If You Go Down to the Woods Today

You might get a pleasant and edible surprise – it’s blackberry season again!

I have bizarrely fond childhood memories of going out with my little brother, auntie, uncle, nan and granddad into the wild expanse of Epping Forest and getting slashed to pieces by the nettles and thorns and thinking, hang on a minute, I thought this was supposed to be fun… There was always a bottle of TCP handy, or a round, yellow, tin of pink, stinky germaline, which I think stung more than the thorns.

Foraging for food is a bit of dying art for the general populous and let’s face it, it’s not exactly a practical or guaranteed way of putting plentiful food on the table regularly, when you have a house to run, kids to get to school and work to go to, occupying most of the week. And anyway, most of us wouldn’t know a wild garlic unless we fell over it – believe me, the smell soon gives it away then…

That said, there are a few fruits and vegetables that are dead easy to identify and they come in abundant amounts through the year and you can combine a healthy walk with the family, with a poke about in the hedgerow, followed by a mouth-watering cook up that will save you money and create zero waste for your bin.

(I’ll document my favourite freebie harvests here on the blog, telling you what to look out for, how to pick them and what to do once you’ve got the goodies home.)

If you can find a few low-lying hedges near you on rambling paths, nature walks or even in busy city parks, you should be able to find blackberries amongst them over the coming weeks. They spread like wildfire and you often get fabulous clumps of bushes that come up year after year, so make a note of the best venues, laden with those easy to identify juicy fruits.

They are harvested from August through to October. It’s still pretty early really and we’ve had no decent sunshine to speak of, so you’ll probably find more hard green and red ones than those plumptious blacks so do go back in a few weeks time for second pickings. Look for the berries at the end of the cane, as they are the sweetest. You can pick a few if they are a little smaller and quite firm to the touch, but they won’t be as tasty, however the odd few will bulk out a recipe nicely and they’ll take on the flavour of the other fruits.

Here are my top tips for a successful session of blackberry picking.

  • Combine your forage with a nice family walk and make a morning or afternoon of it.
  • Choose bushes away from the roads, so they are less contaminated from the polluting emissions from passing traffic and it’s altogether safer too…
  • Choose bushes away from agricultural land that may have been sprayed with chemicals or pesticides.
  • Don’t strip the bushes of all they have to offer – leave plenty for the wildlife who depend upon them for food and be careful not to damage other plants in the vicinity; you are picking in Mother Nature’s back yard and she caters for many more than you and yours.
  • Wash and pat dry your bounty when you get home and pick out any bad ones and put them in your composter or wormery.
  • Put them in the fridge if you are going to eat them fresh in yoghurt or porridge in the next few days, or cook them up for jam and jellies, pie fillings, summer puddings or crumbles, as soon as possible – the fresher they are, the better.

I’ll post a recipe or two later today, once I’ve decided what I’m going to do with my harvest, pictured above. We had a leisurely but industrious walk this afternoon and it wore the children to a frazzle! I’ll be throwing some of the berries into our cereals this week, but think I might also use this lot to make a couple of bottles of syrup for blackberry and apple squash. I’ve got some recycled screw-top bottles ready and waiting. No additives, no preservatives, no mysterious E numbers, just simple and delicious, seasonal treats!

Rubbishly yours,

TSx

Addendum:

Recipe Time – it’s been one of those days today and I didn’t get around to making my squash, but it’s on the cards for tomorrow morning! In the meantime, I thought I’d post a couple of my favourite blackberry recipies for you to drool over. They are tried, tested and delicious. Have a trawl through and see what you fancy.

Blackberry and Coconut Slice

Blackberry Mountain Pie

Blackberry and Apple Crumble Cake

Blackberry and Raspberry Fool

After all that talk of drink, nobody fancied it! The crowds were all yelling for ‘Jam please mum’, so here’s the one I finally went for!

It’s the ‘Bramble Jelly’ recipe from the River Cottage website and they have a wonderful array of seasonal recipes, designed to tempt you to go have some fun in the kitchen, so do hop on when you have a cup of tea to hand and 20 minutes spare…

Ingredients:

Pick as many blackberries as you possibly can! (absolute minimum, I kilo).

Weigh them, put in a large heavy pan, and for every kilo add a chopped apple (including skin, pips and core), the juice of a lemon, and 250 ml of water.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the fruit is very soft and pulpy. Mash to extract maximum juice. Strain through a jelly bag (do not force through, but allow to drip — takes ages!)

Measure the resulting juice, and add 750g organic granulated sugar for every 1 litre. Return to a low heat, stir to dissolve sugar, then bring to a fierce boil.

Boil hard until setting temperature is reached (112 C) – or until a little of the mixture, dropped onto a chilled plate, sets with a slight wrinkle.

Pour into still hot sterilised jars. Allow to cool slightly and start to set before topping with a disc of waxed paper (if you like) and screwing on the top.

This is delicious on scones or freshly baked bread, still hot from the oven, so the butter melts before the jelly goes on.

(c) River Cottage www.RiverCottage.net

I plan to go out again this weekend and take advantage of the juicy new fruits and I really will be making blackberry and apple cordial to go into my recycled glass wine bottles! Recipe to follow…