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Monday, 23 September 2013

Autumn Equinox Hedgerow Looting

I am back after a year-long sojourn to the world of commercial blog writing. It was an ill-fated trip, suffice to say that I am not cut-out for having to chase, cajole and threaten to get my invoices paid.  The upside of this realisation is that I can now return to this blog without fear of infringing on anything I was writing commercially. Now that I’m back, I’ve decided to expand my original remit to include more about my life as a hedgewitch. I had initially promised to keep religion out of my blog, but as so much of what I do has a connection to my pagan belief that it felt rather restrictive. And frankly, silly.

Mabon seems like a good place to resume.  Mabon is the autumn equinox, usually around the 21st or 22nd of September and comes pretty much at “harvest home” or the time when the last of the crops of been gathered in. At the equinox the planet is tilted at the right angle to give the same amount of daylight as dark. After the autumn equinox the daylight gets shorter than the darkness (assuming you’re in the southern hemisphere, but let’s not complicate things).   It’s a time for giving thanks for the harvest that’s just been completed and any other blessings you have in your life.  The equinox is also about balance, as the day and night become balanced by equal length, we balance the joy of an abundant harvest with the knowledge that the fields are now empty and cold days are coming.  The hedgerow harvest is usually at its most abundant around Mabon. Crab apples, rose hips, elderberries and hawthorns are all virtually bending the hedgerow branches over to the floor with their fruit near my home.  I celebrated Mabon by going for a tramp about the fields where I live collecting crab apples and haws (the berry of the hawthorn bush)  Hawthorne trees  were called Hag trees in Old English, which must be why I’ve always loved them so much!  The white blossom in May looks so pretty and traditionally May Queens were crowned with a wreath of it.  Most of the ancient hedges where I lived are dotted with these trees, and after I’ve appreciated the beautiful blossom in the spring, I like to plunder the bright red berries to make jams and jellies in the autumn.



Here’s my picking basket early on in the foraging mission. The tiny crab apples have the perfect amount of pectin to help set a jelly made with berries that don’t have much themselves, like haws. Don’t be put off by the crab apples appearance; they’re like the Cinderella of the hedge.  Misshapen and usually scabby on the outside, they are transformed into things of delicious beauty when made into jams or jellies.

I used 600g of hawthorn berries and 1400g of crab apples.   Wash your fruit and berries, and then put the haws in a large pan. The crab apples need to be cut in half and added to the pan and then add just enough water to cover them. Bring it to a simmer, and then cook gently until the fruit is all soft and pulpy.  I give the haws a quick mash with the back of a wooden spoon if they look like they need some more breaking up. Then tip the whole lot into a jelly bag and leave to drip through the muslin of the jelly bag into a large bowl overnight. Don’t be tempted to move it, touch it or otherwise hurry the process in any way or you will end up with a cloudy jelly.
The next day, sterilise your jam jars. Measure the amount of juice that has dripped through your muslin jelly bag. The fruit I picked this time yielded about 450ml.  For every 600ml of juice, add 450g of granulated sugar (if you’re as mathematically challenged as I am, you can get the calculator out to scale this up/down! Add the juice and the sugar to your preserving pan, and bring gently to a boil, stirring all the time to dissolve the sugar. Once boiling, put your sugar thermometer into the mixture and bring it to the setting point, which is 104-106ºc (220-222ºF). Then pour into your sterilised jars straight away, don’t let it start to cool in the pan or it will start to set in there.  As you can see here, my 450ml of juice yielded two jars of jelly.  Yum.


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