Thursday, 29 October 2015

Autumn Colour, Science and Art - all in one day!

The autumn colours are amazing at the moment and so I snatched a few hours at the weekend to enjoy the beauty of it all before the wind blows all the leaves away. I do like autumn but in the past it has always been a bit of a sad time of year for me as it signifies the end of summer and the onset of those long winter nights. However, over recent years I have started to embrace Autumn and really think about the science behind it and appreciate how amazing nature really is and of course to enjoy the beauty of it.

Autumn colours near Thirlmere
Without sounding too arty, autumn is also a time of reflection. It is a time of slowing down after the summer. The summer is so busy both in the human world and the natural world. Everything is busy growing, feeding, reproducing...insects, birds and mammals are all flying and running around making the most of the summer months. The trees have been making the most of the sunshine and using its energy to produce sugars for food, by the process of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is an important chemical in the photosynthetic process and is involved in the process of turning carbon dioxide and water into sugars. It is this chemical, chlorophyll that makes the leaves green.
Autumn colour near Elterwater
Reflective colours at Thirlmere

Due to the vast array of tones of red, orange, green and yellow, autumn really reveals the vast diversity of tree and plant species that there are. The colours make it easier to demonstrate just how diverse the natural world is. It also makes me stop and think about what is actually happening here. As the days get shorter and there is less sunlight, trees conserve their energy by ceasing photosynthesis and the chlorophyll in their leaves begins to break down. As the green chlorophyll is breaking down, this means that the other pigments found in leaves such as carotenoids and anthocyanins are now more apparent and visible. There are also red and brown pigments which are now visible through other chemical changes that are taking place within the leaves. If the carotenoids are also broken down then brown colours are revealed such as in the oak leaves we find in autumn.

An array of autumn colour
When I was out exploring the autumn colours, I headed into the woods to get a closer look at the variety of colours and leaves. Beech trees are amazing with a variety of red, oranges and browns and they produce big piles of leaves that you just want to run and jump in! This displays the important process behind autumn, and so the reason behind the chemical breakdown of chlorophyll and that is senescence. Senescence is the process where the nutrients are taken back by the tree from its leaves and absorbed into other areas. As the leaves are no longer needed through winter (as there is not enough sunlight for photosynthesis) they are a drain on resources. So after the chemicals have broken down and the nutrients have been removed the leaves are released from the tree and so we find them in great big piles to play in!

Autumn Leaves
Beech leaves
Beautiful colours
And its not only the just large flat leaves are shed in autumn, some needles are also shed too! Larch trees are one of the coniferous trees that are actually deciduous. The needles are the leaves of larch trees and they turn yellow before falling from the tree.

Beech and larch trees
And so after hours of fun and being totally absorbed by so many different colours and leaf shapes, I gathered some up to have a little bit of a closer look at them. What started as a home scientific study turned into a bit of leaf art!

Autumn leaf art!

But then of course I got my science head back on and split all my leaves up and really started to look at the various colours and shapes and to think about how the various trees had evolved to produce these differences. Every tree species has leaves with their own special 'design' specifics for both survival, growth and to out-compete each other. So much to consider than just a beautiful bunch of leaves!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Food Foraging Fun

My foraging result - Blackberry and apple crumble
Way back in the summer when the days were long and the hedgerows were full of flowers I went on a food foraging workshop, organised by Solway Wetlands Partnership. The day was run by John Crouch a local chef who knows a LOT about traditional food, foraging for it and the history of it. He has a wealth of information and his enthusiasm for playing with hedgerow food is contagious.I don't know a lot about foraging and so I thought it would be a good idea to find out. There are too many poisonous plants out there to just start foraging and as John advised never eat anything you are unsure about. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I went back for another day in Autumn...

Toni doing some summer foraging
Honeysuckle flowers - great in salad
An afternoon workshop with John involves heading out along the local lanes and fields to see what you can find. He does bring along some of his own bought ingredients and then heads outside to see what he can supplement his dishes with. In the summer we concentrated on leaves and flowers that could be either cooked in dishes or made into salads.

