Blackberry Ways

If you didn’t take advantage of the summer Pick Your Own opportunities to stock up on this year’s bumper crop of soft summer fruits now’s the time to make amends and get out there to harvest big juicy blackberries from the hedgerows. There’s plenty around and once you get them home there’s an abundance of recipe ideas to make the most of your free pickings – it’s all down to personal taste and time.

Before you head out there with family and friends remember to apply a few basic rules.

Safety first – there may be loads of berries at the roadside but is it safe to collect them?
Comfort – forget shorts and t shirts – cover up as brambles scratch and you will get drawn in to the bushes!
Quality – choose firm berries, avoid the overripe mushy ones and check for bugs. A taste test is a good idea as with any fruits, flavour and sweetness varies from bush to bush.
Contamination – another reason not to pick from a busy roadside plus as a dog walker I tend to pick from higher branches that are out of reach of four legged friends!
Containers – baskets, ice cream containers, small boxes and tubs are all ideal, just make sure you take enough so you don’t overload and crush the fruits.

Then once you get them home here are my top recommendations for enjoying blackberries.

Apple and Blackberry Crumble
There are plenty of classic recipes out there to choose from. Experiment by adding spices to the fruits and some rolled oats to the crumble to make a hearty winter warmer. Serve warm with lovely Welsh dairy ice cream or bathed in glorious custard.

Blackberry Jam
You don’t have to be an expert cook to have a go at jam making and you don’t need loads of kit. All you need is a chilled saucer for testing the set, some sterilised glass jars and waxed paper discs to ensure a complete seal. Then it’s an equal quantity of fruit to sugar, lemon juice and a small knob of butter to prevent frothing. Cook the fruit to a pulp and bring to setting point – blackberries are low pectin but you can easily source granulated sugar with pectin added that will help the set. If you want your jam to be seedless sieve the fruit once it’s cooked to a pulp and base your sugar quantity on the fruit juice that’s left.

Blackberry and Vanilla Cupcakes
Put a plump juicy blackberry in each paper case before you add the vanilla flavoured cake mix. While they’re baking make up a buttercream and mix through some of your homemade blackberry jam. Go for a topping with intense colour and flavour for spectacular results. Making a lemon flavoured cake mix is a great alternative.

Blackberry Fool
An incredibly quick and simple dessert but served up in cocktail glasses it looks stunning. Cook up the blackberries with sugar to taste and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Once softened crush them down and leave to cool while you whip up the double cream. Stir the cooled fruit through the cream and chill before spooning into individual servings.

Blackberry Vodka
Make this up now and it will be ready to bottle and give as gifts at Christmas.
Use equal parts fruit to vodka and include sugar to taste – more can be added throughout the infusion process if not sweet enough. We used 1 litre of vodka to 1kg blackberries and approximately 150g of caster sugar.

Place ingredients in a Kilner jar, seal lid and agitate to mix sugar through before placing in a cool dark place. For the first week continue to agitate a couple of times a day, then leave for about 6 weeks, agitating every couple of weeks until the sugar is dissolved. Leave to infuse and after about 3 months your fruit vodka will be ready to strain and bottle.

The boozy berries can then be used in grown up desserts such as trifle, roulade or try making dark chocolate blackberry brownies but don’t let the kids have them!