A good time to start gathering fruit from the hedgerows

I have noticed walking around the countryside, autumn is coming in, very early this year.

The bracken is starting to turn a golden brown and the blackberries are ready for picking. Although they seem plentiful this year, they are also quite a bit smaller than usual.

Next week sees the start of the partridge season. I can’t think of anything more enjoyable than a good game casserole on a cold winter’s evening. Whether it is partridge, pheasant, pigeon or venison.

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I fry them first until browned all over. Cut up a few carrots, a few sticks of celery, a handful of mushrooms, six small shallots and a vacuum pack of chestnuts, put them in the casserole pot with the game, season with salt and pepper, cover the whole lot with a good bottle of red wine.

Cover the pot with a lid and place in a pre-heated oven at 180c and cook for about an hour and a half, until the meat is tender. Serve with a good spoonful of creamed mash potatoes and red cabbage.

While the game is cooking, I take out a bag of blackberries (about half a pound) that I have frozen this time of year. Put in a pan, add about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, 150ml of beef stock, two tablespoons of redcurrant jelly. Heat up until the blackberries become soft and form a thick sauce. Serve with the game. It is delicious.

The other fruit that is plentiful this year in the hedgerow are the sloes. Most trees and bushes seem to be laden with the small black fruit.

I am sure some of you are not over keen on neat gin, but sloe gin has a totally different taste and is a wonderful warmer on a cold winter’s day, or just sitting by the fire on a cold winter’s evening.

I usually pick about a pound of sloes, then buy a litre bottle of gin, (There is no need to get the expensive designer gin, the supermarket own brand is just as good).

Next get a second empty litre bottle or clean jar. Pour half of the gin into the empty bottle. Wash the sloes and prick the skin of each one with a needle or any pointed implement.

Place half the sloes into each bottle until you fill it up, leaving about two inches from the top. Put about four ounces of caster sugar into each bottle, make sure you screw the top on tightly and give it a good shake.

Place it into a cool dark cupboard and try and shake it every other day for the first week, then try and give it a shake a couple of times each month for the next two or three months. After which time it should be ready to drink.

Some people prefer to strain it through a muslin cloth to separate the gin from the sloes. I tend to leave the sloes in the bottle which after a few months turns the gin a rich dark mauve. The longer you can keep it, the better it becomes.

Next month will see the sweet chestnuts falling from the trees. Pick a few and roast them, not forgetting to prick the skins first.

Our countryside has an amazing larder to choose from.