ArchiveSeptember 5, 2020

Blackberry Season Again…

Gosh it’s difficult to switch off from the realities of Covid 19 coverage and the resulting anxiety but switch off we must while still complying with the HSE guidelines, otherwise the toll on our mental health can be devastating.

So this week, how about a blackberry picking expedition if it’s possible in your particular situation. Where I live in the country, many of the hedgerows are dripping with berries. Some have been battered by the recent rain and winds but there’s still an abundant crop. Local kids have been out foraging to make some pocket money, they arrive at the Cookery School with great big smiles and gallons brimming with ripe berries, we’re delighted to buy them to pop into the freezer for winter jams and preserves.

Blackberries are a virtual power house of nutrients. They are packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants, loads of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, calcium and they’re a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fibre that many of us don’t have nearly enough of in our diets. So in other words they are good for our gut biome and for digestion and apparently also boost overall brain function.

Bring along with kids and show them how to choose the best berries and avoid the thorns. Make sure you check the berries before you pop them into your mouths – if the core is discoloured rather than pale and unblemished, it usually means that the little crawly beasties have got there first, so it’s best to discard those.

All berries freeze brilliantly provided they are perfectly dry when picked,  it’s best if you have space to tray freeze them,  then one can take out a couple of fistfuls of frozen berries to add to tarts, crumbles or a breakfast smoothie. 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 later in the year.

Blackberries, with their low sugar content can be enjoyed by diabetics and because they are so brilliantly versatile one can enjoy them in both sweet and savoury dishes. I’ve got to start with blackberry, apple and sweet geranium crumble, everyone’s favourite family pud!

Blackberry and Apple and Sweet Geranium Cumble

Serves 6-8

Crumbles are comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.

1 lbs (450 g) Bramley Seedling cooking apples

1/2 lb (225g) fresh or frozen blackberries

1 1/2-2 ozs (45-50g) sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

2 chopped sweet geranuium leaves (Pelargonium Graveolons) – optional


4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached

2 ozs (50g) cold butter

2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 oz (25g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish

Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes.

Turn into a pie dish. Sprinkle with sugar. Add the water. 

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the apple in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.  (optional – serve with Amaretto cream).

Blackberry and Lime Swirls

Believe me these are totally irresistible….

Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (71/2 cm) cutter

2lb (900g) plain white flour

6oz (175g) butter

pinch of salt

2oz (50g) castor sugar

3 heaped teaspoons baking powder

3 free-range eggs

16fl oz (450ml) approx. full cream milk to mix (not low fat milk)

Lime Butter

150g (5oz) butter

250g (9oz) pale brown sugar

2 teaspoons lime zest

egg wash

150g (5oz) blackberries

Lime Sugar

4oz (110g/1/2 cup) Demerara sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon lime zest for the top of scones

Preheat the oven 250ºC/475ºF/Gas Mark 9.

First make the Lime Butter.

Cream the butter, sugar and lime zest together and beat until light and fluffy.

Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, the baking powder and castor sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.

Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes.  Make a well in the centre.  Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre.  With the fingers of your ‘best hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl.  This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface.  Turn out the dough onto the floured board.  Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point.  Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about 3/4 inch (2cm) thick. 

Spread the soft lime butter over the dough, sprinkle the blackberries evenly over the butter, leaving an inch along one of the long sides without blackberries. Brush this piece with egg wash.

Roll the dough from the long side and seal with the egg wash. Cut into pieces, about 2 inches (5cm) thick.

Brush the tops (cut edge) with egg wash and dip in crunchy lime sugar. Arrange onto a baking sheet, fairly close together.

Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk.  Egg wash adds colour during cooking.


Blackberry and Rose Geranium Scones

Substitute 3 tablespoons of finely chopped rose geranium for lime zest in the master recipe.  Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped rose geranium to the Demerara sugar.

Rory O’Connell’s Smoked Black Pudding and Cheddar Cheese Croquettes with Bramley Apple and Blackberry Sauce

I use smoked black pudding from Hugh Maguire for this recipe. Hugh is known as “the Smoking Butcher” and his pudding is excellent.

Makes approximately 40 little croquettes

400g (14oz) potatoes

2 tablespoons ) cream

130g (4 1/2oz) smoked black pudding, very finely diced

100g (3 1/2oz) finely grated cheddar cheese

For coating the croquettes

seasoned plain flour

3 beaten eggs

150g (5oz) crust-less white breadcrumbs

sunflower oil, olive oil or beef dripping for deep frying

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and season with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and cover and simmer for ten minutes. Pour off all except 2cm (3/4 inch) of water, cover and replace on the heat to cook for a further 20 or so minutes until completely tender.

Immediately peel the skins off the potatoes – you want 300g (10oz) of peeled cooked potatoes. Place in a bowl and mash to a smooth fluff. Add the cream, black pudding, cheddar cheese and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything gently together. Chill the mixture until completely cold.

Roll the mixture into 15g (generous 1/2oz) balls. Place the flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Roll the balls in the flour first, followed by the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Place on a parchment paper lined tray and chill for 15 minutes.

Heat the frying fat of choice to 170°C/325°F.

Fry the croquettes a few at a time until well coloured and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm in an oven heated to 100°C/210°F.

Serve the croquettes with bamboo skewers to hold and the apple and blackberry sauce on the side.

Bramley Apple and Blackberry Sauce

450g Bramley apples

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons sugar

100g (3 1/2oz) blackberries fresh or frozen

Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut each quarter in half. Place in a small saucepan with the water and sugar. Cover tightly and cook on a very low heat. The apples will gradually collapse to a frothy snow. Add the blackberries and cook for a further 2 minutes. Stir lightly, taste and add a little more sugar if necessary.

