Wow, there’s going to be the hughest crop of blackberries this year so I am gearing myself up for lots of blackberry picking expeditions. We’re also planning a myriad of delicious ways to use them, not just the usual jams, jellies and cobblers but wine, liqueur and cordials. I’ll throw some fresh blackberries into smoothies and scones and scatter them over a layer of softly whipped cream to fill a feather light sponge.
A few juicy berries combined with chunks of ripe melon and shredded mint make a delicious starter and even a dessert.
I’ll also get to make that sublime blackberry trifle I tasted at Dock Kitchen, London last Autumn or even a simple blackberry and sweet geranium puff. I’m also planning to pop some in the freezer, they keep brilliantly particularly if one takes the time to tray freeze first before putting them into good strong plastic bags or boxes. Blackberries come from the Rubus Genus, the Rosacea family and there are lots of different strains, some are small, others fat and plump. Apart from being juicy and delicious, they are packed with vitamins, minerals and trace elements. They’ve got lots of fibre and antioxidants and are particularly rich in vitamin C Vitamin – the healing vitamin.
However, they are low in pectin so jam and jelly makers will need to use jam sugar unless they combine the blackberries with tart cooking apples or crab apples to increase the acidity.
I am systematically reducing sugar by 20% in all my recipes because of my observation that the sugar we now have access to is more intensely sweet than the Irish sugar beet sugar that my original recipes were based on. However, sugar is the preservative in jams, jellies, cordials et al so be careful not to reduce too much or the preserves won’t keep.
Blackberries should be selected at the peak of ripeness, unlike many other fruits they don’t continue to ripen after they are picked. Inspect each one as you pick them, the centre should be white and unblemished, if it appears stained or inky it usually indicates that the fruit has been infected by little worms. Its worth togging yourself out with a pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt and a leather glove to clasp the thorny brambles. When the berries are ripe they come away easily in your hands without any resistance.
Blackberry and Cinnamon Scones
Makes 18-20 scones using a 7 1/2 cm (3 inch) cutter
900g (2lb/4 cups) plain white flour
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
50g (2oz/1/4 cup) castor sugar
175g (6oz/1 1/2 cups) butter
110g (4oz) blackberries
3 free range eggs
450ml (15floz/scant 2 cups) approx. milk to mix
egg wash (see below)
55g (2ozs) granulated sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones
½ teaspoon cinnamon
First preheat the oven to 250ºC/475°F/gas mark 9.
Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the blackberries. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Knead lightly, just enough to shape into a round. Roll out to about a thickness of 2cm (1 inch) and cut or stamp into scones. Transfer to a baking sheet – no need to grease.
Brush the tops with egg wash and dip each one into cinnamon sugar.
Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve split in half with butter and serve.
Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.
Pan Grilled Duck Breast with Blackberry Colcannon
4 free-range duck breasts
450g (1lb) Savoy or spring cabbage
900g – 1.35kg (2-3lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
250ml (8fl oz/1 cup) approx. boiling milk
25g (1oz) scallion or spring onion, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz/1/2 stick) 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.
Recipe Stevie Parle, Dock Kitchen
The combination of port and blackberries with the custard and sponge seems to really work in this trifle
Cook time: chill in fridge for 2 hours
275ml/½ pint cheap port
450g/1lb blackberries, plus a few extra to decorate
A squeeze of lemon juice
600ml/1 pint double cream
200ml/7fl oz whole milk
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
1 egg, plus 3 egg yolks
200g/7oz stale sponge cake, Madeira cake or Savoiardi biscuits
A handful flaked almonds, toasted
Place half the sugar and half the port in a pan and simmer for a couple of minutes until the sugar dissolves. Drop in the blackberries, add a squeeze of lemon, stir gently once, then take off the heat. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the custard. Over a low heat, bring half the cream and all the milk to a simmer along with the vanilla pod. Whisk the egg and yolks with the remaining sugar for a couple of minutes until they begin to look paler. As soon as the milk is about to boil, slowly pour it over the eggs, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the pan and stir slowly over a low heat with a wooden spoon until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon, about three minutes. Transfer to a chilled bowl and allow to cool.
Spoon the fruit into your trifle bowl and return the syrup to a low heat for two minutes to reduce; pour over the fruit and leave to cool. Slice the cake into 1cm-thick slices, or cut the Savoiardi biscuits in half.
Blackberry and Rose Geranium Cordial
Keep a bottle of this handy to serve over ice cream, carrageen moss pudding or panna cotta. Alternatively, dilute with hot or cold water or sparkling wine to make a delicious drink. Rose or sweet geranium (Peloganium Graveoleans) and blackberries are a marriage made in Heaven.
Makes 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints)
2.5kg (6lb) fresh blackberries
10–12 sweet geranium leaves (depending on size)
600ml (1 pint) water
juice of 1–2 unwaxed lemons (depending on size)
Put the blackberries, sweet geranium leaves and water into a stainless-steel saucepan.
Cook for 15–20 minutes or until the blackberries are completely soft and juicy. Crush with a potato masher. Strain through a jelly bag or tie in a square of muslin and allow to drip into a bowl. Measure the juice and allow 500g–700g (18oz – 1 1/2lb) sugar to every 600ml (1 pint) of juice. Add the lemon juice, stir to dissolve.
A Week at Ballymaloe Cookery School Organic Farm and Gardens, 1st – 5th September
– Students on this course will – Sow a seed, learn the basics of organic growing and how to make compost – Make a cheese right from the beginning starting with adding rennet to the milk, you will turn it yourself through the week. How to work with a glut, what to do when you’re growing is too successful! Learn many recipes to make with wonderful produce and lots, lots more ………. For further information www.cookingisfun.ie
Iskeroon is enchantingly off the beaten track – a couple of miles down a steep meandering boreen not far from Caherdaniel in Co Kerry. The views looking down over the sea and islands would quite simply take your breath away. David and Geraldine Hare’s chic self-catering apartments are close to the oceans edge so you can fish, swim, sail or surf, its also a walkers paradise. If you’d just prefer to relax you could curl up on the sofa and read – and for supper scramble some lovely fresh eggs from their happy lazy hens. – a rare and special find. www.iskeroon.com
Date for your diary
Ballymaloe Garden Festival 30 & 31 August, another weekend full of garden workshops, walks and talks in the grounds of Ballymaloe House, specialist nursery stalls selling rare plants, seeds, garden equipment and much more. Entrance €5 per adult, children free, workshops and talks priced separately please see www.ballymaloe.ie for more details http://gardenfestival.ballymaloe.ie/