Friday, 9 September 2011

At the start of autumn



The wispy fruits of old man’s beard, a wild clematis.
    This used to grow all over the chalky soils of Kent’s North Downs where I lived as a child, but is not so common in Devon. Another name for it is travellers’ joy, perhaps because the young leaves used to be made into a poultice for tired feet and lotion for saddle sores.
    Most of the plant is poisonous (except the leaves, I think).




Blackberries, yum, at their best now before the flies find them or they start to rot (although with the recent rain they're already going soggy). To me, their taste is the essence of autumn, but at the moment I have to remember to keep my right hand for dog-treats and dog-lick and my left hand for me and the blackberries.




Hips, the fruit of the wild rose.
    According to Richard Mabey in Food for Free, rosehips contain twenty times more vitamin C than oranges. They were gathered in the War, when there was little imported fruit, to make syrup. This was then available from welfare clinics for mothers and children, as well as for sale. I remember it from my childhood in the 1950s, still being distributed for children along with the dreaded (disgusting) cod liver oil, spoonsful of which we were fed regularly.
    If you have a lot of time (for all the straining), you can make jelly with rosehips, combining them with either apples or haws.





Haws, the fruit of the hawthorn tree.
    These and other wild fruit and nuts help to feed birds during the winter, so never cut hedges at this time of year (although, sadly, many farmers do). The best time to cut hedges is in January or February after the fruit has gone but before the trees and bushes start to sprout and the birds to nest.




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