Blackberries – The Lunchbreak forager

Blackberries aka Brambles

Andy Hamilton picking blackberries

Andy Hamilton picking blackberries by Roy Hunt

Blackberries (or brambles) can be found throughout the Northern hemisphere and in South America, although they will struggle in the far North but with climate change we may see a movement north. Indeed, last year I found blackberries in December and there were enough for a blackberry and apple crumble! Blackberries can be found as the understory in woods and forests, on waste ground, on the edges of parks and really it would seem almost anywhere they choose.

Foraging for blackberries

Many make the mistake when out foraging for blackberries of using a plastic carrier bag. This is a mistake you will only make once, as its easy to tear the bag. When the blackberries end up within a mass of thorns there is no way you’d want to lose that amount of delicious fruit again. It is these thorns that give blackberries one of their country names “lawyers”, once they trap you in it is very difficult to get loose!

It is interesting to note that blackberries used to be the garden plant, whilst raspberries would be seen as wild. Over the last 500 or more years this has changed and changed rather dramatically.

Blackberries are excellent for wine making but perhaps that is not so easy to make on your lunch break, much better to mix them with a whole load of delicious calories!

Blackberry fool

If you have an understanding boss you can make this at work, all you need to bring in with you is an electric whisk, a sieve and a couple of bowls. If you don’t have an understanding boss try and tempt them with a bowl (emphasising the word fool when you offer it for your own amusement), “Do you want some blackberry fool”.


500g Blackberries
150g Caster Sugar
Juice of Half a Lemon
400ml Double Cream
3 Drops Vanilla Essence


Push the blackberries through a sieve and combine with the sugar in a bowl. Squeeze in the lemon juice. In a separate bowl whisk the double cream until thick, adding the vanilla essence. Fold the contents of the bowls together. Pop in the fridge to chill for an hour or so. Then serve.

Mouth-watering Blackberry, Chocolate Yogurt Parfait

Ridiculously simple to make but if you sit at your desk eating this the dieters in your office won’t thank you for it.


1 tub of Greek yogurt
Half teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Dark Chocolate Chopped up into Chunks
50g Chopped Hazelnuts
200g Blackberries


Mix the yogurt with the cinnamon and put half of it into a wine glass. Layer half the chocolate and half the hazelnuts. Mash half the blackberries and layer on top. Spoon in the rest of the yogurt mixture and cover with the rest of the chocolate and nuts. If you want to jazz it up a bit then use a mixture of different nuts.

Booze for Free PDF

Booze for free PDF – Should everything be free?

Booze for Free and its Author Andy Hamilton

Booze for Free and its Author Andy Hamilton

Everything should be free is an argument that the internet has most certainly perpetuated. Authors Neil Gaiman and Paulo Coelho both agree to a certain extent, but does that mean its curtains for less established writers? Should Booze for free PDF be free?

When Booze for Free was released back in September 2011 I felt proud to have helped people help themselves to a cheaper and boozier existence. Myself and the publisher worked hard to keep the price low too, so that it was accessible to more people. Indeed, within days of release some internet sites were selling it for practically half price, a bargain indeed.

Cheap or even free is good and Most of my public work, including my latest book Booze for Free, has been about getting things very cheaply or for free. The Selfsufficientish ethos was and is geared around doing as much as you can for yourself whilst consuming the least amount of resources. I enjoy being part of this movement as there are many things I believe should be free. Gathering herbs to enhance food or for medicine, picking fruit in from the wild, growing your own vegetables or making your own booze are a few things that spring to mind.

But should we be getting books for free and what does that mean for the author? According to a report from ALCS (Authors Licensing and Collection Society)

The first ten years of a writer’s life are the hardest, even more so in the UK. The annual median income for professional authors from writing in the UK age group 25-34 is only £5,000 – one third less than for the comparable German category. Over the life-time of an author, earnings increase until the mid-fifties, and then decrease again”. Also, “A typical professional authors’ income is 33% less than the national average wage”.

Yep, most writers are poor. You may hear about £1 million book advances but I assure you that most of my writers friends are jealous of £5,000 book advances! Yet, before I started writing I thought that every writer was loaded, I thought that having a book out meant you could go off and buy that 6 bedroom house you have your eye on. Well you can’t, not unless you write a book about dirty Grey men!

