Blackberries

September is the best month for blackberries, although they may be ready for picking during August depending on the weather and location. Traditionally Old Michaelmas Day was known as Devil’s Blackberry Day – the day on which the Devil spat on the blackberries. With the change from the Julian to Gregorian calendar this fell on 11th October, although often the 1st October is cited and certainly by this time the blackberries are past their best. The pairing of blackberries with apple is classic, although September is early for many cooking apples. The varieties to look for at this time are those that are considered dual purpose, i.e. they make a good cooking apple at the start of their season but will ripen to a dessert apple over time. James Grieve is perhaps the best known of these varieties, although in its native Scotland rarely becomes sweet enough to eat; Charles Ross or Peasgood Nonsuch are other varieties to look for, they will not cook to the same froth as a Bramley but will make a good September Blackberry and Apple Pie. It is worth freezing some blackberries for later in the season and Blackberry Vinegar is another way of preserving the flavour. All blackberries should be soaked briefly in salted water before using. This brings out any maggots. But don’t overdo the salt or leave soaking for too long or the blackberries themselves will taste salty. I am always amazed when I see cultivated blackberries for sale when the wild are free and tasty. However, it has to be admitted that in common with most cultivations of wild fruit, the berries are larger and you therefore suffer fewer pips. To get around the pip problem, many of my favourite blackberry recipes start by making a purée – for ice cream or mousse for example. Finally there is one other pairing that deserves to be considered a classic – blackberries with rose scented geranium leaves. I believe Elizabeth Davis may have been the first to suggest this, although I first came across it in a Darina Allen recipe. Now I always add a few leaves whenever I am cooking blackberry and apple – as in the recipe below.

Blackberry, Apple and Rose-scented Geranium Meringue Pie

11-inch/28cm metal pie plate (Serves 6-8) Pastry: 5 oz SR Flour 5 oz Plain Flour 6 oz butter 2½ oz caster sugar Grated rind of an orange 2 egg yolks Filling: 2 lb Charles Ross or other dual-purpose apple (weighed before preparation) 8 oz blackberries 6 rose-scented geranium leaves Sugar to taste Meringue: 3 egg whites 6 oz caster sugar To make the pastry, Sieve the flours together, add the sugar and grated orange rind then rub in the butter. This can all be done in a food processor. Add sufficient egg yolks to bind. Chill in the fridge for an hour. Meanwhile peel, core and slice the apples before gently stewing them with a couple of tablespoonfuls of sugar and the geranium leaves. When the apple is beginning to collapse add the blackberries and cook for a few minutes more. Now taste and add more sugar if required. Remove the geranium leaves. Roll out the pastry and line an 11-inch/28cm metal pie plate. This pastry is quite difficult to handle but don’t worry if it falls apart when rolling as it pieces back together again well also. Return to rest in the fridge whilst you pre-heat the oven to 190˚C. Bake the pastry blind for 15 minutes. During this time make the meringue. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks then add half the sugar and whisk again. Fold in the remaining sugar with a metal spoon. When the pastry has had 15 minutes in the oven add the filling and top with the meringue. Turn the oven down to 150˚C and bake for a further 45 minutes to give a meringue that is crisp on the outside but still soft within.

BRAMBLE MOUSSE

Serves 6 1 lb blackberries 4 oz caster sugar 2 leaves of gelatine 1 tbsp lemon juice ¼ pint double cream 2 egg whites Put the blackberries in a saucepan with the sugar and simmer over a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and rub through a nylon sieve. Stir in the lemon juice. Soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water to soften, then remove and squeeze out the excess water. Stir the gelatine into the blackberry purée until it has dissolved. Cover the bowl and leave until the mixture is beginning to set. Whip the cream until it is thick and fold through the purée. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and fold them through the mixture, making sure they are thoroughly combined. Spoon the mixture into individual ramekins or glasses and chill in the refrigerator until set.

RICH BLACKBERRY ICE CREAM

The following recipe produces a rich smooth ice cream that makes a perfect accompaniment to a Blackberry and Apple pie. 1lb/450g blackberries 4oz/115g light muscovado sugar 2 tbsps Blackberry Liqueur such as Bramley & Gage or French Crème de Mûre lemon juice 6 fl oz/175 ml double cream 6 fl oz/175 ml milk vanilla pod 5 egg yolks 3oz/85g caster sugar Place the blackberries in saucepan with the muscovado sugar, cover with a lid and heat until the sugar has dissolved and the blackberries have begun to release their juice. Press through a nylon sieve to remove the pips. Add the Crème de Mûre and sharpen to taste with lemon juice. Meanwhile heat the milk and cream in another pan with a vanilla pod until just below simmering point. Whisk together the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Pour on the hot milk and cream, whisking as you do so, and remove the vanilla pod, which can be washed and kept to use again. Return the custard mixture to the pan and heat until it thickens slightly. Pour this into the blackberry purée and leave the mixture to cool. Transfer to the fridge when the mixture has sufficiently cooled and leave until thoroughly chilled before transfer to and ice cream maker or the freezer. If you do not have an ice cream maker, remove the ice cream from the freezer as soon as the edges begin to freeze and beat well. Repeat this process again before the mixture is fully frozen.

BERRY LEMON PUDDING

This is a variation on the classic lemon self-saucing pudding. The mixture miraculously divides to create a sponge on top and a lemony sauce below. Fills a one-pint soufflé dish to serve 2-3 people ½ lb blackberries 1 oz unsalted butter 4 oz caster sugar 1 un-waxed lemon 2 eggs ¼ pint milk 1 oz plain flour Cream together the butter and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Add the finely grated rind and juice from the lemon and beat thoroughly. Separate the eggs and beat the milk into the yolks. Add this little by little to the creamed mixture alternating with the sifted flour and remaining sugar. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them through the lemon mixture. Put the blackberries in the base of the soufflé dish and pour the creamed mixture over. Place the dish inside a roasting tin containing about an inch of hot water and bake at 190ºC/Gas Mark 5 for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and no impression is left when pressed with your fingertip.

LEMON POSSET WITH BLACKBERRY COMPȎTE

Serves 6 1 pint double cream 6 oz caster sugar 100 ml fresh lemon juice (2 lemons) finely grated rind of 1 lemon Put the cream, sugar, lemon juice and rind into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Leave to cool slightly then pour into 6 small glasses (it is quite rich). Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve with cooked blackberries.

MUSHROOMS IN BLACKBERRY VINEGAR

Marinated button or oyster mushrooms make a simple but delicious starter or side salad. Make the Blackberry Vinegar several days in advance. For the Blackberry Vinegar: 1 lb blackberries 1 bottle of white wine vinegar To marinate the mushrooms: 1 lb mushrooms (oyster mushrooms work particularly well) 1 mild sweet onion salt and pepper 5 tbsp hazelnut oil 3 tbsp blackberry vinegar chopped parsley To make the blackberry vinegar simply crush clean blackberries in a large bowl and pour on the vinegar. Cover with a tea towel and leave for a couple of days before straining. Slice the mushrooms and chop the onions and mix the two together in a dish. Sprinkle with salt and grind over some pepper. Heat the vinegar almost to boiling point then mix with the hazelnut oil and pour over the mushrooms. Leave for several hours until the mushrooms have softened. Garnish with chopped parsley.

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