Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Ahhh, blackberries (rubus fruticosus), our native super fruit, so full of flavour, fibre, vitamin C and K. Pretty much everyone knows blackberries, actually it is blackberries that makes many people a forager, yes, if you've picked and eaten wild blackberries you are a forager!

I love to pick and munch these wonderful fruits as I walk; staining my hands and getting the vitamin C hit that my body is often craving this time of year. Traditionally I would make a large, annual blackberry and apple crumble; feasting on the fruits of a foray with friends and filling up on autumn's bounty.

This year they've come early, I'm scattering them on my morning muesli and dreaming of hot buttered toast lathered with freshly made blackberry jam...

There are many ways to make a good blackberry jam. Myself, I like to include the pips and the substance of the fruits, and not strain all that fibre and texture out. It is a jam I'm longing for, not a jelly. This is my favourite jam recipe, tweaked over the years, and enjoyed every autumn through to winter. Here's an image of my lovely thick jam, made with whole blackberries for a great texture and feeling of sustenance.

(Blackberry jam using the whole blackberry fruit)

Here's my recipe, actually, I call it a 'Blackberry Preserve' as it preserves the blackberries whole. This recipes makes 3-4 jars, so hopefully enough to see you through winter. I use soft brown sugar to add extra depth, blackberries also contain natural pectin, making them perfect for jam making (no need to use jam sugar nor add apples). Obviously, do adjust the amounts depending on how many blackberries you pick, and remember to leave some for others and the wildlife.

 

Blackberry Preserve Recipe

Ingredients

1 kg blackberries

1 kg soft brown sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

 

In a large pan, combine the blackberries and lemon juice and over a medium heat, simmer for 10 minutes and mash the blackberries slightly with a wooden spoon to break up. Add the sugar, stirring regularly and bring to a rolling boil. Once boiling, do not stir and cook for 20 minutes, or using a jam thermometer, until the mixture has reached 105°C. Pour or spoon the jam into sterilised jars. Once opened, keep in the refrigerator. Makes about 1.6 kg of jam (approximately 3- 4 jam jars).

 

(The empty pan after cooking blackberries in it)

I am so excited because I just found a bag of blackberries at the back of my freezer. I thought I'd used them all, though no! I haven't. These will be perfect for making a yummy dessert, and it is party food time of year, isn't it?!

Rubus fruticosus

I could say a lot about blackberries (Rubus fruticosus), indeed there's a lot to say about this fantastic fruit. I love them; their abundance, the varying flavour and their versatility in recipes.

 

One hundred grams (100g) gives you 35% of your recommended daily amount of vitamin C too.

 

From sauces to go with meats, pop them into crepes, to ice creams, crumbles and the classic coulis. Ah the coulis - a thick sauce made from pureed and strained fruits. It is perfect for those seed-rich blackberries.

Rubus fruticosus

A coulis it is. Last year I made this dessert for a New Year's Eve party with friends. It went down a treat. Lets face it, sweet, vitamin C and good company are daily cravings in winter, for me anyway. Here's a wonderfully rich, nutritious and sweet treat for you to share.

 

Did you know that blackberries also contain a little calcium?

There's a lot more I could tell you about blackberries on my Foraging Courses.

 

Here's the recipe. I served the coulis with a simple baked cheesecake, which I also share here. If you love blackberries like I do, here's my Best Blackberry Jam recipe, and even some reflective words and facts about Dear Miss Blackberry.

Baked cheesecake with blackberry coulis

Baked Cheesecake with Blackberry Coulis

I had baked cheesecake on my mind for a few days and was invited to a dinner party to celebrate New Year’s Eve with some friends. Always wanting to bring something if I can, my suggestion of a cheesecake was welcomed and I set to. Wilds make things a little exciting and different for me, so I decided to make a vitamin c rich coulis to accompany it. There was no ricotta in my local supermarket, and quark seemed to replace it really nicely, giving it a good texture.

Ingredients

250g blackberries

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 dessert spoon water

125g digestive biscuits

35g butter

(plus fibre from the blackberry fruits)

250g mascarpone

250g quark

2 large eggs

100g unrefined sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

To make the couli, add the fruits and water into a small pan, mash the fruits a little and simmer for 5 minutes. Using a fine sieve, strain the liquid into a bowl, making sure you get every last bit and then return the liquid to the pan with the brown sugar. Put the sieved fruits aside. Bring to a simmer for a second time and stir until thicken (a few minutes), then take off the heat to cool down.

Grease a 20cm baking tin. Crush the biscuits in a tough plastic bag with a rolling pin, or in a blender. Melt the butter in a small pan, and stir in crushed biscuits and blackberry fibre and mix well. Press the mixture evenly into the baking tray and place in the fridge for 1 hour. 20 minutes before ready, preheat the oven to 180°C.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cheese, quark, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour over the base and bake for 1 hour or until it is set in the middle and comes away from the sides slightly. Allow to cool and serve in slices with blackberry couli drizzled over.

