On a sunny Saturday afternoon in September, I biked down to Ally Pally to join Urban Harvest’s annual Red Berry Walk. With blackberry season almost over, you might have thought there would be little to pick … unless (unlike me) you knew about hawthorns (native and exotic), sloe, crab apples, rosehips and quince!
Before this walk, I would have been hard pressed to identify all of these, let alone know what to do with them. But during the hour or so I spent strolling round the park with a large and friendly group of foragers, I learnt enough to feel confident about foraging on my own afterwards. I learnt that whilst native hawthorn berries are small and mostly seed, their exotic cousins can be the size of small cherries – and many grow as ornamental street trees. Sloe (which, confusingly, is the fruit of the blackthorn) turned out to resemble tiny purple plums – though eating them raw is not recommended. They can be used to flavour vodka, or possibly salted like olives.
My favourite find was the crab apples. It was a triumphant moment when, a few weeks later, I found myself at the bottom of Muswell Hill and peckish. Should I pop into the newsagent’s and buy a chocolate bar? But hadn’t we found a crab apple tree round here during the foraging walk? I found the tree again, and its small sweet and sharp red fruit on their long stalks – free, and healthy - kept me going until I arrived home for lunch. And I never even knew that crab apples were edible …
Urban Harvest is an informal group based in North London, holding regular foraging walks and foraging-themed meetings. For information about foraging, details of future events or to join the email list, visit www.urbanharvest.org.uk.