Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Blackberries, everywhere.


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. 


Some jam making tips, while I think of it:

  • 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.

You need:
  • 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.

39 comments:

Jennifer said...

Your jam-making skills - and intense interest in jam-making - are one of my favorite things about you. I feel like it's a lost art among most people I know and it makes me so happy to see you persisting in making it season after season. It's inspiring. The gin sounds delicious; don't let us down by forgetting to taste it now...ha.

Karisma said...

Oh Gillian, I always wait until my little boy is asleep because I just want to sit and savor my visit here in your space. Things have been busy in my kitchen too. I have been craving crumbles, but Ross is such a picky sweets eater that I didn't want to make one and have an entire crumble sitting there to tempt me to eat the whole thing! It is so wonderful, that even though you have returned to working, you are still working so hard to provide homemade and handmade things for this home that you love so much. I'm sure your children will look back on their childhood and feel your love and intentions. Have a wonderful day! Oh! Your little man's badger shirt looks so good on him! Good job! =) Aloha!

Mac n' Janet said...

We're just back from vacation and trying to get caught up on all my blogs. Looks like you've had a busy time too. Love, love, love your dress and I know exactly what you mean about how clothes can make up feel. Love your reaction to Chatsworth, mine would have been the same.

sandra gilbert said...

Wow you have been busy, love your little labels and of course the Bonne Mamon jars. the bramble gin sounds ideal for Christmas and I may well have to give it a go. Glad you had a nice end to the hols

Gracie Saylor said...

Blackberry jamming is happening across the pond in our kitchen, too. Two of my adult children made another batch today. I sampled the first batch and can attest to its worthiness :) Blackberry gin sounds like it could be brilliant...I will look forward to your report, Gillian. Wishing you a satisfying transition to your work/school schedule xx

VeggieMummy said...

What a lovely way to spend your last weekend before going back to work. I think the bramble gin recipe might be given a try around here! We've had our first apple crumble of the season but haven't got around to picking blackberries yet - you've inspired me; we might have to go for a walk today (weather permitting!) and pick a few. xx

Ingrid Orens said...

Blackberries are early this year, aren't they ! Over here as well, I already saw them middle August - last year, it was way in September !
I love blackberry jam - it is the first jam I made myself (a long, long time ago... ;-)) and I still remember that with the first batch I forgot to put it through a muslin strainer :-)... Oh yeah, I had fun eating that first batch (and used kilometers of dental floss haha...)
Good thing you're already thinking about Christmas to make the blackberry gin ! Good girl ;-) ! (When are you starting on christmas pudding ?)

Librarian said...

My parents have a row of blackberries on their allotment, it makes the border to the next garden. They gave me the right amount of freshly picked ones to last me for my muesli until yesterday, and I'm going to get more tomorrow.
My mum makes liquor out of her berries, too - it is like having summer in a bottle when you open the stopper.
I love the Brambly Hedge books! Four of them (the "Seasons" ones) sit on the shelf next to me as I am writing this. I also have a set of Brambly Hedge cup, saucer and plate.

When you make jam and jelly, don't you put the date on the labels? My Mum always writes "Blackberry 09/2015" or something like that. But maybe your jars get emptied so quickly that there is no confusion between older and newer batches :-)

Hazel said...

Hi, I found you a couple of weeks ago, via another blog.

Our blackberries aren't quite ready yet, but I'm planning jam and jelly. I also highly recommend blackberry whisky, made the same way as the gin. I normally wouldn't drink whisky at all, but once you add sugar and fruit it's delicious!

Re: the custard- I ran out the other day and didn't have enough eggs to make egg custard and I found this http://mortgagefreeinthree.com/2014/11/homemade-custard-powder-just-like-birds/
The first time I made it I had a little bit of double cream left and it was so good! My daughter then made some and I'd just say go steady on the almond extract and salt! It was easy to make and all ingredients I have anyway (except the milk powder which I left out).

Julie said...

I wasn't going to make jam this year but keep wavering. I've just opened my last jar of bramble jelly and it's so good. I also came back from my quilt group last night with a jar of gooseberry jam. I've made blackberry liqueur a few times and love it. Another good one made in the same way is with crab apples - the appley flavour really comes through. x

Winters End Rambler said...

Hi...I made sloe and blackberry gin last autumn for the first time, then left them until after Christmas to steep...now waiting for nippier evenings to 'need' a wee glass for medicinal purposes! J. x

mags said...

I've never made jam or jelly, but I love to eat it. I have to say crumble is my favourite. The blackberries aren't nearly ready here! Xxx

Gina said...

This post has made me want to go foraging and jam making immediately! I love ice cream with crumble too.

Christina said...

Wow, you are ready to hibernate with your lovely preserves! I have picked the last wild raspberry and now await the ripening of the blackberries, we are way behind this year. I am a bit peckish now, seeing your crumble, and thinking of a hot buttered crumpet with bramble jelly.... x

Anonymous said...

Ooh lovely. I made plum and orange jam last night and had to scrape the pan clean with a slice of bread to test it..! I love making jam - it's alchemy, isn't it?! I second you on using a jam funnel. Your preserves sound lovely. We're planning to go blackberrying later - there are loads in the hedgerows this year. I like the idea of adding elderberries too. I think I'll try making some blackberry gin too... Here's to a fruitful season all round xx

Sarah said...

