Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blackberry picking - a Recession-Busting Sentimental Journey

The weather has been lovely for the past few weeks, and we are all grateful for this Indian Summer after three wet and dreary months of supposed summer . One of the bounties of this late good spell has been a fantastic crop of blackberries in those hedgerows that have escaped the ravages of the industrial hedge-cutters that have transformed our highways and byways into regimented straight-edged bordered roadways.

I guess it is good and safer to have some control over our wild roadside borders, but the downside of all the traffic and road improvements is that it is a bit of a gamble with your life to go for a stroll down any road where there are no footpaths (pavements), and also the dearth of any wild fruit like blackberries in the ditches. (I use that term advisedly - it means a hedge to me, though Dutch hubby assures me a ditch is a water-filled drain or moat in Holland! We agree to differ on the semantics, I always called hedges ditches so I will hardly change now!)

Anyway, blackberry picking and foraging in the hedgerows for the lucious black fruit that ruins your hands and dyes clothes a deep purple generally beyond redemption has fallen foul of two things since my childhood halcyon days - traffic and pollution on the roads and also the hedge-cutting machines. I spent hours blackberry-picking as a child out the roads along with all the other kids in the town, and we fought for the best bushes, as we could sell our fruit to a local shopkeeper who presumably made jam or sold them on - I remember getting 6d (old pence from pre-decimalisation 1972 days) a pound so there was a great incentive to get bucketloads. My mother didn't get much of a look-in for her jam unless I was feeling very generous.

Imagine my delight then this year when I was in a remote part of my work area one day and coming out of a house I saw the brambles heavy with ripe blackberries on a narrow country lane where there were few houses, no agriculture and fields with undisturbed hedges where a cutter could hardly get by. There were a few cows and horses in the nearby fields, and I made sure that I came to work armed with some plastic containers the next day.

I spent a few lunchbreaks this week picking pounds of fruit, and the pickings were so rich I managed to fill two containers with about 1-2 pounds of berries each in the space of about a half-hour, leaving me enough time to have a sandwich overlooking the beautiful sea views you see in the top photo.

I made jam over the course of this week about 4 times, and a few tarts with apples and blackberries, while I gave away a couple of pots of jam and still have over a half-dozen.

The recipe for the Blackberry Jam is here and it is simplicity itself - and delicious!

  • 2 pounds or a Kilo of Blackberries - wash in a colander and pick over for any blemishes and little bugs that can get on them.
  • 300ml water.
  • One Pound sugar for every pound of fruit.
  • Boil the blackberries and water in a covered pot until fruit is soft.
  • Add sugar and mix wel.
  • Boil and skim off any foam that rises to surface.
  • Turn down heat to a steady simmer.
  • Simmer/boil gently till setting point reached (wrinkles when dripped onto a clean plate)
  • Warm jars in oven and pot jam when it stops bubbling
  • Cover jars immediately with metal caps or jampot cellophane covers and rubber bands.
  • When you hear lid pop closed it has sealed and jam will stay fresh for a year or more until opened.
It is delicious on oven-fresh baked bread and with rice pudding or yoghurt, ice cream or with a number of desserts - you can use it with other fruit in summer puddings for added flavour as it is so intensely flavoured.

The tart you see in the photos is similar to my earlier post on Apple Tart but with the addition of about a cupful of blackberries along with the sliced apples and sugar. No need to add cloves or cinnamon as the flavours blend wonderfully and should stand alone. Delicious with whipped cream or ice cream!

At any rate, enjoy yourself! It is a real labour of love and a great sense of achievement to have such wonderful food from free stuff - a real recession-buster in the "current economic climate"!


Peggy said...

Hi Catherine,I went blackberry picking a couple of weeks ago but they were disappointing, it was probably too soon after the bad weather and I have not had time to go since.I love the smell of blackberries cooking it is one of those smells that can transport you back in time.We always picked them as children but never got paid for them!We lived at the edge of the city and would be gone out country roads for hours on end, nobody worried about us knowing we would come home when hungry enough.We also stopped off at orchards to relieve the trees of some apples to stretch the jam making!

Catherine said...

Hi Peggy - you should certainly have a go again if you get time as they are really bountiful now and close to the coast like in Ring and Old Parish they are fantastic right now, I plan to get more next week, my lunchtimes are now preoccupied with foraging and it is great to be able to get so many so quickly and it will probably all be over in a week or so as the birds will get the over-ripe ones. our apple harvest this year is dreadful, about 3 apples on each tree despite the plentiful blossom earlier on. The wind and rain ruined it for us I guess. I had apples other years till about March-April. Not this year though.