As the leaves begin to turn, the nuts and berries on hedgerows and in woods are ripening. Helen Keating from the Woodland Trust gives her top foraging finds for October, from vitamin C packed rosehips to tasty nuts.
Bullace (Prunus domestica)
Bullace is a wild variety of plum. On a good year, bullace fruits can literally weigh down the hedgerow.
The fruits are similar to damsons and can be used to make crumbles, jams and preserves, fruit wine and fruit liqueurs like sloe gin.
The small, oval fruits can vary in colour but are usually blue, purple or black. They tend to taste acidic until they’re ripe.
This is a great late season fruit as it ripens up to six weeks later than many others from October to November.
Beech nuts (Fagus sylvatica)
These edible nuts, or masts, were once used to feed pigs. Beech nuts are still ripening into October. They’re a bit small to collect in numbers but they do make a tasty nibble on an autumn walk.
Scrape off the outer brown skin to reveal the triangular seed. If you do collect more than a few, they can be used in a similar way to pine nuts, sprinkled on salads and risottos. Roast in the oven then place between two tea towels and rub to remove shells.
Beech nuts can be slightly toxic if consumed in large quantities due to the tannins and alkaloids. Look out for pairs of three-sided nuts in bristly cases from mid-September and throughout October.
Hazelnut (Corylus avellana)
Hazelnuts being to ripen when the leaves on the trees change colour. A common tree in woods, hedgerows and gardens, hazel bears its crop of nuts (also called cobnuts and filberts) from late August.
If you’re picking hazelnuts early in the season when they’re still green, the shelled nuts make a tasty nibble to munch on while you’re out walking.If you collect enough, the shelled nuts can be roasted in the oven or used to make hazelnut butter.
It might be advisable to collect hazelnuts when they’re still young and green in late August to mid-September. Most ripe nuts are found in September and October, depending on the weather.
Sloes (Prunus spinosa)
Some people say the best time to pick sloes is after the first frost. The blackthorn is best known for its crop of tart, acidic fruits used to make the deep-red, wintry drink, sloe gin.
The general rule is to pick after the first frost as it softens the skins and helps to release the juices. You can get round this by picking early and freezing at home instead. Make sloe gin or try using sloes for whisky, jams and vinegar.
The blue-black berries are ready for picking from the end of September to December. In some years, blackthorn trees along hedgerows and fields are heavy with fruit.
Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa)
Look for sweet chestnut trees in woods, parkland and along roads.A favourite at this time of year and a Christmas classic. Sweet chestnut trees were introduced by the Romans.
The nuts can be baked, roasted, boiled or microwaved. Remember to score a cross in them as this will stop them from exploding when they are being cooked.
Once cooked and peeled they can be eaten as they are or used in desserts and stuffings. You can also candy them, puree them or store them in syrup.
You’ll find the best crop at the foot of large established trees. Trees start dropping nuts from October and into late autumn and early winter.
Walnut (Juglans regia)
You may find the odd walnut tree on parkland, in urban areas and housing estates. Walnut trees were first introduced by the Romans.
Crack open the shells to get to the nut. They can be eaten raw (when they’re ‘wet’), dried or pickled. Dried nuts can apparently be stored for around a year. They can be added to both sweet and savoury dishes.
Trees can be found throughout the UK often in large gardens and parks. The nuts are covered with a green, fleshy husk that starts to split as it ripens.
Pick them in late autumn.
Rosehip (Rosa canina)
Make rosehip syrup to help ward off winter colds (see also page 22)..Rosehips are the red and orange seed pods of rose plants commonly found in hedgerows. The hips have a fleshy covering that contains the hairy seeds – the irritant hairs were traditionally used by children to make itching powder. The outer layer is packed with vitamin C and they are renowned for helping stave off winter colds. They are good in wines, jellies, jams and can be used to make a delicately flavoured rosehip syrup for cordial or pouring onto ice cream or pancakes.
Look for bright red rosehips from September to November along hedgerows and woodland fringes. Snip or carefully pull the hips close to the base of each pod (to avoid being attacked by prickly thorns).