‘Free hedge training,’ that’s what the sign said. It could be fun.
Jon Stokes from the Tree Council arrived to train the Friends of Prior’s Hill Copse (FOPHC) and anyone else who cared to pop along in the art of hedge management. I’m a member of FOPHC so I suppose that makes me a ‘Tree Hugger’. A while back, The Tree Council gave us fruit trees and bushes to plant as a community fruit hedge. There were no instructions on how to group or the best places to plant, we had carte blanche, but Jon would be back to comment on the results.
Jon, bursting with his usual enthusiasm, arrived with carrier bags bulging with hedgerow produce – Gooseberry and elderflower chutney, wild plum chutney and jam, wild cherry jam and white currant jelly (my favourite), which is said to be the most expensive jelly in the world, as the seeds should be removed with a goose quill before cooking. There was bread and cheese and luckily for me, many of the trainees were allergic to cheese. I was hungry. He even supplied a drink of homemade elderflower cordial.
Jon is a passionate creature, a tree hugger and lover of foraged food. For three hours we hung on his every word and followed him around our wonderful wood. It’s a very special wood, of national importance apparently as it’s a rare Oak Coppice.
Jon scored our fruit hedge, 8 1/2 out of 10 as the gooseberry crop was so good. Greedily, he wanted to collect the furless green berries for himself, but I raced home to grab a container while he surveyed the remaining plants. The gooseberry and elderflower chutney was so good, I wanted to make it myself, even though I’d never made a jam, jelly or chutney in my life.
Dan and Jon helped me collect enough gooseberries to make the chutney and briefed me on the recipe. Dan promised to help make it the next day after work, but he had an engineering emergency and went to Italy instead of Bournemouth. I couldn’t waste the gooseberries, so that evening, I sat in the kitchen topping and tailing each one. This was a perfect job for children, I thought. I had no muslin for the mustard seeds and the ginger, but there was a pair of lace top black stockings in the ‘smalls drawer’ which I deemed a suitable solution.
After I put the elderflower and gooseberry mix in the pan, I put the lid on and went onto the computer to post an update to facebook. I heard a hiss and fizzle as the bubbling mix spilled onto the stove. The lid was quickly removed and the mess mopped up. The temperature was lowered and a quick test to check that the stocking was still intact ensued.
The Kilner jars were sterilising in the dishwasher and I settled down with my social media to pass the hour.
The taste test was passed and the sticky stocking went in the bin, there was only the chutney to pour into the hot jars. The pan was stuck firmly to the stove. With a twist and a shove, I freed the pot from the gooseberry glue and lovingly filled the jars.
I took some crackers, a wedge of mature cheddar cheese and a jar of my home made gooseberry and elderflower chutney and sat down to enjoy a perfect supper.
Gooseberry and Elderflower Chutney
1 large thumb sized piece of ginger
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2lbs gooseberries, blossom ends and stems removed, washed
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup elderflower cordial
Peel the ginger, and slice it thinly.
Put the mustard seeds and the ginger into a small muslin bag or a black lace stocking.
Secure the muslin with string or tie a knot in the stocking. Keep the lacy bit out of the mix or cut it off. I kept it on for effect.
Place in a heavy saucepan with the gooseberries, the sugar and the elderflower cordial.
Stir to mix and slowly bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, until it thickens.
Stir occasionally, more often as it thickens, to prevent sticking.
Remove the ginger and mustard seeds.
Fill the jars with the hot chutney.
Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp piece of paper towel to remove any drips.
Label and enjoy.
Once opened, store in the fridge.