Category Archives: foraged foods

Birch sap in a jar

Invigorating, confusing joyous learning

One of my favourite things in life is learning new things. It is when I feel my most alive, when I feel my eyes are widest and the world seems, more amazing somehow. I expect there is a percentage of folks out there to whom things come easily, gifted folks who are “naturals” at certain things. I am not one of them.

Learning is rarely straight forward and most times I find myself excited, confused and exhausted all at the same time. I also fail, a lot. I’m not bragging that I’ve gotten things wrong, I certainly never set out with a mindset of anything other than success, it’s just the way I learn best. Over the last four decades I’ve come to accept that this is how things go. I’ll happily tell you I am bound to make every mistake acquiring a new skill might entail, but so long as I am not repeating those mistakes and getting stuck, then in my mind at least, it’s a win.

With that in mind, so far in 2017 there has been a lot of learning along side some marginal gains. Our first succession sowing of heirloom and heritage beans are off to an amazing start, the tomatoes are tentatively stretching up out of the seedling soils and the sap collection from our Birch is in the final quarter of what might be the shortest season on record! The same unusually high temperatures that are helping the seedlings yawn to life has also put the bushes and trees into overdrive and “bud burst” is just around the corner. I’m guessing we’ll start seeing leaves in 48 to 72hrs. I love this time of year, the rush of life and sense of urgency in the awakening of things. Conversely, it also means our new venture into Birch Syrup is at risk of being cut short this year which will probably mean more trials next year!



2017 Season, First day of spring

Spring and new things

The first day of spring saw us greeting an articulated lorry parked at the base of our drive. We’d not expected it for several more days but were more than happy with it’s early arrival. It was delivering what quite possibly the only Maple Syrup evaporator to ever ship to Norway.

As luck would have it our good friend Darren is visiting us from the UK right now. Along with being my other half’s best friend he’s also an engineer so getting to build a thing neither of them had ever seen in real life was exactly the sort of challenge they enjoyed.  As you might imagine they managed just fine, and even made sure it was easy to disassemble should the need ever arise.

Those of you who are fascinated by trees (like i am) will know of course that the Sugar Maple is not native to Norway and you may also know that the Norwegian Maple does not share the high sugar sap of it’s more famous brethren. We’re actually taping Birch. Birch sap has a sugar content of roughly 1% which is half of that of Sugar Maple. This is the primary reason Maple Syrup is “a thing” whilst Birch is not. More accurately perhaps, it is why Birch was not,  it is now. Say what you will about technology and our advancements, it’s because of these specifically of Reverse Osmosis technology that the harvest of Birch Sap for the making of Syrup is now viable.

Birch Sap itself has been a popular “crop” in colder climates throughout history, Russians and Estonians used it for the making of beer and spirits, North American native peoples would drink it as a spring tonic. I believe that Norwegian Birch Syrup can become a product that chefs and people who throw dinner parties want in their pantry. I have the same hope for Birch Wine, but I’ve less reservations about that since decent wine sells itself. Only time will tell though, and we’ve a steep learning curve ahead of us!

Our production this year is more of a sampling than anything, we’ll be the Norwegian “pioneers” of the product so getting people to try it is a big part of this year’s goal.  No one has produced Birch Syrup or Birch wine commercially here and very few people have even done so for themselves. In a way this is fantastic, a wide open opportunity and people appear to be curious. Fingers crossed!

This season we will harvest Birch Sap from 60 trees in out “home pasture” This should mean approximately 500 litres of sap which we’ll then use for syrup and wine to trial as products. I’ve had Birch Syrup from Kahiltna Birchworks the Alaskan Birch Syrup pioneers and Birch Wine from the lovely folks at Organic Lea and know that making an excellent product is possible, it’s just the learning curve to get there! I’m confident I can make the wine, I’ve a few years of successful wild wine under my belt it’s learning to use the evaporator that may be tricky.  Anyhow, it’s warmed up to +7 so it’s time I go collect the sap!




Experimental forage: Rosehips

Rosehips are the fruiting body of a rose, all roses have them but because many gardeners “dead head” their ornamental rose bushes to keep them in flower, you may not see many in the urban garden. Britians hedgerows and towpaths are full of them however, and one only need take a short walk in the fall to find these ruby red treasures shining brightly among the barren bushes and rustic backdrop of the autumn colours.

