Wild, Wonderful and Free!


“Season of mist and yellow fruit fullness” and despite the warm misty weather there are a few mushrooms about. I found a little scattering of field mushrooms on the grass under the windows of the garden café earlier this week – just enough to make a tiny feast for one when I cooked them directly on the cool plate of the Aga with no embellishment, except for a few grains of sea salt and a knob of butter.

Driving across from Cahir over the Knockmealdon Mountains last week I collected lots of rowanberries from the mountain ash, the trees were dripping with plump berries, we added them to crab apples to make delicious rowanberry jelly. It’s a terrific year for crab apples (wild apples) too but if you don’t find any in your area use Bramley windfalls or a mixture of tart apples. Elderberries too are dropping off the bushes. You can substitute elderberries for rowan berries in the apple jelly or even mix both and if you have them. Throw in a handful of sloes and blackberries as well and then change the name to Hedgerow Jelly. Elderberries are also good pickled and I’ve tried an elderberry liqueur for the first time this year – can’t imagine why I didn’t think of it before now, it’s made exactly the same way as sloe or damson gin.

There’s also a fantastic crop of blackberries this year, pick them now without delay – they don’t necessarily improve late in the season. Of course they make great tarts, pies, wine and liqueurs. They also freeze perfectly also and pickle well. They tend to be very low in pectin so it’s difficult to set blackberry jam on its own, unless you use jam sugar which tends to produce a more solid set reminiscent of commercial jam. Apples particularly tart apples have tons of pectin hence the time honoured combination of Blackberry and Apple. If you own a sweet geranium plant (pelargonium graveolens) add a few of those leaves chopped up and it will imbue the jam with an irresistible haunting lemony flavour. Blackberries can also be dried and added to fruit cakes or you may enjoy them in this Blackberry and Rose Geranium Slice.

There are lots of hazelnuts in the woods and hillsides – they won’t be fully ripe for another week or two but do organise an expedition and collect enough to dry for the winter. Cob nuts and filberts will also be ripe around now, they should slip easily out of the husks otherwise you’ll find that the nuts are empty. Apart from nuts and berries, there are many plants – chick weed (Stellaria media), meadow sweet (Filipendula ulmaria), sedum (Hylotelephium telephium), sweet cicely(Myrrhis odorata), orach (Atriplex hortensis) Bishops Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)… We’ve been enjoying lots of wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) the little three leaf version that grows in abundance in the woods but also in our greenhouse underneath the plants. Wild sorrel and lambs tongue sorrel (Rumex acetosella) grow in the grass and are recognisable by its pointy ears and sharp fresh lemony taste. Of course it’s delicious in salads but it is also intriguing in this sorrel pie which the late Charles Haughey traced for me in Inishvickillane, one of the Blasket Islands of Co Kerry.  It would originally have been baked in a bastible over the open fire but can be successfully make in a covered casserole in the oven. All food for free and delicious.


Sloe or Damson Gin


It’s great fun to organise a few pals to pick sloes and have a sloe-gin-making party. Sloes make a terrific beverage for Christmas presents. Either enjoy it neat or put a measure of damson or sloe gin in a glass, add ice, a slice of lemon and top it up with tonic.


700g (11⁄2lb) sloes or damsons

350g (12oz) granulated sugar

1.2 litres (2 pints) gin


Wash and dry the fruit and prick it in several places (we use a sterilised darning needle). Put the fruit into a sterilised glass Kilner jar and cover with the sugar and gin. Seal tightly.

Shake the jar every couple of days to start with and then every now and then for 3–4 months, by which time it will be ready to strain and bottle. It will improve on keeping so try to resist drinking it for another few months.


Sloe or Damson Vodka

This slips down easily but has quite a kick! Simply substitute vodka for the gin in the recipe above.


Ballyvolane House Hedgerow Martinis

Justin Green from Ballyvolane House shared this recipe with us “A couple of Hedgerow Martinis before dinner promises lively and spirited conversation throughout dinner. They are incredibly easy to make and totally delicious.”


Serves 2


2 shots gin

3 shots sloe gin

1 shot fresh lime juice

3/4 shot of elderflower cordial

2 fresh blackberries

2 frozen blackberries (for the garnish)

3 lumps of ice


1 cocktail shaker

2 martini glasses


When using a cocktail shaker, always avoid trying to make too much in one go as overfilling the cocktail shaker means it doesn’t mix well. Mixing two martinis per cocktail shaker works best. Put all the ingredients (except for the frozen blackberries) into the cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Hold the shaker in both hands (a bit like a hooker throwing a rugby ball into the line-out) and shake it over your shoulder. Chill the martini glasses by putting them in the freezer or leave a few lumps of ice in them for a few minutes. Pour the Hedgrerow Martini through a cocktail strainer into the glasses. Garnish with one frozen blackberry per martini glass. Enjoy!


