Mary Kemp: The versatile autumn favourite that is the blackberry
Blackberries make wonderful puddings – and a pretty fine winter tipple too, says Mary
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