For foraging nerds like me, there are treasures to be found year round. We found a few wild mushrooms in the fields – our buckthorn berries are ripening and I’ve picked lots of rowan berries to make jelly to serve with pork, lamb or game when it comes into season.
There are oodles of wild blackberries this year so you can satisfy your inner ‘hunter gatherer’ or just have a trip down memory lane.
We have tons on the briars in the hedgerows around the school, an extra bonus from rewilding areas on the farm to provide extra habitats for birds, wild animals, bees and other pollinating insects. This year they are really fat and juicy, with a more intense tart flavour than the cultivated blackberries, and of course they are free. Organise a bramble picking expedition with your children and grandchildren. You will need to show them how to pick the best ones and how to judge if they are infested with tiny maggots – the core will be stained with blackberry juice rather than pale creamy green centre.
We buy kilos of blackberries for jam from local children who love to earn some pocket money and continue the tradition that has endured in many families for generations.
Blackberries freeze brilliantly – they also dry well. If you have a dehydrator, it’s really worth experimenting with blackberries – add them to scones, muffins, muesli. Try folding some into Champ or Colcannon to serve with roast duck…
They are at their best at present but will gradually deteriorate depending on the weather. Older people used to tell us children not to pick blackberries after Halloween, some say Michaelmas (29th September) ‘cos the ‘púca’ will have spit on them’. This was a brilliant deterrent to stop hungry kids from eating over ripe blackberries years ago.
Have fun with blackberries…Once again, they are deliciously versatile, think of adding them to both sweet and savoury dishes as well as scattering over breakfast granola, muesli, yoghurt…Pop one into an ice cube with a mint leaf to add to cordials and aperitifs.
They are packed with Vitamin C and are supposed to improve both motor and cognitive functions and couldn’t we all do with that. They also make delicious wine if you are into home brewing but crème de mûre is even easier – try this recipe which I originally came across in one of my favourite cookbooks of all time, Jane Grigson’s ‘Good Things’. It’s a brilliant base for a cordial or a blackberry Kir.
All of the hedgerows around us here are still full of fluffy meadowsweet so hope you’ve been picking some and experimenting with the fragrant blossoms – see my article of 7th August 2021.
Medallions of Venison with Blackberry Sauce
A taste of Autumn, if the wild blackberries are frozen they may need a sprinkling of sugar.
4 medallions of venison
225g (8oz) wild blackberries
450ml (16fl oz) homemade chicken stock
75ml (3fl oz) port
4 tablespoons sloe gin or brandy
salt and freshly ground pepper
Purée or liquidise and sieve the blackberries. Put the stock and port into a stainless steel saucepan and boil and reduce for a few minutes, add the brandy and fruit and boil until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
Meanwhile season the medallions of venison, fry in a very little butter on a hot pan for 2 minutes each side.
Sharpen the sauce with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice, taste and correct the seasoning. Put the medallions onto a hot plate spoon over a little sauce, garnish with a few fresh blackberries if available and a few sprigs of fresh herbs.
Serve immediately with Gratin Dauphinois and a good green salad.
Crème de Mûre (Blackberry Liqueur)
Makes 2 litres (3 1/2 pints)
This recipe can also be made using blackcurrants in which case the name would change to ‘Crème de Cassis’.
Drink within 6 weeks.
1 1/2kg (3lb 5oz) ripe blackberries
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) red wine
800g (1 3/4lbs) granulated sugar, possibly more to taste
70cl (700ml/1 1/4 pints) brandy or vodka (unflavoured)
Pick over the blackberries, carefully removing bits of leaf or twig. Put into a stainless steel bowl.
Crush the fruit well with a potato masher. Pour on the red wine and stir well. Cover and leave to macerate for 48 hours, stirring from time to time.
Strain through a muslin bag into a stainless steel preserving pan. Squeeze the bag well to get the last of the liquid out.
Add the sugar and heat up gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is almost boiling. Simmer uncovered for about an hour until the liquid thickens and turns slightly syrupy. Stir occasionally.
Taste, and add a little more sugar if necessary. Allow to cool.
Add the spirit, stir well and pour into sterilised bottles. Seal and store in a cool place.
Serve well chilled in small glasses or with sparkling
water and lots of ice.
Blackberry, Bramley Apple and Sweet Geranium Jam
Blackberries rot on the hedgerows all over the countryside every year. 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 Bramble 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 tart Bramley apples help it to set as well as adding extra flavour.
Makes 9-10 x 450g (1lb) jars approx.