A slice of cheese cake with blackberry coulis

frozen rosa rugosa

Depending where you are in the country, the first frost might have been and gone weeks ago. If the temperature has already plummeted, you may have seen fruits of sloes, rosehips, rowan berries, haws and maybe even blackberries covered in a crisp and magically frosted outer.

Cornish Frost - Myth or Reality?

Here in West Cornwall I never know whether this moment is going to arrive, at all. This year that moment came last week, and it is a welcomed one for a forager. I celebrated by going out and picking a select few of the remaining Japanese rosehips (Rosa Rugosa) which I'll probably use to flavour chocolates for the February valentines foraging course. A time when we'll probably need something to lift our spirits, immune systems and hearts. Gifts and wild food always help, I think.

fruit of the hawthorn tree

(Hawthorn fruit - Crataegus monogyna - awaiting the first frost)

So, here in my beloved Cornwall, where the warm currents and breezes from the sea can help keep the temperature here more ambient. Exposed to the prevailing Southwesterly winds that blow in from the Atlantic means that Cornwall is considered the mildest and warmest place in the UK. Here we can sometimes sit on the beach on Christmas Day, and sometimes the frost, never, ever arrives. It is true that the closer to the ocean you get, the milder the winters and the cooler the summers are. Those of you who know Cornwall know that the down side is here we can get more rain. Nothing is perfect.

All this weather effects the foraging too, and in this blog I'm going to discuss how that effects wild fruits. In previous blogs I've talked about how the frost and snow effects seaweeds; that's another read, if you're interested.

Prnus spinosa, blackthorn fruits

(Frozen sloes - Prunus spinosa)

What does the frost do to wild fruits and is there an alternative?

The frost has the effect of both breaking the skins of the fruits and sweetening them. A welcomed impact for desserts, flavoured gin, jams, jellies and much more. Of course, living in the modern age means you don't have to wait for the first frost - which is lucky for us in Cornwall as it may come late or not at all.

Why? Because we have freezers. It is true, popping the fruits in the freezer is not as romantic as getting up at dawn to collect glistening fruits breaking their frost virginity. Though hey, there are benefits to our modern world and there are many other wonderful things to do with our time and mornings too.

Enjoy the weather, fruits and the convenience of freezers. Freezers also mean that you can attend to your fruits - whatever you want to create with them - when you have ample time to enjoy the process, and not in a rushed moment between dawn and sun down.

rubus fruticosus

All images by Rachel Lambert, except frozen blackberries which is courtesy of Snapguide. If you'd like to see more foraging images, why not visit or follow my Pinterest page.

I have a foraging dog. He's called Paddy McGinity (a name I inherited rather than gifted to him), and yes, he can climb rocks and cliffs as agile as a goat.

Most of the time my dog is with me on forays, while I forage and teach up to 100 different species of wilds in the UK. Often, he's doing his own thing (chasing rabbits and exploring), though sometimes he hangs around and is inquisitive.

I've watched him 'watch and learn' to forage blackberries, rosehips, acorns and he's good at apple scrumping. Seaweeds aren't so popular with him, expect Kelp stems and fish, crab and rabbit are favourites, naturally.

Actually, many are surprised how many fruits and vegetables he'll eat - celery and cabbage leaves being the exception, though cabbage stems are a hit! I've watched him sneakily remove broccoli from my friend's bag, gobbled tomatoes from crates, and forage raspberries straight off a friend's allotment (sorry Liz). To me it makes sense; a natural diet of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Unfortunately he's not that selective, and easily succumbs to bread, sugar and fat (not dis-similar to us!).

He's eaten many other wilds over the years too, mostly be default when he's foraged (I'd say stolen) food from my kitchen. Nettle and Lemon energy balls he devoured very quickly, as were the second batch (very frustrating), Hogweed Seed Biscuits were a hit too, Alexander Seeded Bread is gulped easily and Elderflower ice cream has been ogled at, but so far I have been able to keep it away from him.

Such a sweet dog.

Of course, though he's also an instinctual animal, a wild beast, an opportunist and a forager. Not dis-similar to us, though he is more closely connected to his wild roots. We have lots to learn from animals, and unfortunately they have lots to learn from us!

picking seaweeds from a rock pool

 

 

Miss Blackberry, are you winking at me?
Flashing your juicy smile my way.
How can I resist your deep colouring and shiny curves dotting the prickly hedgerows.
And how can I decipher your sweetness from your sour sisters and under-ripe brothers?

 

 

It's hard to know isn't it. Hard to know which fruit is going to be sweet, which one sour. Here in the UK there was over 200 varieties of bramble, who knows, maybe they've hybridised and there is more types now, though I expect that we have lost a few, and we now have less variables of blackberries. Of course I'm not talking about the large, cultivated shop-bought ones, I'm talking about the wild ones.

 

Back to sweetness of the bramble fruits, this depends on 3 things; the weather, the soil and the variety. Weather we definitely can't influence, not immediately anyhow, the soil, well you can, so reach for your shovel and be prepared to wait. Though variety, well this requires memory and/or foresight.