Rose hip petals
Elderflowers - great for cordial and fritters
In the autumn we basically headed out along the same lanes and fields and it is amazing to see the different food on offer through the transition of seasons. Basically the flowers had gone and the fruits had grown and the leaves were starting to turn.

The transformation from Elderflower to Elderberries!
Crab apples
In the autumn there was blackberries and crab apples in abundance and it has to be said that apple and blackberry crumble is one of my favourite dishes. We also had a look for damsons but this year has not been very good for them. Some people have suggested this may be to the late frosts that we had earlier in the spring.

Damsons are sparce this year
Bulaces are just like damsopn but rounder and more plum like
Yum yum - just like a plum!
We found the odd damson dotted around on the bushes but not enough for making jam or gin! We did however also find a few bulaces. These are a similar fruit and taste just like plums. I have never tried them before - so a new one for me, I thought they were delicious. Damsons are not really palatable raw and elderberries should never be eaten raw - they should always be cooked first.

On both the summer day and the autumn day out we took our gathered leaves and fruit back to the kitchen to then start cooking. To be fair John did all the cooking and we just sat and watched in awe!

Apples and Blackberries galore
Horseradish - gathered locally by John
John is very organised in his mobile kitchen. He gets 3 or 4 dishes all going at once and at the same time talks you through what he is doing. He also adds in plenty of anecdotes about each plant that he is using. John also knows a lot about Roman food and what they ate. He also knows about the origins of some of the plant names.

John cooking away in his mobile kitchen
Bacon and hawthorn filo roll
Elderflower fritter
In the summer some of the dishes John created were Saag Aloo using plantain leaves, nettle and lentil soup, bacon and hawthorn filo roll and elderflower fritters which were just amazing! He also created a salad using flowers such as honeysuckle and some more of the hawthorn leaves. I remember eating these as a child and we used to called the bread and butter!

Chicken with blackberries
Warm blackberry trifle
 At the autumn workshop John used his talent again to create some delicious food. He made a jus out of the elderberries, a chicken dish with blackberries and he mixed the crab apples with spice and cooked them for a very small amount of time before popping them in a pickling jar. The remaining blackberries were made into a warm trifle which was just amazing. 

John is such a great, cheerful and knowledgeable man. What I like about him is his willingness to share all the knowledge that he has. He is passionate about foraging for food and wants everyone to share this enjoyment. If you ever get a chance to go to one of his workshops it is well worth it. I was so inspired by John that after each workshop I went out, gathered some of my own leaves and fruit and got cooking. My crumble is at the top of this blog! And not wanting to finish on a serious note but I have to say it again...only forage for and eat what you know and know how to prepare it - if you have any doubt don't eat it...there are some poisonous plants out there. Do what I did and get yourself booked on a course - they are a great way to learn and meet new people!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Season of Mist and Mellow Fruitfulness.....Berries, Fruit, Nuts and Seeds

Autumn is here.....and I have been out and about taking photos of the berries, nuts, seeds and leaves and anything else that signifies autumn. Whilst I have not had much time to write about the autumn, I have managed to make 2 blackberry crumbles and an apple and blackberry crumble......yum yum. Enjoy the autumn before its over......

A waterfall of hawthorn berries
Guelder Rose
Dog Rose
Blackberries, or blackites if you are Cumbrian!
Conkers, or the Horse Chestnut

Acorns of the Oak Tree!
The amazing Sycamore in transition from green to yellow!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Mist, Sun and Moon

This is not my usual subject for a blog post, but it has been such as stunning week of misty mornings and evenings with a big big moon at night and some amazing sunrises and sunsets. Unfortunately I have been a bit busy to capture it all, but I managed to take a couple of pics this week and it has prompted me to post some of my favourite photos of how the the weather and climate can totally transform the mountains and valleys.

High in the mountains above the cloud filled valleys....

Temperature inversion on Blencathra

Misty mornings across the farmers' fields.....

Stunning sunsets.....
Big orange sun in my local neighbourhood
Stunning sunset at St Bees

And waking up in the mountains to cloud filled valleys. What an amazing planet we live on....

Camping above Buttermere