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Autumn foraging with the Pondies.

It's that time of year: slightly cooler days but plenty of sunshine as children (and their parents) get back into their school routines - and an abundance of free food makes itself available for anyone willing to scrump.

This week marked the first session of the new academic year with my 'Pondies' - a Wednesday afternoon 'club' at one of my local schools. Usually, we begin the first of our 8 sessions together with an exploration of the wildlife area and pond, but as the hedgerows and trees on the school grounds are drooping under the weight of deliciousness, we cantered through that bit, and headed out to explore.

The school grounds boast a plentiful allotment plot, but even without raiding that (Gardening Club might have objected), we gathered shiny eating apples, those hard-working crab apples, the last of the decent elderberries, bursting purple sloes and drippingly juicy blackberries. Sadly, the plum tree was barren (I think we ate them at all 50DT this summer) but on the way back to the wildlife area, one of the Pondies spotted hazelnuts.

Round the fire circle, we tasted everything, even the crab apples ("Urgh! It made my tongue go dry!") and the sloes ("Hmmm. They don't taste as nice as they look"). Much bashing of hazelnuts resulted in an awful lot of smashed, empty cases, and we still aren't sure whether the nuts escaped so quickly we didn't spot them, or just aren't ready yet.

I brought our remaining foraged fruit home, and made jelly with it all, taking pics along the way so that I can show the children. Next week, we'll taste the finished article - hopefully with more positive reviews than the raw fruits endured.

Unfortunately my afternoon session with the Pondies is too short to allow us time to scavenge and make the jam over our fire, but the 50DT children did make campfire jam this year, very successfully, with summer foraged fruits - blackberries, apples and plums - and using our 4l Ronnie Sunshine dutch oven and a muslin to strain the fruit.

The basic recipe we used was this one, from the Beeb: Rosehip and Crab Apple Jelly and is easily adapted for the campfire. We also pretty much chucked everything we found into it. Why not get out and about this week, and forage for your own fruity jams?

Dangerosity level: medium, but watch out for thorns and blisteringly hot jam on the fire.

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