With temperatures plummeting, it might just be the perfect time to escape Canberra’s cold and…
There’s wild food that’s ripe for the taking in the summertime.
So why not go for an urban forage? In the summer, many streets are lined with plum trees, many parks have dandelion weeds with bright yellow flowers and near the Cotter River there are blackberries.
Make the most of an urban forage or wild harvest by eating some and preserving the excess as gifts or for your cupboard as a memory of these warm summer days.
Plums in syrup
There are plums, small and large, on urban street trees around Canberra. Depending on the type of plum, they can be ready for harvest as early as November and others, in late January.
Don’t be shy about picking fruit before it’s completely ripe. You can let fruit ripen a little at home. You can also preserve fruit that’s nearly, but not quite ripe. Here’s the easiest way to make the most of a wild plum harvest.
Step 1. Wash your plums. If they are large enough, slice them in half and remove the stones. Discard or remove sections that are damaged by grubs. Let your plums dry off.
Step 2. Make your sugar syrup. Depending on the ripeness of your plums, consider different ratios of sugar to water. For a light syrup, combine one litre of water with one cup of white sugar. For a heavier syrup, combine one litre of water with two cups of white sugar. Combine the water and sugar in a heavy-based saucepan, bringing it gently to the boil. Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved.
Step 3. Prepare your preserving jars by sterilising them. You can reuse jars by simply sterilising them in the microwave. Place a few centimetres of water in the bottom of a clean jar, then gently rest the jar’s lid (yes – including metal lids) on top of the jar, leaving space for steam to escape. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, then discard any water left in the bottom of the jar.
Step 4. Make the preserve. Place your plums into their jars, then cover the plums with your sugar syrup. Seal your lid tightly, then place your jar into a 100°C oven for 35 minutes.
You can preserve other stone fruit, like apricots or sour cherries, using the same syrup method.
Dandelion and kale sauté
Dandelions are easy to see in a lawn, when they haven’t been mown over. They give zing to your regular leafy green sauté.
Step 1. Harvest a bunch or two of fresh, new dandelion leaves. Don’t pick the older leaves, they’ll have a stronger bitter taste. Not sure if you can identify a dandelion? Take a look at this picture from ABC Life. Harvest an equal weight of kale from your garden.
Step 2. Roughly chop your dandelion leaves and kale, then sauté them on a medium heat with a little extra virgin olive oil. When the leaves are nearly sautéed, move them to one side in the pan and in the other side of the pan you can drizzle a little more olive oil, then pop in the garlic and oregano. Cook the garlic and oregano for a minute, until just cooked. Then, combine the garlic, oregano and leaves in your saucepan. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 3. Serve your sautéed leaves with crumbled feta cheese as a side dish. If you’ve got too much, let your sauté mixture cool and preserve it in your freezer.
There’s an abundance of blackberries growing wild in the ACT and nearby NSW—just make sure to check relevant government sites (such as esa.gov.au) to see if the location you’re heading to is safe to visit during fire season.
Also give ACT Parks a call before you head out, to check that the blackberries haven’t been recently spayed.
Blackberry picking is a true family experience, popular with children who often eat as much as they put into their buckets.
Step 1. Pick your blackberries, give them a wash and let them air dry.
Step 2. Weigh your blackberries. You’ll need an equal weight of white sugar, to the weight of your berries. Use jam setting sugar if you’re keen for a stiffer jam.
Step 3. Combine the blackberries and sugar in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the juice of a lemon for every 1.2kg of berries. Bring to the boil, then boil for 15–20 minutes—until the mixture thickens. Just before you take the blackberries of the heat, crush them with a metal potato masher.
Step 4. Prepare your preserving jars by sterilising them. You can reuse jars by simply sterilising them in the microwave. Place a few centimetres of water in the bottom of a clean jar, then gently rest the jar’s lid (yes—including metal lids) on top of the jar, leaving space for steam to escape. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, then discard any water left in the bottom of the jar.
Step 5. Place your blackberry jam into sterilised jars.
If you don’t have access to wild blackberries, this recipe works well with other berries, including a mixture of berries.