Plenty of free food in our hedgerows

IT may be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but – if you’re like me – it’s the season of jumpers, crisp autumn walks and free food.

There’s plenty of foraging to be done this time of the year with the hedgerows giving up their harvest of tasty treats. If you’re going on a country walk – keep handy a plastic tub or sandwich bag for your gleanings.

Plump juicy blackberries are a family favourite – especially for blackberry and apple crumbles and pies, covered with lovely custard. We stood among the cowpats in a meadow at Newbourne on Saturday and picked a punnet.

We were running it a bit close to the mark though for tradition says blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas – September 29 today but October 11 in older calendars – because they will taste unpleasant, some say fishy.

This, it is said, is because the devil was kicked out of heaven on that day and landed cursing and screaming in a blackberry bush and to get his revenge spat on all the fruits.

Scientists tell us though that after the end of September, the wetter and cooler days often allow the fruit to be infected with various moulds, some may be toxic.

Blackberries have been later this year though because of the mixed summer weather, and there are still quite a few to come and no sign of mould yet, so get picking.

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Other finds include damsons, plus apples and pears, plums, and plenty of chestnuts to come.

For the more adventurous, there are sloes, hazel nuts, rosehips and walnuts, and more.

It’s always fun, too, to follow a tractor laden with onions or potatoes down a bumpy lane – those that fall off the trailer often make their way into stews before they can end up under the wheels of a car.

The forest floor has loads of fungi if you know what you are doing and can identify the poisonous ones, but be careful. Richard Mabey’s book Food for Free is an excellent guide.

It’s a great time to walk, too – not too hot, with a rapidly changing environment as nature shuts down with winter approaching, the trees changing colour, the fields ploughed, and birds migrating – and rediscover some favourite places.

A month ago, the marshes were throbbing with combine harvesters, but when we walked the river wall from Felixstowe Ferry to Falkenham Creek there was just a hippo wallowing in the River Deben at the fascinating Hutomus houseboat, curlews searching the mud, and the whispering of the reeds.

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