This autumn, when you're out picking your blackberries and you come across a fantastic tasty crop. Remember. Yes, remember where they are and check this exact spot next year. If you're feeling daring you could also cut off a branch and plant it in your garden or somewhere else perhaps - though be warned they grow thick and fast.

Blackberries are our own, native super fruit, easily over-looked because they are common, though don't forget where the sweet, juicy ones are, and next autumn go foraging for your remembered crop.

I run foraging courses through the year, and share plenty of knowledge about blackberries and many more plants on my late summer and autumn courses. #mindfulwildforager

Dish of Blackberry Cobbler

Full of irresistible flavour, in a British pudding kind-of-way, with no awards for appearances. A cobbler is a baked dish made with fruit and batter, it’s stodgy, filling and easy to make. Just as satisfying as bread pudding, using blackberries as a flavouring makes it a classic for September. Oh, September has ended? Well, your frozen blackberries could also end up in this dish, just defrost them first.

 

The history of the cobbler

This type of pudding was actually promoted by the Ministry of Food in the 2nd world war. It was a way of ensuring that the British people were satiated, able to enjoy puddings that used little butter (which was rationed) and eating wild fruits (which were aplenty). Since the war, many wild foods grew out of fashion, as affluence slowly returned to the country and  foraged ingredients were associated with poverty. Money was gained and wild foods were lost.

Several decades later the interest and value of wild food has been revived, mostly not for austerity reasons but for acknowledging the nutrition, flavour and benefits in eating local food that grows wild on our doorsteps.

Bramble branch

 

Blackberry Cobbler Recipe

A traditional autumn recipe that I've tweaked to include wholemeal flour and brown sugar. How fashions change from encouraging people to eat stodge, to eating unrefined foods. Basically, natural foods are good for us and this is low in food miles too.

Ingredients

55 g melted butter, plus more for greasing pan

90 g brown sugar plus 2 tbsp

90 g white flour

35 g wholemeal flour

250 ml whole milk

240 g blackberries

Whipped cream, pouring cream or ice cream, for serving (optional)

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 23cm x 33cm baking dish with butter. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar with the flour and milk. Whisk in the melted butter.  Pour the batter into the baking dish and sprinkle the blackberries evenly over the top of the batter. Bake for 1 hour, or until golden brown and bubbly. 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar over the top. Serve hot with cream or ice cream or just have it on its own.

Dish of blackberry cobbler

You might think you know everything about blackberries, though I share a blackberry muffin recipe in my wild food foraging book, and here's my best blackberry jam recipe, an awesome blackberry coulis recipe and I share much about foraging on my courses and on my instagram feed. Happy blackberrying.

Everyone has there own traditions for Christmas Day. For me, I'm satisfied  if I'm in good company, have a dip in the sea & there's a healthy amount of indulgence.

Down here in Cornwall I've plenty of people to share these common themes with; least of all bracing the elements & stripping off on the beach for that ceremonial plunge - nothing like it for feeling alive & building up an appetite! So on the morn of the 25th, Sennen beach (just a mile from Lands End) was pretty packed with rosy faces & cold toes as we raced towards those rolling waves to start the day splashing about, all with good company, of course.

The rest of the essentials for the day already prepared, there was little left to do except dry off, drink hot tea & eat. As a lover of good food, I enjoy the simplicity of a good roast with lots of colourful veg to accompany it. I could tell you a good story of a wild meal, but in all honesty, for this day I'm on holiday, want to think as little as possible about food & just allow it to happen.

However, I had put my creativity together in the form of gifts & brought out some wild ingredients to invent new chocolate recipes. For weeks I'd been thinking about combinations that would excite & please. Who in my family likes richness, who needs to watch there blood sugar levels & who prefers a savoury twist. Of course, its impossible to please everyone, though the fun for me is in the creating & the making.

I created 8 recipes in all, some wild, some not, some rich & dark (I'm a Green & Black's fan myself) & some with raw cacao & agave syrup (far richer in minerals & with less of a caffeine hit - though still chocolate!). Cinnamon, fruit, Cornish sea salt, nuts & vanilla all featured & for the wild ones; laced with sloe vodka of course, & a white chocolate with dried blackberries in (good for children if you want to reduce the risk of too much hyperactivity).

The verdict? Well the large box of chocolates is being taken to family tomorrow & I'll see which ones disappear first & let you know! Its a time a year for many things & for me, there's definitely a place for good, indulgent chocolate, especially handmade. Wishing you all a joyous festive season & here's a couple of recipes to be going on with.  x

    

White Chocolate with dehydrated wild blackberries - goes like raisins, though with more seeds/texture!

    

Last year's sloes had been soaking in vodka for 12 months, de-stone & chop them, add a couple of tablespoons of the sloe vodka & stir into the melted chocolate. And one image of the final box of chocs! Most of them I've tasted, of course, so I'm quite confident about the results!

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