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
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 was brought up in a family where puddings were the norm, well at least on Sundays anyway. My mum would pride herself in baking beauitful, sweet desserts, that as children, somehow we'd make room for them, in our already, full bellies. It's true isn't it -there's a different stomach for the sweet stuff.
As an adult, this young training has ensured that I have an in-built sweet tooth, though my craving isn't necessarily for the sickly sweetness of refined sugars. Instead, as a young adult I explored alternatives to the white stuff, and experimented with; malt sugars, fermented sugars, fruit sugars and treacle. What I was looking for was a satisfying sweet that would nourish me, and not just fill me with nutrition lacking calories (white sugar has all the good nutrients refined out of them).
As my interests widened to include wild food, this precedent of enjoying desserts continued, alongside my experimenting, and this winter has been no exception. Inspired by Swedish and German friends of mine making sloe syrup, I broke my October tradition of making sloe gin, and simmered the fruits for syrup instead. Of course, I altered the recipe a little, and used dark muscavado sugar and created a thick, rich tasting syrup that reminded me of something... Treacle tart.
Defrosting sloes and dark sugar
Traditionally, treacle tart is made with golden syrup (refined sugar), so I thought I'd try something different. With a bottle of freshly made sloe syrup, I got started, combining oats, fresh bread crumbs (from lovely local bread) and the sloe syrup. The result - wow. It was delicious, like a fruity version of a syrup tart, though more wholesome, just as satisfying, and perfect for afternoon cake-hour, and very fitting for more substantial wintery desserts. Here's the recipe, though you first have to make the sloe syrup;
Sloes cooking for sloe syrup
Thick syrup, reminiscent of tart plums, mixed with the strong flavour of dark sugar.
Ingredients (Makes about 450 ml)
500 g sloes
250 ml water
400 g dark sugar
Put all the ingredients in a medium pan, bring to the boil, and lower the heat until just lightly bubbling and leave to cook for 45 minutes, with the pan lid off. Strain and lightly mash through a sieve and pour into a sterilised bottle. Sloe syrup can also be diluted for drinks or is scrumptious poured over hot porridge.
Sloe Treacle Tart
A rich and filling tart, and the fruity treacle flavours are not over sweet. The oats and wholemeal flour make it a wholesome and pleasantly textured, ideal as a pudding in the colder months.
Ingredients (Serves 12)
90 g plain flour
85 g wholemeal flour
60 g oatmeal
115 g salted butter
1 dsp ice-cold water
75 g fresh breadcrumbs
75 g oats
300 ml sloe syrup
100 ml golden syrup
2 fresh range eggs
In a large bowl mix the flours and oatmeal, and cut the butter into cubes before tossing into the bowl. Rub the flours, oatmeal and butter together using your fingertips until thoroughly combined and resembling fine breadcrumbs. Add the water and form into a ball of dough and wrap in cling film, place in the fridge for 30 minutes. At this stage, preheat the oven to 170°C and grease a 20 cm flan tin. While the dough is refrigerating, in a bowl combine the breadcrumbs and oats and place the syrups in a small saucepan, ready to heat to just warm a little later.
Take the dough out of the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface, large enough to fill the tin and line the sides. Carefully place the unbaked pastry in the tin, gently pressing into the corners and slicing off any excess pastry. Line with baking beans, or equivalent and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the tin from the oven and reduce the heat to 150°C. Meanwhile, heat the syrups till warm, stirring to avoid burning and add to the oats and breadcrumbs. Whisk the eggs and pour in, stirring until the mixture in combined well, and fill the baked pastry base.
Bake for 35 minutes or until set. Serve warm or cold, lasts well in the fridge for a few days. Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed.
Spring has been creeping in, in some places slowly, and other places fast. The telling signs of birds carrying nesting material, lighter mornings and the fresh green plant life in the landscape all help us soften and brighten as Winter is left behind.
If you’re reading this in the UK and wondering what I’m taking about - perhaps where you live Winter still feels like it has it’s grip. Well, I’m writing from West Cornwall, and yes, our milder climate tends to be ahead of many areas, even just a little further north of here.