Crab Apple and Rowanberry Jelly

Rowanberries (Sorbus aucuparia) come from the rowan tree (also known as mountain ash) and are in season during the autumn. They grow on acid soil in hills, and their brilliant orangey-red berries were historically much eaten, although few people eat rowanberries any more. We gather them from the Knockmealdown mountains in West Waterford for our rowanberry jelly.

Crab or Bramley apples


450g (1lb) sugar to every pint of juice

Chop the apples (windfalls are fine) into chunks, barely cover with water, bring to the boil and cook until the apples are soft and pulpy. Strain the juice through a jelly bag.

Crush the rowanberries, add a very little water, cook them in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until they are soft, and strain through a nylon sieve.


Combine all the juices and measure. Allow 450g (1lb) of sugar for every pint of juice Heat the sugar and add to the boiling juice. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved and boil rapidly until the jelly reaches setting point. Jelly should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. Pot into sterilized jars, seal and store in a cool place. Serve with game or a fine leg of mutton if you can find it.


Sorrel Pie from Inis Mhic Uibhleáin


I first learned about the existence of this recipe from Jane Grigson. Charles J Haughey tracked it down for me in the book Bean an Oileain by Márie Ni Ghuithin (1986) and had it translated from Irish.

Serves 6 – 8


1 lb (450g) all-purpose flour

1 level teaspoon baking soda

pinch of salt

½ oz butter

1 ¼ – 1 ½ cups buttermilk

4-6 ozs (110-170g) sorrel leaves

2 heaping tablespoons brown sugar


Baking dish, 9 inch x 2 inch (23cm x 5cm) with a lid


Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/mark 8.

Place the flour in a bowl with the baking soda and salt. Rub in the butter and wet with buttermilk to form a soft pliable dough.  Knead lightly on a lightly floured work surface and cut in half.  Flatten dough with your hand to form a circle the same size as your pot.  Place the sorrel leaves on one half of the flattened dough and sprinkle with brown sugar (we put some underneath and on top of the sorrel).  Flatten second piece of dough to the same size and use to cover the sorrel mixture, pressing the edges to seal.

Butter and flour your cooking pot and place the pie inside. Put on the lid and transfer to a hot oven.

Our pie took 1 hour to bake and cooked to a pale golden colour in the covered pot.  It had a bitter sweet flavour and was quite delicious.


Blackberry and Rose Geranium Squares


Makes 24


6 ozs (175g) soft butter

6 ozs (175g) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

6 ozs (175g) self-raising flour

2 tablespoons freshly chopped rose geranium leaves

8 ozs (225g) blackberries


2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 tablespoon of freshly chopped rose geranium leaves


10 x 7 inch (25.5 x 18 cm) Swiss roll tin, well-greased


Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.


Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped rose geranium leaves into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin.  Sprinkle the blackberries as evenly as possible over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with caster sugar whizzed with leaves of rose geranium. Serve in squares.


Hot Tips

If you’d like to polish up on your foraging skills here are two dates for your diary

Longueville House Mushroom Hunt Sunday 20th October 9:30am – lunch included (€80 Per Person) – www.longuevillehouse.ie

Wild in Wicklow at Brooklodge Hotel in Macreddin Village on Saturday 16th November– Irelands largest wild food dinner – apart from the potatoes the menu is made up of exclusively wild foods – for more information and to book the dinner wildandslow@macreddin.ie – 040236444

The Women in Agriculture Conference is a truly inspirational event. It will be held on 24th October at the Europe Hotel in Killarney – 0646671340 hotelsales@liebherr.com

East Cork Slow Food event – Shana Wilkie from Wilkie Chocolates is the only chocolatier I know in Ireland who conches the cocoa beans from scratch, so join us to hear her talk about the whole process from bean to bar, her chocolate bars are sensational. Ballymaloe Cookery School – Tuesday 15th October 7pm- Slow Proceeds raised for the East Cork Slow Food Mobile Kitchen Project.

Halloween Demonstration at Ballymaloe Cookery School – Friday 18th October 2:00pm to 5:00pm –  lots of delicious pumpkin recipes, including a hearty pumpkin soup. Learn how to bake the perfect traditional Irish barmbrack too – rich yeasted bread, packed with dried fruit and a dash of spice. Phone 021 4646785 to book or www.cookingisfun.ie

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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