My taste buds are tingling reading this. 'Tis the season of jam making and wonderful harvests. I made my first windfall apple cake last night which I will I slice up and give to my daughter and her boyfriend who are coming home today en route for the End of the Road festival in Shaftesbury. It might keep out some of the autumn chill!

Jo@awholeplotoflove said...

I need to go blackberry picking especially for jam but I'm definitely going to try blackberry vodka.! xx

CJ said...

Well done on your blackberry picking, I'm very impressed with how many you gathered. I must get out and do the same I think. Bramble jelly is lovely isn't it, it was always my favourite when I was little and I had it at my grandpa's house. I'm with you when it comes to pies, I almost never make them, it's always crumble. In fact I feel one coming on today. CJ xx

Leanne Paxton said...

Hey Gillian,
I share your love of jam making. I always make sloe gin. You must try it. As simple as flavoured vodka. Top tip; freeze the sloes first, then guve them a good bash before you combine them with booze and sugar. It saves pricking every sloe with a pin. Happy Autumn days, Gillian!
Leanne xx

Susan Smith said...

All that jam looks mouthwatering and I can just imagine it on scones with cream (yum). As I don't drink alchohol I think I'll skip on the blackberry gin. Hope going back to school for the kids goes well and take care.

Saskia Bird said...

Blackberry gin (or blackberry and apple, aka brambly apple gin) is gorgeous, especially since its so easy to make! If you remember keep the boozy fruit and put it in the bottom of a chocolate cake/pudding - really really good!

Sharon - creativity and family said...

Phew, all these dilligent foragers! I really need to get out on my scooter and pick some blackberries now that we have a dry day! I love the sound of the drink :-)

Jane said...

I love bramble jelly, it reminds me of my grandma, and now having read your post I think I will make some. There certainly seem to be plenty of blackberries this year, sloes too - my hubby likes to make sloe gin and damson gin is rather drinkable too :o) xx

Marion Ogden said...

I think it's really great that you can pick blackberries anywhere and everywhere for free, they taste good and they can be made into all sorts of delicious things. We've used the ones we've picked to make crumble and sorbet and bread&butter pudding. We'll be picking some more this weekend and I might use some to make blackberry gin, too. X

Sarah said...

Beautiful pictures, as always. I'm looking forward to going blackberrying at the weekend and your gorgeous jam, jelly and gin have made me even more eager! Hopefully the excitement of autumn bounty will overcome my current depression about the lack of sunshine and warmth.

Ali Whale said...

I feel inspired by this, not to make jam (although yours all looks lovely) but to make some blackberry gin. How good does that sound....?? I've hunted down local sloe bushes this year and I will be hitting Wilcos for the Kilner jars so that at Christmas I can drink my own special fruity gins. Can't wait!

Wainwright and Wright.Co said...

Wow - it all looks so tasty. Well done on such a productive weekend.
Caz xx

Anonymous said...

Oh I can practically smell that bramble jelly! Definitely a reminder that it's time to get out there picking and then back home jamming. Thanks for a lovely post Gillian xxxx

Amy at love made my home said...

Such wonderful blackberriness!!! Homemade jam is always delicious and I am sure that the gin will be great too! xx

Lisa said...

I am hoping for a spot of blackberrying this weekend, just hope they haven't all been washed away!
Your jam is such a beautiful treat for the eyes as well as the tunny, so rich in colour.
Enjoy the results of your hard work.
Lisa x

Jo said...

I used to do this all the time but this year, it has slipped away from me like many other things I used to do when the children were at home. Now I am at work the time just seems to whizz by and I have to choose what I would like to do instead of everything. Sigh! I think your recipes are great. Jo x

Neighborhood Watch said...

Whoa! What a lot of blackberries! I once collected enough to make a pie and I felt triumphant with that. They used to grow wild in my backyard, but now bamboo has squeezed them out.
Also--I loved your last post about the coming autumn. It's my favorite season change--even more than coming spring. Maybe because it's less of a teaser. ?

The Creative Academic said...

What a bounty. And what a fantastic idea for flavouring gin - I don't need any extra help in consuming gin! :)
found a bramble in our garden hedge the other days and am hoping for a few blackberries - they're still not ripe yet! I love crumble!! xx

Sandra (Cherry Heart) said...

I love bramble jelly, it's a real favourite in this house. Normally my Mum makes it though, which I must admit I'm relieved about. Although you make it seem a little more like something I might be able to manage. I shall log this for future reference, just in case the jam making mantle gets handed down!

S x

Hazel said...

I love bramble and hedgerow jelly and I always have great notions at the start of September to make some.. but I usually end up eating the berries or baking with them instead!! Maybe this year I will do it.. Hazel x

Annie Cholewa said...

Blackberry vodka here ... We use it to chase away winter chills, and on ice cream in summer!

Penny said...

What a brilliant post! I love making jams and jellies too, there is something so deeply satisfying about it that is hard to explain. I agree whith your advice about small amounts, I don't like wrestling with huge quantities, like you I prefer to make a few jars at at time. Your preserves look so pretty in their assorted jars! C

Gillian Roe said...

What a good idea! Thank you for that. Throwing out all that boozy fruit does seem a shame...

Gillian Roe said...

I used to date the batches but I don't bother any more. I only make 6 or 8 jars at a time and it all gets used up before the next season comes around. We do seem to get through a huge amount of jam in this family!