Many people have memories of going foraging as a child, approaching a bramble patch loaded with glinting purple jewels and pulling them from their spiky stems to drop into a tupperware box or recycled ice cream tub. The purple stained fingers and tell tale purple tongue betraying a few sneaked berries that didn’t make it into the box. There’s little more satisfying than hunting for free food and enjoying making a few jars of preserves or a delicious autumnal pudding with the fruits of a day’s labour collecting a bounty and trekking home with it.
Although blackberries are the obvious choice when seeking out a tasty free fruit, foraging for berries can provide so much more than the staple hedgerow offering we’re all so familiar with. From jams to jellies, puddings to eaten fresh with yoghurt, or frozen for use through the season or making ice cream, there are so many different options for creating delicious homemade fare with food from the wild. Below are some other berries and fruits to look out for when foraging to give you new, exciting ideas for homemade treats and extending the foraging expedition beyond the traditional blackberry.
Bilberries are often found in similar places to blackberries. They tend to prefer sunny spots and grow closer to the ground, and are a wild variety of blueberry, being ideal for pies or small batches of jam. Sweet and abundant in areas where they grow, you will however need a fair amount of berries to have a good batch, but their delicious flavour makes the work of collecting them very worthwhile.
Elderberry wine is well known, and although the flowers can be harvested to make floral flavoured drinks such as elderflower cordial, if you have a crop of the deep purple berries in Autumn, they can be a nice fruity alternative after the summer berries have been eaten. When harvesting, use a fork to remove them from the plant and you can be spared the fiddly job of removing the stalks, as well as keeping the juice inside the berries rather than on your fingers!
A nice alternative to red currant jelly, rowan jelly is a particular favourite for accompanying meat, especially game like venison which has a rich flavour. Rowan berries should be collected as a cluster from the tree and the stalks are then removed before boiling down. The juice is collected for flavouring and making the jelly, giving you a nice addition to the compost heap with the leftover roughage from the berries.
Commonly known for their inclusion to flavour gin, there’s no reason why you can’t collect your own sloes and make your own sloe gin. Sloes grow on a plant called blackthorn, which are sometimes found as trees and are a round dark blue fruit, like a small damson. More often, you’ll find them in hedgerows as their spikes are preferred for helping deter animals from eating the hedgerows.
Sometimes called a small plum, these tangy little fruit have a stone which has to be removed, but when made into jam, damson curd or used as a pie filling are absolutely delicious. Damsons grow on trees so make sure you get permission from the landowner before pilfering their crop. Many people don’t actually harvest the fruit from their trees but it’s always best to check first, out of politeness as much as anything.
Crab apples can be made into a jelly with a tangy flavour. You can often get a good crop off one tree, but as with damsons, always check with the landowner before taking fruit.