Our yellow-flowered dogwood put on a wonderful flower show that lasted right through Christmas. The flowers have been followed by small, round red fruits – masses of them. The fruit looks like a cross between a cherry and a strawberry. About the size of a small cherry, its bumpy surface resembles a strawberry.
Many are now scattered on the grass around the tree and when we were walking in the garden with our new Jug puppy he leapt on the fallen fruit as if he’d had nothing to eat in a month. Luca thinks they’re delicious but to my palate they don’t have much flavour at all.
He sniffed out the ripest ones to eat. I distracted him from the windfalls (worried about what too much fruit might do to his digestion) but he soon sneaked back looking for more.
Although these berries are not poisonous there are warnings they can cause a skin allergy, so handle with care.
By the way, if you are wondering, a Jug is a Jack Russell Pug cross.
Crabapples and more
There are lots of fruits around in autumn, which are edible, but not very palatable. They do however make tasty jellies – the spreadable type.
Right next to our dogwood is a rowan tree. I hadn’t thought of harvesting these red berries as they look so nice on the tree until I came across a recipe for rowan jelly, which is delicious with roast meat.
Crabapples fall into ‘the edible but really tasty’ category too. A bucket of a large-fruited variety, more like a miniature apple than a crab, came my way. I turned the sweetly fragrant fruit into pots of crabapple paste to eat with cheese and jars of clear red crabapple jelly that I think will be just perfect with scones.
The benefit of these types of preserves is that the fruit doesn’t have to be prepared, which can be fiddly with small or seedy fruits. Instead of peeling, coring and chopping, cook it whole until soft then strain the pulpy mass to remove the hard bits. For a clear jelly strain the pulp through a jelly cloth. Crabapples are full of pectin so this liquid sets readily when boiled with equal amounts of sugar.
Hawthorns are also in full berry – or ‘haw’ – now. You have to be dedicated to harvest haws as the bushes are thorny. I’m weighing up the pros and cons as there are plenty around here. A downside is that many plants spring up as unwanted weeds in the garden.
Out in the field beyond my house is a large laurel smothered in black fruits. The birds, especially parrots, are having a feast. Laurel berries can be picked (if the birds leave any behind) to make the Tassie delicacy laurel jam. It’s dark, thick and almond flavoured.
Another black fruit you may find if you are out foraging is the elderberry. I have seen tantalising clusters of these tiny, shiny black berries. They have to be cooked, but they make tasty preserves by themselves or with other foraged fruits.
Blackberries are also abundant for the foraging. As well as being used for jam making, they can be added to muffins, ice creams, sorbets or pies. Or why not combine a mix of foraged fruits into a forager’s jelly using the method described above?
[Footnote: This story first appeared in the TasWeekend the Saturday magazine in The Mercury, March 14-15 2015]