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Good food for free…

I love this time of year! Not only are we starting to see the fruits of our labours on the veg plot, but there is also plenty of free food to be found in hedgerows and disused bits of land all across the country, just waiting to be picked by frugal living fanatics like myself.

I’m talking, of course, about delumptious Blackberries which have actually come into season a little bit early this year. I have so many happy memories of picking blackberries as a kid – roaming around the country lanes which surrounded the various houses we lived in throughout my childhood, and I love taking my own kids out to share the joy of foraging for free food.

We have already been out picking this year, even though it’s early August, and my youngest especially enjoyed helping herself to the scrumminess that is abundant in our hedgerows. OK we didn’t manage to bring enough home for jam just yet, too many of them went in her tummy, but if the weather holds we will have plenty of opportunities to go and get some more ready to preserve as jams, wines and good ol’ blackberry crumble and cus’.

I was, however, really surprised to learn that blackberry picking is a dying art especially in the current (no pun intended) economic climate. I can’t imagine not going out to pick blackberries during the summer, especially as they cost around £2.00 in Asda for a paltry 350g. They grow in hedgerows for Pete’s sake! Plus the ones you pick yourself taste so much nicer, and the abundant quantities mean you can make jars and jars of jam to keep you going through most of the year.

That article from The Telegraph is a couple of years old, and I’m guessing that as the recession continues to bite more and more people will be heading out with containers and taking advantage of what the season has to offer. The thing is, you don’t need to live in the countryside to take advantage of this particular crop. We live just 10mins walk from the city centre yet there are tonnes of blackberry picking sites within a couple of minutes walk from our house.

Now, I’m not going to give away my favourite spot, but if you live in an urban area then there are numerous places where you can pick blackberries. Disused railway lines, cycle paths or any bit of unused wasteland are usually full of bramble bushes with plenty of fruit, and of course they can also be found in woodlands and hedges too. I always carry some degradable freezer bags with me in a Wikaniko bag-tube so I can pick plenty of blackberries whenever I find them.

Bramble bushes grow prolifically even in stony, unfavourable ground and their branches will grow rapidly, forming a thick tangle of bushes in very little time. They are in season for quite a long time as well, as they start to fruit from July onwards here in the south.  Be warned, though. Don’t pick blackberries after Old Michealmas Day on the 11th of October. According to folklore these blackberries belong to the devil, and he marks his territory by peeing on them – nice!

Blackberries have been part of our diet and even culture since the Stone Age. Blackberry seeds were found in the stomach of a Neolithic man who was unearthed in Essex in 1911 and have played an important role in many Paganistic feasts and rituals throughout the years as blackberries were said to be sacred to the old deities. Blackberry bushes were often planted on graves to protect the deceased from the devil and they have also been used as charms to create wealth and as a cure for whooping cough, dysentery and even sore throats. (www.herbsociety.org.uk)

It seems our ancestors had a lot more common sense than modern society (no surprises there then). Blackberries are certainly a “super-food” They are exceptionally high in anti-oxidants, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Dietary fibre and Folic Acid and have an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of 5347 per 100g making them one of the highest ranking of available ORAC foods. Even the seeds, which some prefer not to eat, are very rich in Omega 3s amongst many other essential nutrients, which is why I never remove them when I’m making jam. (http://en.wikipedia.org)

Modern thought says that you should always wash your blackberries thoroughly before eating them as they can contain various moulds, mildews and maggots. Personally I’ve never worried too much about that, I figure that our bodies will cope happily with a few little micro-organisms and you just can’t beat the joy of eating them straight off the bush. By the time you boil them up for jam most of the nasties will be stopped in their tracks. I’m not a doctor though, so if in doubt take them home and wash them first.  Before I cook with them I do put my blackberries in a bowl full of water and add a teaspoon of salt. Just leave them there for a couple of hours and the bugs should be dealt with. Blackberries are best eaten fresh but you can easily freeze them to make delicious puds at a later date.

Get prepared for foraging with a Wikaniko Bag-Tube & some degradable freezer bags from www.wikid-eco-store.co.uk and make the most of some of the yummiest free food that nature provides.


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