Mary Kemp: The ver­sa­tile au­tumn favourite that is the black­berry

Black­ber­ries make won­der­ful pud­dings – and a pretty fine win­ter tip­ple too, says Mary

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - Mary Kemp

Black­berry pick­ing was a sea­sonal fam­ily rit­ual when we were chil­dren. We would re­turn home with pur­ple mouths and hands, our legs and arms scratched by the bram­bles, of­ten hav­ing eaten more than we gath­ered.

We would hap­pily trawl var­i­ous hedgerows look­ing for the berries as they ripened. The real re­ward for our labours would be Mum’s black­berry and ap­ple crum­ble or sim­ply stewed ap­ple with berries in, smoth­ered with cus­tard.

When we man­aged to pick se­ri­ous amounts of them they would be turned in to bram­ble jelly to be en­joyed in the win­ter months on home­made scones or fresh but­tered bread.

Wild black­ber­ries are, I think, bet­ter than the cul­ti­vated va­ri­eties. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing berry that comes with lots of myths and sto­ries.

Folk­lore says that you shouldn’t pick them after a cer­tain date, but it changes de­pend­ing on what part of the coun­try you are from. Some say its Septem­ber 29, oth­ers Oc­to­ber 10 or 11. One adap­ta­tion of the myth is that after the devil was thrown out of heaven he was seen tak­ing his anger out on black­berry bushes, stomp­ing and spit­ting on the bram­bles, with­er­ing them away to a shriv­elled, taste­less pulp.

But then my grand­fa­ther’s ver­sion of this story was that it was in fact witches that spat on the berries. An­other black­berry fact I found whilst re­search­ing was writ­ten by food writer Dorothy Hart­ley, who sug­gests you should pick black­ber­ries from the bot­tom of the bushes up­wards.

The low­est and first ones ripened are the sweet­est and should be picked and eaten raw; the ones in the mid­dle of the bushes are the next to ripen and should be made into pies and pud­dings and the ones at the high­est points of the hedgerows, which you have to reach up and pick, are best for jams and jel­lies.

Th­ese ones are best when the pulp is strained, as they have a higher pip to fruit ra­tio. I have to say I pick the ones I can reach and which are ripe. I haven’t no­ticed a se­quence to which part of the bushes ripens first, but I will look from now on!

If I can, I make co­pi­ous amounts of stewed black­berry and ap­ple, it’s the base of some of my favourite pud­dings. If I am or­gan­ised and have a mo­ment at this time of year I try and make some black­berry whisky.

It’s my mother’s fam­ily recipe and makes a lovely rich dark liquor. Us­ing slightly frilly ‘wine con­nois­seur’ speak, it tastes of a mix­ture of sum­mer berries and choco­late, and if made now it will be ready to de­cant and drink at Christ­mas.

It’s best made in large Kil­ner jars. To ev­ery 450g of slightly crushed black­ber­ries you add one or two cloves, a small piece of cin­na­mon, 40g of sugar then cover the berries with whisky, and then keep re­peat­ing the process un­til the jars are full. Store some­where cool and leave for two to three months. It should be de­li­cious by Christ­mas.

Which­ever black­berry story you wish to be­lieve, or not, there are only a few weeks left to gather this sea­sons berries. The hedgerows are full, and it’s not long un­til the devil, or the witches get to them.

ABOVE:Black­ber­ries; na­ture’s au­tumn gift to us

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