Blackberries

B

You’ll need to get out there fast to catch the best blackberries. There’s something wonderfully comforting and soothing about wandering along a country lane eating blackberries from the hedges – this year there is a truly prodigious crop, we’ve had a few wonderful blackberry picking expeditions and taught the children and indeed some uninitiated friends how to choose the best berries. In fact I was amazed to discover how many ‘grown-ups’ didn’t realise that its prudent to check the berries before you pop them into your mouth – if the core is discoloured rather than pale and unblemished, it usually means that little crawly beasties have got there first, best discard those. This becomes more of a problem towards the end of the season.

The berries seem particularly sweet and gorgeous this year. They are loaded with Vitamin C, fibre and folate and children love them. They particularly love picking them and should be encouraged, think of how a few good blackberry feasts will naturally help to build up their resistance to winter colds and flu.

So it’s a good time to fill a flask and pack a little picnic so you can head off on an expedition after school. Bring lots of plastic or stainless steel containers, best if they are little and light so they don’t seem too intimidating to fill. Practically speaking if they are too large the ripe berries will get squashed and damaged.

So what to do with all those berries, I adore a fresh blackberry sponge – make a light whisked-up sponge, spoon softly whipped cream over the top, scatter generously with fresh berries and sprinkle with a little castor sugar – divine. I sometimes scatter a few rose petals over the top – they look so alluring and taste delicious too, (make sure they haven’t had a dose of chemicals).

If you collect a decent quantity, you’ll probably want to make some jam – Blackberries are low in pectin, the agent that helps jam to set, so it’s a good idea to partner the berries with cooking apples to increase the pectin and cut the sweetness.

The first Irish cooking apples are in the shops – look out for Grenadier or Bramley Seedling and please please make an effort to buy Irish apples. Its so difficult for Irish growers to compete with cheaper imports – if we don’t actively support them there will be no Irish apples to buy – it’s as simple as that. Its not just a question of loyalty, they do have a unique flavour.

Back to the blackberries or brambles as our adorable little part-Scottish grand-daughter Willow calls them. If you have a glut – you may also want to preserve some for later. They freeze really well. If you have time and space, its really worth ‘tray freezing’ so all those little berries stay separate. A few small cartons close to the top of the freezer will come in handy to add to a sauce or gravy to partner a pheasant or a grouse if you are fortunate enough to have one later in the Autumn.

A fistful of berries folded into a soft colcannon make a delicious accompaniment to a pan-grilled duck breast or a surprising addition to a traditional potato stuffing for a Michaelmas goose.

The lemon-scented leaves of Pelargonium Graveolens have an extraordinary affinity with blackberries, most garden centres have this variety which will grow in a pot but also over-winters outside in our garden in Shanagarry – we have numerous plants on window sills all over the school because we use it for a myriad of things.

Blackberry, Apple and Sweet Geranium Jam

Makes 9-10 x 450 g/1 lb jars approx.
All over the countryside every year, blackberries rot on the hedgerows. Think of all the wonderful jam that could be made - so full of Vitamin C! This year organise a blackberry picking expedition and take a picnic. You=ll find it=s the greatest fun, and when you come home one person could make a few scones while someone else is making the jam. The children could be kept out of mischief and gainfully employed drawing and painting home-made jam labels, with personal messages like >Lydia=s Jam - keep off!= , or >Grandma=s Blackberry Jam=. Then you can enjoy the results of your labours with a well-earned cup of tea. 

Blackberries are a bit low in pectin, so the apples help it to set as well as adding extra flavour.

2.3 kg (5 lbs) blackberries
900 g (2 lbs) cooking apples (Bramley, or Grenadier in season)
1.625 kg (42 lbs) sugar (use 2 lb less if blackberries are sweet)
8-10 sweet geranium leaves (Pelargonium Graveolens)

Wash, peel and core and slice the apples. Stew them until soft with 290 ml/2 pint of water in a stainless steel saucepan; beat to a pulp.
Pick over the blackberries, cook until soft, adding about 145 ml/3 pint of water if the berries are dry. If you like, push them through a coarse sieve to remove seeds, (I don’t bother). Put the blackberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the apple pulp and the heated sugar. Add the sweet geranium leaves to the fruit. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. 
Boil steadily for about 15 minutes. Skim the jam, test it for a set, remove the geranium leaves and pot into warm spotlessly clean jars. Cover immediately, label and store in a cool dry place.       Back to Top

Blackberry and Pear Tart
Butter makes the most amazing difference to the flavour of pastry.
Serves 6-8

1lb (450g) puff pastry or rich shortcrust
3-4 pears, Conference or Doyenne de Comice
4 ozs (110g) blackberries
5-6 ozs (140-170g) white sugar approx. (amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the pears)
10 inch (25cm) Pyrex plate
Roll out the pastry and line a 10 inch (25cm) plate. Trim, but leave about an inch (2cm) of pastry over the edge. Peel and quarter the pears, cut out the core and cut the quarters in half, (pieces of pear should be quite chunky). Put the pears onto the tart and pile them up in the centre, put the blackberries on top, leave a border of 1 inch (2.5cm) around the edge. Sprinkle with sugar.

