Foraging at the Homeplace

I was up staying at “the homeplace,” as he calls it, for a while there when we just moved over to Ireland. The homeplace is a wonderful Irish way of talking about home. It’s been beautifully warm this fall and the countryside was glorious all of September. I went for constitutional walks and ate blackberries straight off the bush. All that I’ve read about foraging is true: hedgerows are full of berries and nuts. It was the work of a few hours to pick bushels of apples, baskets of blackberries, a bucket of rosehips and a bag of hazelnuts.

Turns out, this was the easy part. Processing all this bounty has taken a lot longer!

1. Frozen Blackberries – I pick blackberries at home too so I have a well-developed system for preserving these. After a good rinse, I spread them out on baking trays so that the berries would freeze individually. I kept an eye on them in the deep freezer and when they were frozen solid, I consolidated the berries into a few ziploc bags. Now I have a good stash of ‘organic’ blackberries in the freezer, probably enough for 5 pies!

2. Rosehip Syrup – I had no idea what to do with the rosehips, but the buds were so pretty, bright and red that I just had to see if  there was anything to make with them! Turns out rosehip syrup is dead easy to make. I chopped up the rosehips and boiled them up with a bit of sugar. Then I strained out all the pulp and poured the warm syrup into a sterile glass bottle, which is now sitting in the fridge.

I have no idea what to use it for. It tastes fragrant, sweet and citrusy. I bet it would make a lovely pound cake if used in the vein of lemon syrup. Rosehips are a natural source of vitamin C, and as I’ve had a cold this week I’ve taken to having it in a posset. Rosehip syrup is lovely with fresh orange juice! Perhaps because they both have pulp? It is also nice with lemon and honey in hot water- very restorative.

3. Toasted Hazelnuts –  Hazelnuts are native in Ireland! Picking hazelnuts was the greatest revelation! The trees tend to grow close together, usually near a stream. We first scoped out a copse by the house, but there were no hazelnuts left at all.. I was so disappointed, as I had never seen a hazelnut ‘in the wild’ before. Turns out an uncle had been by and picked them all the day before! So Patrick brought me up the road to another patch of hazels and sure enough in a golden half hour we had filled a bag. It was hard work, looking up into the sunlight and pulling off the little nuts as if they were a piece of fruit. They had to be slightly dry, not too green – sometimes if they were too ready they would ping all over and I would go running after them in the grass.

hazelnuts

Somehow, I left these in a bag and sort of forgot about them until yesterday. Well, as I am job hunting I have plenty of time to be side tracked! The shells are absolutely beautiful. They had dried into all sorts of curves and mesmerizing shapes. After a few sketches I got out the nut cracker and destroyed them. Off the nuts went into the oven to roast at 200 degress. Several hours later, after they cooled, I rubbed the bitter skins off with a towel. Now I have one little jar of local nuts. At my estimation, 3 or 4 hours work went into one cup of hazelnuts – who’s the local nut now??

And oddly enough, I haven’t done anything with the apples yet. They are in storage up at the homeplace until we finally move into our new little cottage. Only a week and a half to go!!

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