It looks bleak now, but what about the future? In the last 10 years or so the music industry changed beyond all recognition with the advent of the MP3 player. The book market too is changing with the advent of tablets and e-readers. There is fear amongst authors, publishers and agents that the same thing will happen, pirated books will become as common as pirated music. That the industry will no longer be able to sustain itself. But music can carry on as musicians can be paid for gigging or getting radio airplay; authors can only really get paid when they sell books. Some book festivals will get authors to appear for free and another income stream many authors would sell their work in, the national newspapers are hemorrhaging money at the moment so even they will ask writers to blog for free or at greatly reduced rates.

But this won’t happen for years, will it? I certainly thought so and I also thought that my book didn’t lend itself to the e-reader. My ebook sales have always been very poor in comparison to my book sales. In the period between its release in September 2011 and new year just 5 ebooks were sold in the UK.

The other Andy Hamilton its (no) curtains for you

Andy Hamilton its (no) curtains for you

This is because no one wants a “cookbook” as a download right? Well, I thought so until I Googled “Booze for Free PDF” and checked out the number of illegal downloads my book has received. I found from just one torrent site that around 2000 ebooks had been downloaded. Now, is there a correlation? As an author I’d make around £2000 out of that many books. As I look into the shallow pool that was once my bank balance I start to fantasize about what I could do with the money. I could fix the shower and buy some curtains for the bedrooms, or perhaps life with a new child on the way be a little more comfortable rather than a little fraught!

But have I really lost two grand? Paulo Coelho the bestselling novelist suggests that pirated books will make him more money, he urges readers to who like his book to go out and buy a hard copy if they like it. Neil Gaiman agrees and argues that, for example, in Russia where his books were being pirated the most he was also making more sales. In his case his books were working as adverts. The more people that saw his books the more people would buy them.

Will that be the same for me? Well, my next royalty statement arrives next month and if the page Rank on Amazon has anything to go by my ebook sales are still looking poor. Perhaps if you already have a few books out then pirated books are a good thing, but I’m not so sure for those of us who are only on our first or second book.

I’d like to keep on writing for as long as people like what I write (and perhaps just a little bit longer). The free model does seem attractive especially if it sells more books and helps people who can’t afford books. So I too have thought about offering my first book, The Selfsufficientish Bible as a free download, or at least the parts I wrote (its co-written with Dave Hamilton, my brother) . But then I do already offer free content I have added some recipes and pages from Booze for Free all over this blog and even added new recipes. On top of that I may still turn my Lunch break forager articles into a book and by that point I’d have given most of that book away for free! (incidentally authors also get 5p every time one of our books is taken out at the library, remember libraries?)

I have to admit I do need at least some cash and believe it or not so do most other writers. I guess what I’d hope for is if a pirated book is read and especially if its been enjoyed then the reader should find a way to support that writer. Without book sales we writers can’t buy new curtains and we like new curtains (as least I do).

If you wish to keep Andy in curtains then you can find his latest book Booze for Free at Beetroot books, on Amazon and from your favourite bookshop or even as an Ebook. His other Book The Selfsufficientish Bible is available at Amazon too.

You may also notice a lot of opportunities to donate. If you did download Booze for free and now think, you know I’d love to give Andy £1 or even a bit more then any donation will be most gratiously recieved. You never know I might even send you a photo of me with a lovely new set of curtains.

Dock – The Lunchbreak forager

Docks are in the same family as buckwheat and sorrel. Docks are most famed for their

dock leaves

Dock edible with some preparation

use in folk medicine to help when stung by nettle. Personally I find that a plantain (plantago) leaf is far more beneficial than a dock due to its anti-histamine properties.

If you live in a temperate climate you won’t ever be too far away from dock leaves as they populate almost everywhere. Neglected areas of parks, wasteground and graveyards (avoid near to Victorian graves due to high levels of lead), are all places to search.

Dock leaves need careful preparation in order to make them edible. They need to be flash boiled in two changes of water (see below for preparation). Dock contains oxalic acid which is where that sharp lemon like flavour comes from and this is reduced when cooked. However, people with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take care if considering including this plant in their lunch box as it can aggravate their condition. Pregnancy and breast-feeding women should give it a miss too (sorry, I know its boring try to make up for it by getting those around you to pass you random things for your own amusement).

The dock leaves can then be used filled with a spiced rice mixture rolled up and served as

Andy Hamilton in a hat

Andy Hamilton man about the forest

stuffed vine leaves. Here is a brief recipe of mine originally on the BBC food website, but it was in need of a few tweaks so I’ve pasted below a tweaked version. The first flush of growth on any dock plant can also be eaten raw, hunt around in the spring (again avoid if you have an underlying health condition).