2.3kg (5lbs) blackberries (wild or cultivated)
900g (2lbs) cooking apples (Bramley Seedling in season)
1kg – scant 1.1kg (2lbs 4oz – 2lbs 6oz) granulated sugar
8-10 sweet geranium leaves (optional), alternatively use the finely grated zest and juice of an organic lemon
Wash, peel, core and slice the apples. Stew them until soft with 300ml (10fl oz) of water in a stainless steel saucepan; beat to a pulp.
Pick over the blackberries, cook until soft, adding about 150ml (5fl oz) of water (or water and lemon juice) if the berries are dry. If the blackberries are frozen, omit the water.
Put the blackberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan or preserving pan with the apple pulp and heated sugar. Destalk and chop the sweet geranium leaves (or zest of the lemon if using) and add to the fruit. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.
Boil steadily for about 15 minutes approximately. Skim the jam, test for a set and pot into
warm spotlessly clean jars. Seal, store in a dark place or share with friends.
Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry and Mint Pavlova
Pavlova, the dessert named after prima ballerina Anna Pavlova has to be in here – a base for so many delicious ripe berries and fruit. Once again, we can have some fun with flavoured creams and seasonal fruits or lemon curd or strained fruit compote…
Serves 6 – 8
4 egg whites
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the zest of 1 lemon
300ml (10fl oz) cream
400 – 450g (14oz – 1lb) mixture of whole and sliced blackberries, raspberries, blueberries mixed with fresh mint
fresh mint leaves
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Check that your bowl and whisk are dry and free of grease or any residue of detergent. Using a food-processor, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then add in half the caster sugar, continue to whisk until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Fold in the rest of the caster sugar with the cornflour, vinegar, vanilla extract or lemon zest.
Spread the meringue mixture onto a 23cm (9 inch) round or oval on the silicone paper. Make a well in the centre and push the mixture to the side to form ‘walls’. Bake in the centre of a preheated oven for 1- 1 1/4 hours or until very pale brown, crisp on the outside and dry underneath but soft and marshmallow in the centre.
Remove from the oven, turn the pavlova upside down on a wire rack and peel off the paper. If it’s still a little sticky in the centre, replace in the oven for 5-10 minutes longer. Allow to get quite cold.
Transfer the pavlova carefully onto a serving plate. Whip the cream softly, fill the centre of the pavlova with cream and berries. Garnish with fresh mint.
Note: This quantity makes 6 individual 10cm (4 inch) pavlovas which take 20 minutes to cook.
Blackberry, Apple and Hazelnut Crumble
Crumbles vie with apple pies as the comfort food of all ages, vary the fruit according to the season. Hazelnuts will be ripe from mid-October, so keep an eye out for hazel trees if you are walking on the hills or mountain, they are indigenous to Ireland.
450g (1lb) Bramley Seedling cooking apples
225g (8oz) fresh blackberries
45-50g (1 3/4 – 2oz) granulated sugar
1-2 tablespoons water
110g (4oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
50g (2oz) cold butter
50g (2oz) caster sugar
25g (1oz) chopped hazelnuts (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1.2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish or whatever you have!
Peel the apples, cut into quarters, remove the core and cut into large cubes. Turn into a pie dish with the blackberries. Sprinkle with sugar and add the water.
Rub the butter into the flour just
until the mixture resembles really
coarse breadcrumbs, 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/Gas Mark 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and
golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar.
Lemon Curd Cream with Wild Blackberries, Toasted Almonds and Mint
A delicious combination of flavours and textures – combined in minutes.
4 tablespoons homemade lemon curd (see recipe)
3-4 tablespoons of softly whipped cream
175g (6oz) wild blackberries
a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice
a sprinkling of sugar or a drizzle of honey (optional)
2 tablespoons of toasted flaked almonds
shredded mint leaves plus a couple of whole mint leaves for garnishing
Taste the blackberries, if they are very tart, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a generous sprinkling of sugar or honey. Allow to macerate for 4-5 minutes.
Fold the whipped cream into the lemon curd. Taste and add a more of either depending on the intensity of the lemon curd.
Toast the flaked almonds in a dry pan to a rich golden colour (watch them as they burn really easily) and cool.
Put two generous tablespoons of lemon curd cream into each shallow bowl. Spoon some of the macerated blackberries over the cream. Scatter with flaked almonds and sprinkle on some shredded mint plus a few fresh mint leaves for garnish.
Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, smear it over a sponge or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues – store in a covered jar in the fridge. It is best eaten within a fortnight.
Flavedo is the outer coloured skin of citrus fruits.
Makes 2 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars
50g (2oz) butter
100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)
Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back of it. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)
Cover when cold and refrigerate.