang in great clusters above your head as the elderberry does, nor do they share the bright colours of the rose hip or the shine of the blackberry. Instead they are a deep purple and often dusty so hard to glimpse. I had been hunting them on various rides for the last few weeks and thought I had missed out. Perhaps the wet and warm summer had brought them on early and the birds had already feasted on them? But a little after lunch, after scanning the hedgerows all day, I slowed to a gradual halt as I passed some likely bushes to discover a trove of sloeberries which we soon began to forage.

There isn't really much you can do with sloeberries. They have a very bitter taste, slightly softened if picked later in the season. I have seen recipes for sauces to replace the cranberry sauce on Christmas Day. But of course the main recipe that calls for sloeberries is sloe gin.

Contrary to some views the sloeberries don't actually make the gin; you buy that from the shop (no need for anything too expensive, though) and add the berries and sugar to create a deep crimson and sweet liquour. Sloe gin is not very difficult to make. My favourite recipe begins with the instructions to drink half a bottle of gin! You can of course, decant it. Then all you need to do is add the berries (pricked before hand) to bring the gin back up to near the neck of the bottle and then add sugar. Leave for a day and then turn it each day. It should really be left for a couple of months before the berries are filtered out. The best way of serving it, I find, is with sparkling white wine.


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