Stuffed Dock leaf

Dock leaves are available at almost any time of year. Their strong texture makes them ideal for stuffing and making a wild food version of stuffed vine leaves.


      16 dock leaves, washed well
      4 tbsp walnut oil
      500g/1lb 2oz lamb mince
      1 onion, finely chopped
      1 lemon, juice only
      100g/3½oz bulgur wheat
      1 large tomato
      1 tsp mixed spices
      400ml/14fl oz cold water
      1 tbsp tomato purée

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  2. Boil the dock leaves in water for a couple of minutes and repeat. Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper.
  3. Meanwhile, mix two tablespoons of the walnut oil with the lamb mince, onion, lemon juice, bulgur wheat, tomato and mixed spice until well combined. Add a little of the water to loosen the mixture if necessary.
  4. Roll sixteen equal-sized balls from the mixture and wrap one in each boiled dock leaf. Place the stuffed dock leaves into a large cast-iron casserole (or saucepan).
  5. Mix the remaining two tablespoons of oil with the tomato purée and water and pour the mixture into the casserole.
  6. Put the casserole onto the hob over a medium heat and gently bring to the liquid to the boil. Remove the casserole from the heat and transfer to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly before serving.

Deceptively delicious dock tortilla (or The Wild Tortilla)

It is easy to dismiss dock and even curse it. There doesn’t seem to be a patch on earth that does give a home to dock. As a gardener I curse it, letting its long root down into my veg patch. Persisting and giving no other use than its dubious fame to neutralize a nettle sting. It does however, add a taste and texture to dishes when there are next to no other leaves around and high in iron it can be a nutritious addition too.


100g dock (curled or large leafed) prepared as below

1 x Wood aven root
3 eggs
2 generous dollops of double cream (4 tablespoons)
1 sweet potato
1 tsp nettle seeds
Oil for frying
1 small leek


Bring a pan of water to the boil and throw in dock leaves. Boil for 3 mins then rinse leaves. Nibble on a leaf and if still very bitter repeat the process. Rinse leaves in cold water then chop.

Beat eggs with cream and put to one side

Meanwhile heat oil in a 25cm pan over a medium heat and grate in cleaned wood aven root and sprinkle in nettle seeds. Chop the sweet potato into 1cm rounds and fry in batches until crispy brown  blisters appear. In the last batch also fry leak until softened.

Stir the dock in with the egg mixture and pour half into the pan. Add the extra layer of sweet potato and more nettle seed if to hand and pour in the rest of the mixture.

Cook on a medium heat until a bit wobbly, constancy of vodka jelly, then finish off under the grill.

For a lighter version swap the dock for 150g of chickweed.

The Lunchbreak forager – Hawthorn

Hawthorn – Crataegus – What is Hawthorn?

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is planted as hedging and therefore can be found on the edge of car parks, in public parks and, for those in the countryside, it can also be found on the edges of farming fields.

Botanical description

Hawthorn grows to 5-15m and can be about 6m wide. The bark is smooth and grey on young trees and on older trees longitudinal (top to bottom) grooves start to appear.  Thorns grow from the branches at right angles and can be from 1-3cm long. The leaves, which appear in very early spring, budding sometimes in late winter are indented into 3-7 lobes reaching halfway or more to the central vein. The leaves can be of variable shape but often they are toothed towards the tip.

Collecting Haw berries

Haw berries are abundant so it shouldn’t be long until you find some. They are often planted as hedging so look around the edge of car parks. They fruit from September and into October, after which they can still be found on the tree but you might have to fight with maggots to what is left!

Bird enthusiasts with quite rightly insist that the haw berry is a food highly prized by many of our native birds and therefore a valuable source of fuel as the days grow shorter and the mercury drops. You need not worry too much as haws are so prolific that unless you are picking the metric ton there should be plenty left for the birds. However, if there is just one bush it is perhaps best to leave this alone.

Folklore suggests that picking from a single tree is a no-no, too. It is considered that the a

hawthorn bush

hawthorn bush/shrub/tree

single hawthorn tree is a gateways to the fairy kingdom and they will be angry if you pick from it. Rumour has it that there are single hawthorns that are considered to be grumpy trees. A white which in Bristol insists that one particular tree growing in a very public park is one of the moodiest trees she has ever met!

A good haul of haw berries can be picked in one lunch break. The trick I find is to take off as much of the stalk as you can whilst picking at this stage to save you having to do it later. It seems much less of a laborious task doing it as you go on a bright autumnal lunchtime than later at the kitchen table. Having the radio or an MP3 player can help and listening to rhythmic music such as a good piano concerto or some dubstep can really liven up the picking.