Perhaps more than any other wild flower, the humble rose has played an important part in the history of foraged food in the United Kingdom. During the rationing periods of World War II the British public was widely encouraged to “Dig for Victory” growing foods in their gardens and allotments both for those at home and for the men in the trenches. Along side that encouragement came the public health advisement for mothers to look to the public towpaths and hedgerows for the ever abundant Rosehip and it’s valuable source of vitamin C.

You only need to ask the older generation to hear stories of having been given a daily teaspoon of Rosehip syrup by their mothers. This simple, yet often sickly sweet source of vitamins fell by the wayside after the war when more attractive fruits such as oranges were again available to the public. Passed by often in today’s abundance, the humble and beautiful rosehip remains what it always was, a free and potent contributor to the foragers Lauder.

Whilst the syrup may not be your idea of heaven, and requires some preparations, the rosehip is quite versatile. Rosehip and crabapple jelly is now considered an artisan  treat and even easier Rosehips tea, can quickly be made by topping and tailing the fruits and soaking in hot water. You will want to strain the tea, or anything you make with them however to ensure you aren’t ingesting any of the little hairs that surround it’s seeds. The hairs are the key ingredient to the childhood prank “itching powder” and as such can be rather uncomfortable!



Wild wines and liqueurs

For about four years now, I’ve been an avid amateur wine maker. I like wine and I live largely surrounded by a plethora of wild bramble, unmanaged fruit trees and forgotten hedgerows, it was only a short while before I put to put two and two together and begin to make my own.

Largely, my efforts have been a success owing to Jack Keller’s brilliant website. To date I have made, dandelion, blackberry, plum and sloe wines. I’ve also made some cherry vinegar. It was supposed to be wine, but at least it’s nice to clean with or on salad! Last year I had a bumper production of a whopping 25 bottles. One bottle remains of the sloe which was by far my favorite,  and shall make the trip to Norway.

By now, I should be surrounded by the gentle “ploop, ploop” of secondary fermentation from all of my favorites, but this year I can not partake. It is killing me. Instead, I’m making infusions. I like  them too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a pale comparison compared to the sense of achievement I get from making wine.

With infusions, you’re virtually guaranteed a good out come. You’re starting with gin or vodka or maybe even brandy, all of these  are from a shop and as such are more or less drinkable. This is not to take away the magic of making a furniture polish grade hard liquor into a sublime and palatable liqueur like the December favorite, Sloe Gin. In fact, I’d encourage anyone who has never made their own liqueur who wants to turn a forage into something amazing to do it. Sloe Gin is simple and very rewarding! If you can’t find Sloes or if you’re not one hundred percent sure what how to identify them, go for another soft fruit. Blackberries are  abundant in most of the United Kingdom and are easily identifiable. I quite like Blackberry vodka.

All you need to make a soft fruit liqueur is the store bought 40% alcohol, a jar, the fruit and some sugar. Exact measurements are not necessary. The more sugar you  use the faster the liqueur will be ready (within reason) and the sweeter it will be. My personal preference is about 25% of the jar to be sugar, 25% fruit and fill to the top with the alcohol. Shake daily until all sugar is dissolved and let the mix mature for one month. Sloe Gin matures very slowly and takes a minimum of three months, but gets infinitely nicer after a year or longer.

Some people remove the fruit after a week, The longer you leave soft fruit, the more it breaks down, so if you want use it I’d do so while after a week when it is still relatively solid.

Personally I prefer gin for sloes,  vodka for cherries, blackberries and plums.  I prefer plum liqueur to plum wine so if I happen to be lucky and get quite a bit, if I get I also do a brandy.

Be forewarned, making your first infusion liqueur is a very likely stepping stone to making wild wine!




Experimental forage: Hawthorn tincture

For several years I noticed the bright red berries and distinctive leaves of Hawthorn yet knew nothing about it. It’s not that the information about it is particularly hard to find, I was just busy with the abundance of the already known fruits I’d found growing wild.

