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Blackberrying

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

There is something special about the season between seasons…


Unique times of year that give an ever changing palette of colour, flavour and textures. As one season blends effortlessly into the next certain crops come to fill the gaps. When summer berries begin to fade blackberries spring into life while the apples, pears and plums swell then ripen with a lower sun in the sky.


Horse chestnuts are rusting, hazelnuts firming on their trees, sloes beginning to swell and apples sweeten with the fading Autumn heat. This is the time of the blackberry!


Their aroma effortlessly hangs in the air with a gentle softness you can almost feel on your skin, passing through it like a cloud. A rich fruity floral sweetness conceals a subtle spice with a green apple acidity bringing this cacophony of aromas to order.


The enthusiasm for foraging and wild foods has been reignited over recent years, but scouring the hedgerow for brambles, waiting for that intoxicating aroma then searching for the clusters of deep purple fruits is a past time deeply ingrained into British food heritage.


An almost childlike excitement swells, grabbing any old container before venturing out the front door to seek out this hedgerow jewel. It is intoxicating! Eagerly searching for the perfect spot where the sun has worked its magic, swelling the fruits so they are almost bursting with sweet juice. That tight purple shine has given way to the matt blue black of full ripeness.


Fighting back the nettles while attempting to tame the thorns guarding this juicy treasure. Ankles tingling, hands scraped and fingers stained purple, all overshadowed by the satisfaction of a full container and eager anticipation for what delights will be created in the kitchen.


Blackberrying is almost infectious, generating a hint of passive competition to gather enough to satisfy whatever delight will be conjured up in the kitchen. An almost desperate scrabble ensues that leads to broken down stems, whacked nettles and bare stems.


The true reward comes from patience, waiting for the fruits to swell beyond their under ripe, uniform shape. Acidity is all that awaits those that are too eager. Waiting for just a few hot sunny days makes all the difference. Converting this sharp bland acidity into a rich floral sweetness, bursting with flavour in the mouth. The perfect fruit will offer no resistance to being picked but only for the most delicate of touches!


For many this late summer culinary rite of passage is a childhood memory, I came to blackberrying late, my wife introducing me to the delights of a foraged blackberry. Perhaps this is why I almost desperately scrabble, more so than with other seasonal treats, to come up with as many different recipes and combinations as possible before they are gone for another year.


As with all seasons, nature has provided a flavour road map for all to see. Complementary crops ready for harvest at the same time just waiting to be joined in culinary matrimony.


Apples,


Elderberries,


Plums and


Hazelnuts


...as well as some game

All beginning to come into season in the UK around early Autumn having made the most of the Summer weather glut.






There are a few pointers I use for crafting these delightful fruits, mainly focusing on controlling acidity while letting the floral sweetness shine. The acidic juices from slightly under ripe berries, picked in eager haste, is the usual culprit. Fats coat the tongue and palette, softening any acidity. Dairy balances this with a pleasant richness. Nut oils do the same job while offering a complement to the sweet floral qualities with a vegetal toasty edge.


My favourite way of bringing blackberries and dairy together is by using a puree., incredibly versatile. Simply puree the fruit with a third of its weight in sugar, then sieve before storing the the fridge or freezer.


Blackberry Fool with Honey Madeleines


Dairy such as yoghurt has a sharpness that complements blackberries elegantly.


A 'Fool' is a delightful way to enjoy sharper fruit.


I prefer equal quantities of double cream, natural yoghurt and blackberry puree. Then sweeten with honey if you wish.


Crunchy nutty biscuits or delicate sponges go really well.






Sourdough Blackberry Pancakes

Another of my favourite ways to enjoy these gorgeous little fruits is in pancakes drizzled with a little honey.


For those of you who dabble in sourdough, discard will no doubt be a household item. The slightly sour taste and floral yeasty qualities pair perfectly with blackberries.


2 eggs, 200g milk & 250g discard all whisked together. The mix in 50g caster sugar and a pinch of salt, followed by 180g flour, .


Leave in the fridge overnight before cooking in the morning. My Sunday treat with a black coffee.



Crumble! Humble but honest, this most regal of puddings embraces the cooler months, providing much needed comfort as the evenings draw in. Blackberry and Apple is the most famous of celebrities in the crumble world. Acidity tamed by a buttery topping allowing floral flavours to shine through. A favourite of mine is to add fresh hazelnuts in the topping, bringing a welcome contrast in both texture and flavour.



I favour a fairly equal quantity of fruit to topping. This leaves enough for a gooey layer next to the fruit without compromising a crunchy top. Combining caster and demerara sugar brings a good balance of sweetness. The caster is simply a pure sweet hit while the demerara gives flavour and texture.


For a 25cm pie dish;

340g flour, 190 butter, 70g caster sugar, 70g demerara sugar, 80g nuts





Baking of any kind really comes to life as the evenings draw in but especially cakes. Cooler air and crisper mornings speak to a part of the soul that craves tea and cake. Blackberries make a wonderful addition but be cautious of all the juice!


Blackberry & Almond Cake with Creme Fraiche

Look for recipes using ground nuts, oats or cornmeal/polenta to help soak up all the moisture released during a bake while complementing the flavour of the fruit.


Blackberry Bakewell

Of course leaning into the acidity brings a new dimension to blackberries! Harnessing this quality releases a delicate floral spice usually masked by sweetness. Blackberry gin is the perfect illustration, the botanicals in gin pair beautifully with the floral pungency of blackberries.


1 bottle of gin 300 blackberries 100 sugar (more or less according to taste).

Rotate every day and dink after at least 3 weeks, but preferably more.


Blackberry vinegar is a store cupboard essential for the colder weather. Far more than a condiment, fruit vinegars are a seasoning not to be underestimated as rich fatty meats and earthy robust vegetables take to the stage. A sprinkle of blackberry vinegar over hot kale is divine. Adding a dash to a casserole lifts all the flavours giving a lightness that’s hard to replicate.


Start of using a ratio of 60/40 fruit to vinegar. Gently mash the blackberries in your chosen vinegar, red wine vinegar is a good starting point, then leave to steep for 1-2 weeks before straining. Then take half the volume of remaining liquid in grams of sugar and gently heat to dissolve. More or less sugar is a personal preference so experiment. This will store for a year, but I doubt it will be around that long!



Blackberries are the perfect bridge between two seasons, offering a whole host of flavour combinations that would otherwise remain unknown. Taking vibrant summer energy and injecting it into Autumn with memories of long warm days spent outside eagerly foraging for these delicate purple jewels.


Beyond all culinary delights, blackberries true power comes from bringing an effortless connection with our environment. There is a specific joy in getting out into the world around us, feeling the excitement in discovering a bramble patch laden with ripe berries bursting with sweet juice. Then the inevitable chatter on the way home, conjuring up all kinds of ways to enjoy these glorious fruits, stretching culinary craft and making memories to pass on through the generations.


Heritage | Environment | Craft


 

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