Collecting Haw blossom

Hawthorn is one of the first trees to blossom in early spring and as the snow melts, days lengthen and plants start to grow. It is one of the best signals to the forager that there is more food around.

It is a little more fiddly picking the blossom than the haws so do be aware, or you might get pricked! It is also advisable to collect in a paper bag as this makes it easier to dry the blossom. Once picked the bag can be hung in a warm dark place, such as a stationary cupboard, for a couple of months. They can then be used to make delicious teas.

Eating on your lunch break

Haw berries can be munched on raw and have a mealy texture reminiscent of avocado: chew on a few and spit out the pips. The leaves, too, can be munched straight from the tree or added to your lunch-time sandwich, but are much tasier when they first come out, by late spring they are already past it. The first leaves are known as bread and cheese despite tasting nothing like either. Add a small handful of leaves in with a hard crumbling cheese like Cheshire for a sandwich to look forward to.

Lunch-time drinks

The blossom which blooms white-pink and even crimson in April/May time can be used to make a rather refreshing tea it is also very good for you (see medicinal uses).  Simply put one tsp of dried blossom or two of fresh into a small tea pot and pour over hot water. Allow to infuse for up to five minutes before drinking. You can also add ginger or dried lime flowers for extra flavour.


This recipe below for toffee apples was a life saver when I was doing some TV for the BBC, I was in the process of moving house and doing lot of book promotional talks  and so very stressed with no  time for anything. I’m rather ashamed to admit that the first time I made it was live on air and I had no idea if it would work properly. Luckily the results were wondrous and I still follow the recipe to this day!


50g of assorted hedgerow fruit (haws, sloes, hips etc)
225g sugar
150ml water
half tsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
25g butter
6 apples
6 fat twigs/sticks


Boil the hedgerow fruit in the water for 10 minutes until it starts to change colour. If using hips, sloes or anything that can’t be mushed between your fingers easily then freeze overnight and thaw before using.

Strain through a muslin cloth and measure 110ml of the resulting water. It should’ve changed to a lovely redish/purplish colour (depending on what fruit you are using). Gently heat stirring in the sugar until fully dissolved and adding the rest of the ingredients. Bring the mixture to the boil and keep at as close to 138°c as you can for 10 min. You’ll be able to tell when it has done by dropping a bit of the semi-solid liquid into cold water, if it turns to a ball it is done.

Pull the stalks out of the apples and whack the sticks in. Roll them in the semi-solid until coated and repeat. Leave to harden on a grease proof paper.

Some tips about foraging

Five Plum Wine recipe

Five Plum Wine

This is an extract from my bestselling home brew book Booze for Free published by Eden Project Books, RRP £9.99 for hardback (but you can often get it much cheaper online).

Over the year different plums will come into season: the first is the cherry plum, followedairlocks on plum wine by cultivated plums, then greengages, damsons, and finally sloes. Using your freezer you can collect a selection of these and make a complex plum wine with an excellent bouquet.

You can mix together whatever plums you have, as long as the weight adds up to 10kg/20lb; they should all spend some time in the freezer to soften. The following recipe makes 20 litres/4.5 gallons of wine; to make a smaller batch simply divide all the ingredient quantities by your desired factor.

Plum wine Ingredients

500g/1lb greengages
2kg/4lb cherry plums
1.5kg/3lb sloes
6kg/12lb damsons
2 ripe bananas
250g/0.5lb raisins
250ml/half a pint of grape concentrate
20 litres/35 pints of water
6kg/12lb sugar
5 tsp pectolase
5 tsp yeast nutrient
all-purpose wine yeast

Equipment needed for making plum wine

large saucepan/cauldron
fermentation bin
large demijohn or 5 smaller ones
airlock(s) and bung(s)
large fruit wine funnel

Plum Wine Method

Freeze all the plums and allow to thaw. Peel the bananas. Boil half of the water and stir in the sugar. Add all the ingredients to the fermentation bin and leave for ten days in a warm place, occasionally returning to mash the fruit with a sterilized masher.

After those ten days, strain into a series of demijohns or one big one. Attach airlock and rack after a month. Allow to ferment out, racking on occasion if required. Age for at least three months, longer if you can. Plum wine can get a bit hazy but if you try not siphon all the sediment when siphoning you should avoid the worst of the haze.

The Great British Beer Festival – GBBF – Is it the best festival beer model?

