Unschooled Children, Septemberry Jelly & ‘Poisoning’ The Whole Family
Last week our family were pulling their collective hair out. Due to an apparently large amount of bureaucracy surrounding changing schools between counties, the September term came around, the children all went back to their lessons and poor Beth still hadn’t been allocated a place. Phill went to work every day and I was left, the ill prepared home school tutor of a child going into her final year of primary school :-S
After all of the heartache and guilt of last week when we said goodbye to Beth’s old school, this was not what any of us had in mind. But that’s life, it is what it is and we made the best of it. We put up with constant questions of “Aren’t you back at school yet?” and “You don’t look poorly. What are you off with?” and smiled through it. We worked through some Maths and Science work books and Beth read novels at her usual million words per hour. For the most part though, we carried on as usual, but we just had far more indepth conversations about everything!
Chopping onions gave me the chance to discuss cell structure; Beth wanted to learn to knit, so we chatted about the insulating qualities of different materials and the history of the northern cotton mills. There’s a lesson in everything if you look closely enough!!
So when we walked through the park on our way to meet Phill for lunch and saw an abundance of blackberries, elderberries and what looked like red currants, we chatted about the how plants create flowers that eventually become fruit and why we need bees and other insects to make this happen. The obvious conclusion to this ‘lesson’ was an experiment in turning these little berries into something delicious!
After ALOT of research, I was confident that the ‘red currant-like’ berries were actually Guelder Rose. Now these little red berries are the kind that I’m sure you, like me were warned never to eat as a child.
“Those are just for the birds”
“Don’t eat those, they’ll give you a tummy ache”
“Those are poisonous!”
Whilst it isn’t a bad thing to warn children of the perils of eating unknown berries, I do think it’s sad that we as a society have become so frightened of foraged foods that we miss out on the joys of so many native wild foods. Indeed, birds do love the Guelder Rose and it’s berries are invaluable to them in the cold Winter months, but that shouldn’t stop us eating a few ;-P
It isn’t very clear from this picture but the berries are very red and hand in big bunches. The stems near the berries turn a shade of red and the bright green leaves are lobed with three points.
Uncooked, the Guelder rose will give you a tummy ache and even when cooked, you shouldn’t eat too many as they can have a laxative effect, but that is true of alot of fruits!! When cooked, these berries have a strange but pleasant taste, they are so high in vitamin C that we should consider them a super food and they are not poisonous.
Yet as we collected them, along with some blackberries, elderberries and rose hips, we were reliably advised by no less than three worried observers that we shouldn’t eat any of the berries that we were picking as we might go into a coma, die, end up in hospital etc etc :-/
Personally I’ve never met a blackberry that scared me, elderberries and their flowers have been one of my life’s pleasures for years and I’m old and wise enough to double and triple check the nature of any berry before feeding it to myself and my family. But of course I appreciated their kind concern and managed not to tell them to bugger off and mind their own business ;-P
I’ve cooked with all the other berries/hips before but aided by my trusty, unschooled side kick, I did my research on the Guelder Rose. As it happens, the berries are considered a famine food in some countries and we might have been better off picking them later in the year once they’d been softened by a frost or two, perhaps we’ll go back for another batch in November.
As I wasn’t sure what the Guelder Rose would taste like, I decided to cook the blackberries in one pan, with some apples and everything else in another. That way if they tasted nice then the whole lot could be mixed together and if not, if they tasted horrible, I could dump the mixed berries and comfort myself with some nice blackberry and apple jam.
So I set about making ‘something’ with my two pots. Don’t they look beautiful? Wholesome? Delicious? They smelt disgusting!!!!!!!
The blackberry and apple pot smelt glorious of course, sweet and intoxicating…..the mixed berries just smelt toxic. They smelt so terrible, so wholly inedible, that I went back to the books. No, it seems this was normal!!
“What the hell is that smell??!!” Phill shouted, opening all the windows to the cold and pretending to throw up. Such a lovely man lol.
The many forums and websites warned that although the cooked fruit was tasty, it smelt awful during the cooking process. They weren’t wrong.
I strained the mixed berry, as rose hips tend to be quite fibrous and left the blackberry mixture unstrained. The final products were the basis of a sweet blackberry jam and deep, dark, black jelly that had an almost alcoholic, medicinal flavour. The latter was nice but way to strong to be palatable, so I mixed it with the blackberries and strained the whole lot.
So what we are left with is a deep, rich, mysterious (I know, listen to me eh?!) jelly…that still smells a bit odd. I’ve named it Septemberry jelly, for obvious reasons and Phill has named it Smellberry Jelly, for equally obvious reasons.
Despite the erm … scent, the jelly has been declared utterly delicious by everyone who has tried it including chefs and that most fussy of judges…children!! If you want to make your own
Smell Septemberry Jelly, there aren’t really any hard and fast ingredients, just some tips.
- Only collect berries that you have properly identified
- Berries should be ripe but not over ripe
- Rinse berries well before use
- A couple of baking apples adds body to the flavour and helps the final product to set. Add these, roughly chopped at the beginning.
- Rose hips should be cut in half and if you want to make jam and not jelly (if you don’t want to strain) you should scoop out the seeds as they can irritate your throat.
- Once cleaned and prepared, tip your berries into a large pan and add just enough cold water to cover the fruit.
- Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Hold at this point for 45 minutes to an hour or until all the fruit is soft.
- If you are making jam, measure the whole mixture now, if you are making jelly, strain the mixture and then measure the liquid.
- To strain use a jelly bag, a piece of muslin or like me, line a sieve with some clean kitchen roll and pour through.
- Per 600ml of liquid, you need to add 450 grams of sugar. Normal sugar is fine but you will need to add some liquid or powdered pectin later on. One pouch of powdered pectin worked for 1 1/2 litres of this jelly, otherwise you could use preserving sugar.
- Once the sugar has been dissolved, bring the mixture to a rolling boil. I use a thermo-spatula (believe me its a Godsend! It’s a combination of a candy/meat thermometer and a spatula!) to check when the mixture reaches setting point 105c / 220f.
- You can also check setting point by boiling hard for five minutes and then placing a spoonful of the jelly on a cold plate. If the jelly wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it is ready. If not boil again and test again.
- Once the jam/jelly is ready you should pot it immediately in sterilised pots. Find out how to sterilise pots here.
Strawberry season maybe a distant memory right now, but there are still rich pickings in the hedgerows. Why not wrap up warm and go foraging, who knows what you’ll create!!