Blackberry Picking

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I’m wandering along a narrow hilly boreen close to Lough Ine in West Cork. I’m making very slow progress because the tangled brambles in the hedgerows and along the stone walls are covered with blackberries, so tempting – looks like we’re going to have a bumper crop this year. There are also tons of rosehips and the promise of an abundant elderberry crop in a few weeks’ time.

Blackbirds and thrushes are eating so many blackberries at the moment that as I’ve just discovered, their droppings can actually stain clothes on a laundry line…a small price to pay for so much delicious free fruit, packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and dietary fibres that are essential for optimum health. Blackberries are particularly rich in Vitamin C with adequate amounts of A, E and K and some B complex vitamins and for those who are concerned about these matters it’s good to know that they are low cal and considered by many to be a super food.

Altogether, enough good things to warrant arranging a blackberry picking expedition. Given half a chance they grow everywhere and anywhere in both urban and rural areas, from city parks and back gardens to country lane and mountain tops.

The sweet succulent berries are super versatile. Don’t just think jam and pies, use them in salads and sauces, autumn puddings, muffins, scones and cobblers, trifles, ice-creams, sorbets, scatter over breakfast cereals, add them to fools, crumbles and crisps. Make some wine, ratafias and cordials. Few fruits offer so many options. Blackberries also freeze brilliantly, if you have time and space, tray freeze first, spread them out on a tray in a single layer, when frozen solid toss into a plastic box or stout bag, cover and freeze immediately in usable quantities – just enough of a batch of jam, a pie, etc…when they are frozen and loose, it’s easy to take out a fistful at a time for a breakfast smoothie.

Cultivated blackberries also are big business with large quantities being flown in daily from North America and other temperate regions. They tend to be larger than the wild ones and unquestionably taste very good but I have to say it makes no kind of sense to me to pile your supermarket trolley high with imported blackberries during the Irish season.

Ironically, I overhead an extraordinary conversation in a supermarket queue just a few days ago. Although there are Irish commercial blackberries available, some customers were bemoaning the price of food and there in one of their trollies were two punnets of blackberries from North America, plus several other items that I seriously would be questioning the need for – none of my business and you’ll be glad to hear that I kept my thoughts severely to myself…..

Hot Tips
Celebrate the Autumn Harvest
Brooklodge and Macreddin Village are celebrating the Autumn Harvest. A delicious 9-course Autumn Harvest Tasting Menu in Ireland’s first certified Organic Restaurant – The Strawberry Tree in Brooklodge. www.brooklodge.com, Tel: 0402 36444

Taste of West Cork Food Festival Event
Dianne Curtin will host the round table ‘show and tell’ The Rare Cookery Books Workshop with a particular focus on Keith Floyd as part of the Taste of West Cork Food Festival.
Saturday 10th September at 4.30pm at Urru Culinary Store, Bandon. Booking is advised. €6 including light refreshment.
Phone: 023 885 4731

Sweet Woodruff
Also called wild baby’s breath can be found lying flat on the ground with strongly scented white petals. The scent increases on wilting and then persists on drying, and the dried plant is used in pot-pourri and as a moth deterrent. It is used mainly to flavour May wine (called “Maibowle” or “Maitrank” in German), sweet juice punch, syrup for beer, jam, ice cream, and herbal tea. Also very popular are flavoured jellies, with and without alcohol.

Meadowsweet
Not to be confused with dropwort, meadowsweet has a heavy fragrance and can be found along marshes, woods and meadows. The plant can be used to flavour wine, beer, and many vinegars. The flowers can be added to stewed fruit and jams, giving them a subtle almond flavor.

Blackberry Ice Cubes
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.

Blackberry or Raspberry and Sweet Geranium Sugar Squares

Another delicious way to use sweet geranium

Makes 24

175g soft butter
150g castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
175g self-raising flour
2 tablespoons freshly chopped sweet or rose geranium
225g blackberries or raspberries

50g castor sugar
1 tablespoon of freshly chopped rose geranium

25.5 x 18 cm Swiss roll tin, well-greased

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

Put the butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour and chopped sweet geranium into a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate. Spread evenly in the well-buttered tin. Sprinkle the blackberries or raspberries as evenly as possible over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.

Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with caster sugar whizzed with leaves of rose geranium. Serve in squares.

Crème de Mure (Blackberry Liquer)

Makes 2 litres (4 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/8 3/4 cups) red wine
800g (1 3/4lbs/3 1/4 cups) granulated sugar, possibly more to taste
70cl (700ml/1 1/4 pints/generous 3 cups) 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.

 

Myrtle Allen’s Blackberry and Kirsch Soufflé Omelette

Ballymaloe guests loved this soufflé omelette which Myrtle put on the menu just a few times each year, during the blackberry season.

Serves 4

4 egg yolks
450g-680g caster sugar
Vanilla extract
6 egg whites
½ teaspoon butter
170 g soft fruit, blackberries
½ tablespoon kirsch
120 ml whipped cream
23cm non-stick pan

Whisk the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and fold into the yolks (although I find it easier to fold the yolks into the whites). Heat the butter in a very clean non-stick pan. Pour in the egg mixture and cook over a low heat for 3 minutes. Do not stir. Finish cooking by putting the pan in a hot oven, 200°C/gas mark 6, for a further 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the fruit and 225 g sugar in a saucepan until just boiling. Remove from the heat and add the kirsch. Turn the omelette out onto parchment paper generously sprinkled with caster sugar. Spread with warm fruit and whipped cream. Quickly fold in two and slide onto a warm dish. Sprinkle with caster sugar. Rush to the table, it can deflate somewhat within a couple of minutes but still tastes wonderful.

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)
When to Pick: late summer
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, why not 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 homemade jam labels, with personal messages like ‘Amelia Peggy’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.

Make sure you check the berries before you pop them into your mouth – 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. If you have the time and space, it’s really worth ‘tray freezing’ some of your harvest – that way 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 later in the year.

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/8 cups) 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/1 cup) 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.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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