BLOG: Forage & Feast October

5th October 2020

This month’s blog in partnership with Dave Winnard from Discover the Wild looks at October's harvest including rose hips, Bullace and Wood Hedgehog fungi.

It seems recently I am left frustrated by September. Sunny, warm, dry and perfect for long walks in the countryside… What’s to love about that? It’s the stuff of nightmares for me.

Mainly because I am looking for my beloved fungi. How I look forward to the mushroom season so much each year. These hot and dry periods in September just put the mushroom season on hold and I am finding a fraction of what a normal cool and wet September would produce.

However, for the forager there are other things to look for to keep us occupied, and this month I have a couple of fruits as well as a large mushroom to forage.

As always, only ever pick things from the wild when YOU know 100% what it is. If in doubt, leave it out and always use a book or resource to help you confirm your finds.

 

Rosehips (Rosa sp.)

At this time of year, the fruits of our roses glisten like enticing orbs covering some of our hedgerows. For many foragers, they often neglect these fruits in favour of more fruity flavours, but the taste of the rose hip is well worth seeking out. Over the years I have discovered a few pointers to help you pick the best hips.

In most cases, the hips worth seeking out are the ones from our native hedgerow roses, like the Common Dog-rose (Rosa canina), which, when compared to one of the non-native rose hips like the Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa), appear small and modest. The Japanese Rose hips are like fat tomatoes, but do not let the size fool you, I often find these large, showy hips have less flavour than our native ones.

Japanese Rose hips are often found in parks, urban areas, including car parks, or even on sand dunes where it can be quite invasive. The flowers and hips can also appear at the same time, and whilst the flowers smell strongly of turkish delight and summer, we should focus on our humble native roses. While they might not have the fragrance of the alien invader, the hips are more flavoursome.

Be careful when picking rose hips, the thorns of the roses can be razor sharp. The hips themselves also should not be eaten raw as naughty school children will remember that the seeds are covered in hairs which can irritate the skin. So, when using rose hips to make the most famous hip recipe, we heat them up in a pan and extract the flavour through sieving the liquid and leaving the pulp. It is for this reason that rose hips have been neglected over the years by many.

Full of vitamin C, rose hip syrup is said to be very good for you, although usually most of the vitamin C is destroyed by the heat and adding sugar to the syrup probably counteracts any goodness they really have. We make rose hip syrup for the flavour though, and mixed with sparkling water, lemonade or even just hot water on a winter’s day it makes it seem worth the effort for a delicious autumnal drink.

 

Bullace (Prunus insititia)

I have included the wonderful Bullace in this month’s foraging guide as it is one of my favourites. It has an amazing flavour but is frequently mis-identified as Damson so I thought I would help set the record straight on this delightful little plum.

The Bullace is a larger version of the sloe (Prunus spinosa), but it does not have the dryness and acridness of its small cousin. Instead, the Bullace is full of plummy flavour without the bitterness of the sloe so using them is much easier and they are far more versatile than the fiddly little sloes.

They differ from the Damson in shape more than taste. In fact, if you were to eat a Bullace and Damson one after the other then telling them apart could be difficult. The Damson though is much more oval in shape, usually slightly pointed at the top and bottom of the fruit, whereas the Bullace is very round, almost perfectly sloe in most cases, and is much more like a large sloe. Bullace is probably much more common than the Damson in the ‘wild’, and many people pick Bullaces thinking they are Damsons (though they are still a delicious mistake to make!).

In some parts, Bullace can be occasionally found in hedgerows around the North-west. Generally, more are found in the lower parts of the area and finding them in the foothills of the Pennines is harder. They can also be quite well hidden, and by that, I mean they are not like apple trees which are obvious when covered in apples and you can see them growing from some distance away. Instead, the dark blue plums seem to blend in well to hedgerows so you can almost miss them if you are not looking hard enough.

You can use Bullace in a variety of ways and they are much more versatile than the sloe. Once de-stoned you can use them for pies, syrups, crumbles and recipe that calls on plums. If you want a boozier treat then a Bullace gin (or any liqueur) is absolutely divine.

 

Wood Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum)

This mushroom is an iconic one - instead of having the usual gills like most mushrooms do, this one has spines, hence the name hedgehog. It is commonly found in beech woodland, but can be found in other woodlands too, although never as commonly.

It has a lovely, peachy orange cap, spines underneath the cap and white stem. There are very few species that this could be confused for if you stick to looking for those features.

One species you might confuse it with is the Terracotta Hedgehog (Hydnum rufescens), which is generally a more orange colour and small with relatively larger spines for the size of the mushroom. You will be glad to hear that if you do confuse it with the Wood Hedgehog it is just as tasty, in fact for many years they were considered to be the same species.

Usually, where one grows many follow and this mushroom makes a wonderful meal, having a mild flavour but strong ‘meaty’ texture and can be used in the same way you would use any mushroom when cooking. They dry really well and can be stored in a good container for years.

There are other fungi with spines but generally they are rarer and in the North-west if you stick to peachy orange cap, spines underneath and a white stem, this should be a really straight forward species to identify.

 

Enjoy your foraging this month, and I shall say it again, if in doubt leave it out, only ever pick something when YOU know 100% what it is.