People get very agitated about foraging. Surely, they say, we have taken enough from nature already, we should leave plants to recover. In fact most collected species are very common â€“ sorrel, blackberries, cherry plums and wood blewits for example, and many more can be considered weeds, such as dandelion, fat hen and chickweed. But if you really, really worry about these things there is nothing better than to forage an invasive species.
A most useful species is a shrub-like tree called “sea buckthorn” from which the berries are collected. In fact it is native but, until recently, was largely restricted to the southern part of the east coast of England. It is an excellent stabiliser of sand dunes and has been planted all around the coast for this purpose. Unfortunately it has done its job too well and, spreading by suckers, has come to dominate and effectively destroy many of these sensitive habitats.
It is an easy plant to identify with its narrow grey/green leaves and bright clustered orange berries. It looks a little like a willow tree and indeed one of its old names was “sallow-thorn”. Its Latin name Hippophae rhamnoides, incidentally and rather inexplicably since it does neither, means “thing that looks like buckthorn and frightens horses”.
They do take a bit of picking. The trees are covered in vicious spines and the berries are impossible to remove from the branches without bursting and spraying you with bright, orange-coloured juice. I usually don a plastic raincoat and some rubber gloves and squidge the juice straight into a bowl, transferring the precious fluid via a sieve (to remove the inevitable leaves and twigs) into a bottle to take it home.
The berries are just about ready on the few trees I visit in Weymouth, though you may have to wait a week or two if you live in a cooler area. They can be picked until the hard frosts of November when they lose much of their colour and flavour. And what a powerful flavour! The main assault on the senses comes from malic acid, the eye-watering organic acid used to flavour “extreme candy” beloved of 10-year-olds. Just one berry is sufficient to suck in your cheeks and get you reaching for a glass of water.
When it comes to cooking the berries, I’ll repeat a warning I included inEdible Seashore, from my daughter Florence who at 13, had written in her diary: “Came downstairs. Dad’s been cooking berries again and the whole house smells of sick.” The smell is unmistakeable but you will be pleased to hear that this particular undertone does not find its way to the finished product.
Sea buckthorn berries.I have used sea buckthorn juice as a replacement for lemon on fish â€“ a nicely maritime juxtaposition â€“ and to make a sea buckthorn and crab apple jam. A couple of years ago I ran a seashore foray from the superbSummer Lodge HotelÂ in Evershot, Dorset, just round the corner from where I live. I had collected a small pot of the juice which I presented to Steve, their incomparable chef, asking him to “do something interesting with it”. At the beginning of dinner he gave us a glass of “sea buckthorn fizz”. It was wonderful. Here is how you make it.
A bottle of champagne â€“ orÂ elderflower champagneÂ or sparkling British wine or even a light, sparkling cider
About 150ml raw sea buckthorn juice
Pop the champagne into the fridge. First remove any odd bits of debris then put your berries/juice into a pan. Bring the berries/juice to a boil then squeeze through a fine sieve or muslin cloth. Put the juice back in the cleaned pan, warm through and add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Allow to cool, then refrigerate. Mix with the champagne to taste and serve immediately.