Roll out the pastry for the top a little thicker than the base, wet the 1 inch (2.5cm) strip around the tart and press the pastry lid down onto it. Trim pastry leaving a ¼ inch (5mm) edge again. Crimp up the edges with a sharp knife and then scallop them, make a hole in the centre to allow steam to escape. Egg wash. Roll out the trimmings and cut into leaves and decorate the top of the tart, egg wash again.

Bake in a hot oven 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8) for 15-20 minutes, then turn heat to moderate for a further 40-45 minutes, depending on how hard the pears are. Test the pears with a skewer.

Sprinkle with fine castor sugar, serve with soft brown sugar and softly whipped cream.

Damson Tart

Substitute 1½ lbs (675g) damsons (no need to remove stones) for the pear and blackberries. You may need more sugar, depending on how ripe they are.
Blackberry Ice Cubes            Back to Top
Pop a fat juicy blackberry into each section of an ice cube tray, add a tiny sweet geranium or mint leaf if you have them to hand. Fill with cold water – freeze. Pop into a glass of dry white wine, homemade lemonade or champagne. 

Pan Grilled Duck Breast with Blackberry Colcannon
Serves 4
4 free-range duck breasts
sea salt

Blackberry Colcannon

450g (1lb) Savoy or spring cabbage
900g - 1.35kg (2-3lb) 'old' potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
250ml (8fl oz) approx. boiling milk
25g (1oz) scallion or spring onion, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) approx . butter
110g (4oz) blackberries

First make the colcannon.

Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for 'old' potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put onto a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Remove the dark outer leaves from the cabbage. Wash the rest and cut into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Boil in a little boiling water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter. When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk, and the finely chopped scallions into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard, mash quickly while they are still warm and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy puree. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20-25 minutes approx. Cover while reheating so it doesn't get too crusty on top.

Meanwhile score the duck skin into a diamond pattern. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Put a pan grill on a low heat. Cook the duck breasts very slowly and gently for 15-20 minutes on the fat side, by then the fat should be rendered out, (pour off the excess and save for duck confit), and the skin will be crisp and golden. Season the flesh side with sea salt and turn over, continue to cook until to your taste. I personally like duck breast medium to well done, not fashionably rare, which frequently results in the meat being tough and stringy.

Just before serving, fold the blackberry gently into the soft colcannon. Put a dollop on each plate and top with a whole or sliced duck breast.

Foolproof Food                    

Wild Blackberry and Rose Petal Sponge

When the first blackberries ripen in the autumn we use them with softly whipped cream to fill this light fluffy sponge. The recipe may sound strange but the cake will be the lightest and most tender you’ve ever tasted. You can ring the changes by filling with other fruit in season – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, homemade raspberry jam or lemon curd….
Serves 6-8

3 eggs, preferably free range
3 fl ozs (75ml) water
8 ozs (225g) sugar
5 ozs (140g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Filling
8-12 ozs (225-350g) wild blackberries
4 fl ozs (110ml) whipped cream
½ teasp. rosewater, optional (see Top Tips)
2 teaspoons icing sugar
1 pale pink rose, unsprayed
2 x 8 inch (20.5cm) sandwich tins

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/regulo 5.
Brush the cake tins evenly with melted butter and dust with flour. I usually take the precaution of lining the base with a circle of greaseproof paper for guaranteed ease of removal later.

Separate the eggs. In a food mixer whisk the yolks with the sugar for 2 minutes, then add in the water. Whisk until light and fluffy, 10 minutes approx. Fold the sieved flour and baking powder into the mousse in batches. Whisk the egg whites until they hold a stiff peak. Gently fold them into the fluffy base. Pour into prepared sandwich tins and bake in a moderately hot oven 190C/375F/regulo 5 for 20 minutes approx. Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.
Whip the cream, add the icing sugar and a few drops of rosewater.

Sandwich the sponge together with whipped cream and blackberries. Sieve a little icing sugar over the top. Sprinkle with rose petals – it will look and taste enchanting.

Top Tips           
Sweet Geranium (Pelargonium Graveolens) Plants should be easily available in garden centres, no home should be without one. As well as blackberry jam we use it to flavour fruit salads, apple jelly, fruit compotes…..

Rosewater – very popular in Middle Eastern Cooking in sweets and desserts – available in chemists, ethnic food shops and from health food shops like Natural Foods and Here’s Health in Cork and others around the country. 

The Urchin in Westport, Co Mayo – A sweet little restaurant serving simple, delicious food and good house wine. Tel 098-27532

Youghal Heritage Week – running until Sunday 28th September features an open air market today at Market Square – cakes, fruit and vegetables, flowers, fish . Pop into the Fox’s Lane Folk Museum for a nostalgic trip back in time with fascinating memorabilia including all sorts of kitchen equipment. Lots of other events and street entertainment. For more details contact 024-20170, email:tourism@youghalchamber.ie     Back to Top  www.ucc.ie/chronicon/youghal

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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