Hawthorn’s medicinal use is widely documented in many countries. Indisputably one of natures best medicinal plants for cardiovascular issues. Studies have found it successful in treatments ranging from Congestive Heart Failure to Angina and even removing LDL the “bad cholesterol” from the bloodstream.

My introduction came by way of a Eastern European forager who explained to me in limited English and a lot of gestures, that the berry was for his heart. He went though a lengthy description of drying the berries and then crushing them and then finally using his Bialetti coffee maker to produce a tea which his wife and he drank daily. My second discussion of Hawthorn came from two English lady foragers, who simply said “adding it to brandy or gin made an excellent liqueur” Unfortunately for me, they told me so as they were harvesting the last of the berries in late October time.

IMG_20150918_165038Having high hopes for Hawthorn this year, I made it my business to forage for them early. I’ve made a tincture with 70cl of dry gin, two pints of berries and 6 tablespoons of sugar which will apparently take 12 to 24 months to fully mature. It looks stunning in the jar which is good, because unlike other fruits which only need to be in the alcohol for a week or so, Hawthorn soaks for a month or longer.

In researching I noticed that leaves are also used when making tea so I’ve included a good handful in my experiment.  I didn’t top and tail the berries, so I will have to strain sediment, but I’m ok with that!

Most of the Hawthorn I’ve encountered has been canal side lining the towpaths, but on this particular forage, I found it as the main cultivar of a well trimmed up hedge bordering a public common. It was an exciting discovery. Only this week I had been contemplating what my possible options for windbreak hedges might be for the smallholding. Unlike many other foraged herbs and medicines there seems a nearly universal acceptance  of Hawthorn’s effectiveness. I have to say, I am looking forward to taking this medicine.


Experimental forage: Rowan jelly

Experimental foraging isn’t a new thing for me, I was seduced long ago by the tales of my late great Canadian childhood hero, Farley Mowat. Those early days saw me pulling roots to munch from the marshlands and popping windfall nuts casually into my mouth whilst tromping through the woods with my parents. It never occurred to me then that I might just get it wrong. Today, I am a little wiser and a little more cautious but always searching and researching for those wild edibles that make me feel just a little bit more in tune with nature.

Growing up in the northern hemisphere, the Rowan tree, (or Mountain Ash) and I needed no introduction. It was a common yard tree in nearly every neighborhood I’d ever lived in. Finding it in the backstreets of east London’s Bethnal Green, lining the roads in front of council estates was just a reminder that I’d never explored what it’s bright red orange cluster of berries was used for.

It didn’t take long for me to find that this vibrant tree has a long history of uses from jelly and jam to wine. I have a passion for making wine, and this use excited me more than the others. I’ll use the recipe with my regular modifications to exclude any chemicals, but not this year. My impending move and Norway’s insistence on not allowing more that 3 bottles of alcohol in with a person per visit, places this firmly in the “to do” list.

I settled for making syrup or jelly. I am not a big fan of sweet jelly or jam, and as a rule I don’t make things I will not eat, but a savory jelly that apparently is nice with strong cheese or rich roasted lamb? That is something I can certainly try.

My overall quest is to know if Rowan will make a nice wine, but since I may not have three months to ferment, this will have to do. Rowan is often dismissed as poisonous but it has a long history of being used throughout the northern hemisphere the Welsh, English and Norwegian people all knew the secrets of how to use her berries.

It took me two attempts to make something palatable. Rowan is quite astringent and as I was using tiny quantities it was difficult to reliably determine from various recipes what amounts I might like best. Below is what I consider a moderate success, but one with enough promise that I am keen to harvest again next year for wine.

250ml of Savory Rowan Jelly:

2 cups rowan berry
5 heaping tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice  + white rind to help set it
1 inch cinnamon stick
10 peppercorn whole
4 crushed
Cover lemon, cinnamon and rowan with just enough water to cover and  boil for 20 mins
Remove cinnamon and large pieces of white rind
Mash berries and let cool in pan
Strained / hung for 2hrs, over clean pan. Do not squeeze.
Add sugar to the juice and place back pan to boil.  Add crushed peppercorns
Boiled til setting
Jar, cap and let cool.


“The land will provide a rich and diverse range for your plate, if only you know where to look”.  A thought that has stayed with me since childhood and a theory that continues to prove itself the more my knowledge increases.