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited to the trade session at the GBBF. The movers and shakers of the beer world were there from beer Bloggers like Rob from Hopzine, professional beer authors such as bestselling Pete Brown and most of the brewers from around the UK (including Sue from Waen who invited us). This is an epic beer festival and you could easily spend a month there and still not have the same beer twice. Although, you might not necessairly survive the experience!

Andy Hamilton at the Great British Beer Festival GBBF


The atmosphere at such an event is electric. We dodged between men dressed as old maidens, brass bands, tin hatted folk, balloon hatted folk and hords of drinkers (some without beards) to find beers from almost every corner of the UK and beyond. The two stand out beers for me were The Boggart rum Porter and I’m sure say this without the obvious bias, The Waen Blackberry stout.

Andy’s beery bits part 1 from Andy Hamilton on Vimeo.

As I’m currently writing a book about beer this was to be a mecca, indeed I was in the right place for a diverse range of beer. The trouble is, even when buying beers in third of a pint measures, it is difficult even for the most hardened of drinkers to try any more than 20 beers. I couldn’t help but wonder if a festival as described to me by Chad(an American homebrewer living in Brighton)  could work. You pay an inflated price to get in, let’s say £20 or £30, and you help yourself to whichever beer you fancy. There are massive bins around the venue, in case that you change your mind about what you have served. So there is a downside and that’s wastage. However, after going to the cancelled “Beer on the Wye” festival in Hereford earlier I saw how much beer could be wasted when beer festivals go wrong. Also, some of the beers are not popular, “it’s the first time I’ve pulled that one”, was a familiar cry when I ordered some of the more perculiar beers at the GBBF.

The Waen bar

The Waen bar

This idea of a fee on the door is not a new model, it was used in the 16th Century by local churches. Once a year the church would brew a strong beer, you’d pay once at the door and drink what you liked. The money raised would help with the upkeep of the church (sure beats a jumble sale)!

I’m not saying that CAMRA beer festivals are not great fun and I’m not bashing them. What I am wondering is if there is another model that some beers festivals could try out. It’s a model I’d like to see, you could try just a snifter of each beer and settle on the ones you like. Just think how many beers you could get through! The brewers would be happy too as they would all get paid a set price and no-one would be set on how well the beer selling. But I guess it promotes binge drinking and as that has become demonised so would an authoritative body licence such an idea? Well I guess we won’t know unless we ask for it.

Balloon Hatted man drinking at the GBBF

Beer festival attire

Autumn Flower Champagne and Alan Titchmarsh

Andy Hamilton in a hat

Andy Hamilton man about the forest

I approached this recipe for Booze for Free in the same way that I’d approach making a curry. With a curry you know the basis and so can experiment with other ingredients without really worrying that what you get will be unedible. I’d been making elderflower champagne for years and understood that although the elderflowers were used for their yeast that other flowers might work too. I searched through my library and picked up a copy of Homemade Root Beer, Soda and Pop by Stephen Cresswell. A great book which helped inspire some the drinks in Booze for Free. I saw a recipe for dandelion Champagne which helped my thirst for experiementation (and new drinks). I decided I’d go for a walk along the river and just pick whatever edible flowers were around it was the autumn so autumn flower champagne was born.

A few months later I was teaching Alan Titchmarsh to make some on his show. The crew were a lovely bunch and watching the man himself at work I could see why he’s at the top of his game. He was a nice fella too and I’m not just saying that to be some kind of media lovely. He made me feel at ease and just before the cameras were rolling he turned to me and said, “Passion Andy, passion” and that did seem to help!

Autumn flower Champagne

The Himalayan balsam flowers add a real colour to this most flavoursome, champagne making it blush a bright pink.


3 litres/6 pints of water
1 kg/2lb sugar
1 litre/2 pints of balsam flowers
500mls/1 pint of red clover flowers
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tsp citric acid
2 tsp lemon juice
champagne yeast (as back up)


Wash the flowers to ensure that they are bug free. Place into bucket with all the other ingredients apart from sugar. Cover with half the water and give a stir. Meanwhile bring the rest of the water to the boil and stir in the sugar. Add that to the rest of the mix.

Leave with lid loosely on or a tea towel over the top occasionally returning in order to give it a stir. After two to four days it should have started to fizz when it does filter through muslin cloth into bottles. Put the bottles straight into the fridge or release the gas from them daily as they can be prone to exploding.


If the wild yeasts refuse to play ball after a couple of days then pitch a champagne yeast instead. If you can’t find enough red clover and blasam flowers experiment with any wild edible flowers, dandelion, mustard even white nettle flowers can all be used.