I always think of blackberries as a September thing and every year I'm a bit surprised to see them in the hedgerows in August. They perfectly sum up this seasonal crossover from late summer to early autumn and I was glad to spend most of the bank holiday weekend surrounded by them, both indoors and outside. Last Saturday morning I went blackberry picking with the children and my parents while John worked, and between us we picked 13 lbs, or almost 6 kgs, of fruit, plus some elderberries too.
The rest of the weekend was spent - happily - in the kitchen. My last weekend pottering before going back to work and I wanted to savour it. Just me and my bubbling pans, with the radio on in the background. Faffing with pretty labels. Lovely.
I made Hedgerow Jelly first. I persist in making this mainly because I really like the evocative name and it reminds me of the Brambly Hedge books. The idea is that you use blackberries and all kinds of other seasonal hedgerow fruit - like sloes, elderberries and rosehips - plus a few windfall apples too. I used mostly blackberries (about 2 pounds or 1 kg) with two chopped cooking apples and a few big handfuls of elderberries. These completely changed the taste of the traditional bramble jelly, darkening and enriching it and adding a herby, almost slightly smoky flavour which is unbelievably good. It didn't seem so sweet either, which I liked. Then I made a batch of plain bramble jelly, which I think it one of my favourite jams/spreads ever. I like it stirred into yogurt, spooned on top of rice pudding, on toast or crumpets.
This is how I make my bramble jelly:
- In a large pan put around 1 kg/2 lbs blackberries and two roughly chopped apples - no need to peel or core.
- Add about 500 ml/1 pint water and bring to the boil. Simmer for half an hour.
- Pour the pulpy fruity mass through a muslin strainer into a bowl or jug. It takes a couple of hours to all slowly drip through.
- Measure your liquid and, for every 500 ml/18 fl oz use 500 g/ 1 lb 2 oz of granulated sugar. Put in a large, clean pan and slowly bring to the boil.
- I usually do the wrinkle test for testing when jam is set, but used a thermometer this time as well, as I tend to make things a bit on the soft/runny side and wanted to be sure I had a firmer set to my jelly.
- Pour into sterilised jars. This will give you 4-6 jars depending on size.
- Buy a jam funnel. It's the best thing I ever did. They will make everything so much easier and less messy and cost about £2.
- Don't try and cook too much fruit in a pan. The jam will increase in volume by three or four times while it's on a really fast boil, and the pan you thought was big enough wont be. I know this from experience. Jam is really hard to clean off a cooker. Use two pans, or make two batches, if you're not sure.
If all this sounds like too much hassle, then I have an amazing discovery which I feel duty bound to share with you: blackberry gin. I had no idea how easy it is! How have I never done this before? I thought there was some other kind of dark art involved, but no, it involves three ingredients and takes about five minutes.
- One 70cl bottle of gin (or vodka).
- 200 - 400 g or 7 - 14 oz blackberries (or any other fruit, come to think of it - sloes, damsons, plums...)
- About 100 g or 4 oz sugar.
- A large kilner jar.
That's it. Fruit, sugar and booze.
Put it all in the jar, shake well and put in a dark place.
Shake every day for the first two weeks, then once a week. Leave for up to three months then strain into a clean bottle. This is my version of a recipe based on about several slightly varying ones that I found on the internet and in cookery books. I think if you keep these ratios of alcohol, fruit and sugar roughly the same you can't go that far wrong.
And it'll be ready just in time for Christmas. I'm a really dutiful blogger so I'll be sure to taste it well and report back on the flavour.
I kept back some blackberries for the freezer, frozen in small amounts ready for crumbles. Blackberry and apple crumble is one of my favourite childhood puddings, and I make crumble a lot as I find pastry/pie crust a bit overrated, both to make and to eat.
I wanted to eat this with custard but forgot to buy some, so we had it with vanilla ice cream instead. Another nice summer to autumn cross-over.