Two common, abundant and often cursed (both these plants are considered invasive weeds) edible Spring plants in Cornwall are Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum and Three Cornered Leek Allium Triquetrium. Picking, eating and even digging these plants up*, are normally received with appreciation. On that note, and in the spirit of Spring abundance, I’ve created and offer this recipe to you.
Alexanders and Three Cornered Leek Frittata
Makes 8 slices (4 main courses or 8 snacks)
- 400 g Cornish Potatoes
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 75 g Alexanders (leaves and young stems, chopped)
- 75 g Three Cornered Leek (leaves, stems and roots, if available, all finely chopped)
- 5 organic or free-range local eggs, beaten
- Salt and pepper to taste
Peel, dice and cook the potatoes in plenty of water, for about 10 minutes or until just cooked. You’ll be able to place a knife through the potatoes easily, though not so soft that the potatoes fall apart. Strain off the liquid and return to the pan on a low heat for a minute, just to evaporate off any remaining liquid.
Heat the oil in a saucepan approximately 25 cm across in size, over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes, alexanders and salt and pepper and fry for about 8 minutes, turning to fry on each side, when needed. Some of the potatoes will be golden brown after this time.
Briefly mix in the eggs and three-cornered leek, ensuring that the mixture is evenly spread across the pan. Cook for a further 8 minutes, or until the eggs are almost set.
Place under the grill for 2-3 minutes to set and and turn the frittata golden. You can carefully slice and serve while warm, or when cold. Serve as part of a main meal with a luscious salad, or eat as a snack.
*Permission is needed from the land owner to dig up plants, otherwise you are breaking the law.
Blackberries - everyone knows them, everyone forages them. Blackberries make everyone a forager, and what a perfect fruit to be picked. Growing in abundance, and packed with vitamin C and fibre, this humble fruit unites cities, waysides, hedgerows, countryside and wasteland through their presence, it even connects us all back to the Stone Age, as there's evidence that we've been eating this fruit since then.
Back to the current day, a couple of weeks ago I was foraging with a group of keen staff and chefs from Bordeaux Quay deli, restaurant & cookery school. Based on the harbourside of Bristol, just off the city centre, for our foray we congregated on the Bristol Downs (one of my favourite green spaces within this city) to foray together. And guess what, amongst many other goodies, we picked blackberries.
Now, I could list the things we found, and various stages that different ingredients are in as they get experimented with, stored and process at BQ. However, that list of plant names might leave you scratching your head and non-the-wiser. Though if I talk about BLACKBERRIES - ah, blackberries, we know we're speaking the same language!
Blackberries on the Isles of Scilly, where they can taste slightly salty!
So what have you done with your foraged fruits? Blackberry and apple crumble or pie, syrup, ice cream, sorbet, blackberry vinegar or wine maybe?
Well, here's a new one for you, from the Kelly Sealey, the Head Chef at BQ. And by the way, incase you like the sound of it, Foraging Experiences followed by cooking tuition can now be booked for private groups in Bristol, at an award winning venue which specialises in local produce, click here to find out more!
Meanwhile, here's the recipe;
Mackerel salad with a blackberry dressing
By Kelly Sealey
For the fish
2 eggs, beaten
4 mackerel fillets
70g unsalted butter
1 lemon, juice only
Place the oats onto a plate and season with salt and black pepper. Pour the beaten eggs into a bowl. Dip each mackerel fillet into the beaten egg, roll it in the seasoned oats.
Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the coated mackerel fillets and fry for 1 ½-2 minutes on each side.
Turn the fillets carefully and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the fillets are crisp and golden-brown on both sides and completely cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze over the lemon juice
For the salad
Handful of blackberries
Radish, thinly sliced
A dash of red wine vinegar
Pinch of dried chilli
25ml olive oil
Place the vinegar, oil, chilli and 2 crushed berries in a bowl, whisk and add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the salad and toss lightly. To serve place the salad on the plate, fish neatly in the middle and drizzle extra dressing.