Blackberry, Melon and Mint Salad

Serves 6

1 ripe Orgen and Cantaloupe melon

freshly squeezed lemon juice


2-3 tablespoons torn or shredded mint

225g – 350g (8-12oz) freshly picked blackberries

Cut the ripe melon in half and remove the seeds, cut into quarters, remove the peel and cut the flesh into 1 – 2cm (1/2 – 3/4 inch) dice.

Put into a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and the freshly squeezed juice of a lemon. Toss gently and taste.

The amount of sugar will depend on the sweetness of the melon.

Add the shredded mint and the blackberries and stir very gently to combine.  Serve chilled.

Wild Blackberry, Apple and Rose Geranium Jam

Blackberries are famously low in pectin, so the tart apples help it to set and add extra flavour. Go foraging for blackberries in the early autumn before they’re over-ripe. Cultivated blackberries tend to be sweeter so you may need to reduce the sugar.

Makes about 10 x 450g (1lb) jars

900g (2lb) cooking apples (Bramley, or Grenadier in season) or crab apples

2.25kg (5lb) blackberries

1.8kg (4lb) granulated sugar – since Ireland has gone over to cane sugar  which appears to be more intensely sweet we reduced the sugar to 1.6kg/3 1/2lb.  The intensity of sugar varies in different countries.

8 or more rose geranium leaves (Pelargonium graveolens)

Wash, peel, core and slice the apples. Stew them until soft in 225ml (8fl oz) of water in a stainless-steel saucepan, then beat to a pulp.

Pick over the blackberries and put into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan or preserving pan and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Add the apple pulp and the heated sugar. Destalk and chop the geranium leaves and add. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then bring to the boil and cook steadily for about 15 minutes. Skim the jam, test it for a set and pot into warm, spotlessly clean jars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place.

Peach and Blackberry Crostata

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkley in California shared this recipe with me when I visited the restaurant.

In Italy a crostata is something crusty.  We use the term for all the tarts we bake using our cornmeal dough recipe.

Makes one 11 inch tart.

1 pre-baked 30.5 (11 inch) cornmeal tart shell (see below)

3/4 tablespoon cornmeal

4 medium peaches (about 700g/1 1/2 lb in weight)

300g (10oz) blackberries

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar plus extra for sprinkling

300g (10 ozs) cornmeal dough, rolled into a 32.5cm (13 inch) circle and refrigerated

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400ºF/gas mark 6.

Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell with the cornmeal.  Peel, pit and slice the peaches.  Arrange the sliced peaches evenly in the tart shell.  Scatter the blackberries over the peaches.  Sprinkle the fruit with 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

Remove the circle of unbaked cornmeal dough from the refrigerator.  Peel off the top sheet of parchment paper and invert the dough onto the fruit.  Remove the other piece of parchment and let the dough settle over the fruit.  Gently seal the tart by pressing around the outside edge of the dough.

Make an egg wash by mixing the egg yolk and milk and brush the top of the tart with it.  Sprinkle with sugar (for extra crunch we use crystallized or raw sugar).  Bake in the top third of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown.  Let cool for 10 minutes and serve warm with ice cream or crème fraîche.

Prebaked Tart Shell

We have been using this recipe for crisp dough for fruit tarts since it was published fifteen years ago by our friend Carol Field in her bible of Mediterranean pastry making, The Italian Baker.  It adds a pleasant crunch to peach and blackberry crostata, and we also like using it for double-crusted tarts filled with pears poached in white wine.

Makes 20 ozs of dough, enough for two 28cm (11 inch) open face tarts or one 28cm (11 inch) double crusted crostata.

150g (5oz/) unsalted butter, room temperature

175g (175g/6 ozs) sugar

3 egg yolks

175 g/6 ozs) plain flour

50 g (2oz) yellow cornmeal

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  Sift the flour, cornmeal and salt directly into the mixture.  Add the vanilla and stir until the dough is thoroughly mixed.  Divide the dough in half and gather it into 2 balls.  Wrap the balls in plastic, press them into disks, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out the dough, first cut four 35cm (14 inch) square pieces of parchment paper.  Dust a piece of the parchment paper with flour.  Take a disk of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap it and place on the floured paper.  Dust the top of the dough with flour and cover with another piece of parchment. Roll out the disk into a 32.5cm (13 inch) circle, about 3mm (1/8 inch) thick. If the dough starts to stick to the paper while you are rolling, peel back the paper, dust again with flour, and replace the paper.  Then flip the whole package over and repeat on the other side. If there is excess flour on the dough when you are done rolling, peel back the paper and brush it off. Chill the sheet of dough for at least a few minutes.  Roll out the other disk the same way.

To make an 11 inch tart, generously brush the bottom and sides of an 11 inch tart tin with melted butter (so your tart won’t stick to the pan). Remove 1 sheet of dough from the refrigerator and take off the top sheet of paper.  Invert the dough into the tart tin and peel off the other piece of paper.  Press the dough into the corners of the pan, pinching off any dough overhang.  Use the dough scraps to patch any cracks.  Let the tart shell rest in the freezer for 10 minutes before baking.

To prebake the shell, preheat the oven to 180°C/350Fgas mark 4 and transfer the tart shell directly from the freezer to the oven.  Bake for about 15 minutes, until it is slightly golden.  Halfway through baking, check the shell and pat down any bubbles that may have appeared.  Let cool before filling. 


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