SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
At this time of year Keats’ poem always makes me want to search the hedgerows for nature’s bounty – free food. Although I live in a modern city I still have easy access to countryside, and so I wandered the lanes with a basket over my arm, a long walking stick in hand. Just two minutes away from home I came upon a small avenue of Blackthorn, branches laden with Sloes. The thorns are vicious so I harvested with care; the walking stick was useful for bringing high branches closer to hand. Back at home, I washed and dried the berries, slit their skins and put them in a wide-mouthed glass jar together with some sugar and a bottle of gin. Sealed with a tight lid, shaken every day for three weeks then stored in a cool dark place for three months, this will yield a delicious liqueur to be enjoyed with friends in the festive season.
A further foray yielded Elderberries. A basketful of these beauties was washed and stripped from the stalks then made into ruby red jelly with the addition of water, sugar, and lemon juice. Not only delicious on toast, scones, ice cream and muesli, it can be taken in hot water as a soothing cough syrup. Wine is also made from Elderberries but that is not something that I have ever attempted.
My next walk brought Crab Apples, gorgeous red and yellow fruits that gave me a jelly to be eaten with meats. So I have a store cupboard full of things from nature, which will remind me of summer.