At this time of year, nature offers a variety of things you can preserve and pickle and then stock up on for winter. I like to go foraging for berries. I merely have to step outside and there will be rose hips in my garden, in the forest I can find blueberries and mushrooms, and along the hedges elderberries.
LINKS FOR PRESERVING
These are easy things to forage around here, but there is so much more to explore. Much of what can be found in my homeland of Denmark can actually be found in countries all over the Northern Hemisphere. You will find the same or similar things in Wales or Scotland, the northern United States, Canada or Poland.
One of my favorites in the late summer is rose hips. They grow wild along the shores in Denmark. They are easy to pick but a real pain to rinse, whereas buckthorn, which also grows along the coast, is really difficult to pick. It is best done wearing a special glove. Buckthorns are, however, relatively easy to cook.
Foraging a connection to nature
In September, I spent one day at a small island in the south of Denmark picking rose hips. It was a windy day with a lot of sunshine, typical local weather. Spending a day like that is therapeutic. It is interesting to experience how picking things you are going to cook and eat gives a sense of presence. At the risk of sounding banal, it gives a profound meaning to life, connecting you directly to nature. Even though we are part of nature, we need reminding. I don’t agree when some argue foraging is turning back time. I believe it will be part of the future. We need new ways to understand and enjoy food. Thus, it makes complete sense when the cooking staff from a hypermodern place like Noma Copenhagen goes foraging as a natural part of running the restaurant. I fully understand why head chef Rene Redzepi sends out his entire team of cooks to forage, because it changes your understanding of food. In a strange way it suspends time and, therefore, changes the conversation so the next question will be: How are we going to live in future?
After I pick the rose hip berries, I rinse them. That takes about 1 hour per 2 kilograms (about 4 1/2 pounds) — if you are good at it. You have to cut the berries and take out the tiny seeds. They are very itchy. When I was a child we used to play a game where we would run around trying to catch each other so we could put rose hip seeds down each other’s backs. When the rose hips are rinsed, I use them for four things: jam, chutney, vinegar and syrup. The whole process takes two to three days, but I get a variety of things to eat and use as gifts for Christmas.
The other thing I can’t buy and always pick wild is elderberries. In early September, I pick some green berries, which I preserve in vinegar brine. We call them poor man’s capers. Preserving them was very common here during the World War II. When the berries are red and juicy, I pick them to make elderberry cordial, which I often use for soup in the winter served with apples and rye bread croutons.
Preserving and pickling a tradition
It is part of our history to preserve and pickle in late summer through early autumn because of the long winter, when food can be scarce. Since the 1950s, we’ve been able to buy all these wonderful products in the grocery around the corner, but not of the same quality. This is a good reason to do your own preserves and pickles — but not the only reason. Again, the way it connects us is an important part as well. It connects us to the season, to nature and to our history. For me, it connects to all the things my grandmother taught me. And when I’m doing this I also connect to women both around the world and through history, because we have spent so much time in the kitchen, seated under a tree or at the seashore preparing things we could either sell or feed to our families while discussing issues, gossiping or exchanging life stories. That means we all belong to something bigger than us, there is some kind of meta-level of gathering food, cooking and feeding your family, a shared story.
There is also a sustainability dimension, because it raises the value of food when you add this amount of work to it, putting so much love and care into it. You truly comprehend the value and understand why cheap food can’t be right. Something or somebody along the line is paying for this. It makes you appreciate the whole treasure we have out there: Producing food is a serious and important thing, but also really hard work. I don’t believe we should all give up our jobs and hunt for wild food. I just think that if everybody did just a little bit of this we would all get a better understanding of food and why we have no right to take it for granted.
Here are two of my favorite rose hip and elderflower cordial recipes.
Rose Hip Jam
Makes about 2 pounds of jam
2½ pounds rose hips
2 small organic lemons
1 pod of vanilla
3½ cups caster sugar
1 cup water
1. Rinse the rose hips by cutting them into halves. Remove the seeds with a teaspoon. I always use throwaway gloves because the seeds cause itching.
2. Rinse the lemons. If you don’t have a zester tool, cut strips of the zest from the rind with a vegetable peeler, leaving the bitter pith behind, and then cut the strips into a very thin julienne with a sharp knife.
3. Squeeze the juice from the lemons.
4. Combine the rose hips, vanilla and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it cook for 15 minutes then add lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar.
5. Stir to dissolve, then bring to a boil. Maintain a full rolling boil for 10 minutes, stirring several times.
6. Skim the jam to remove any scum and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
7. Pour into sterilized jars and seal them when the jam has cooled.
8. Store the jam in a cool and dark place.
Makes about 1½ liters
2¼ pounds elderberries
3 cooking apples into cubes
2½ cups of sugar
2 cups of water
1. Rinse the berries. Let them stay on the stem, but remove the coarse stems.
2. Place the berries and apples in a pot, add the water, bring to a boil and let it simmer until the berries burst. Line a sieve with muslin and strain the cooked berries and apples through it.
3. Put the resulting elderberry juice into a clean pot and bring to a boil. Add sugar and let it boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Skin any froth from the surface.
5. Pour the hot liquid into sterilized bottles.
6. Store in your cupboard and, when opened, in your refrigerator.
Top photo: Freshly picked elderberries. Credit: iStockPhoto