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.

Cobnut Recipes

ROAST BEETROOT, GOATS CHEESE AND COBNUT SALAD

1 bunch of fresh, uncooked, beetroot (about 250g without leaves)

200 g/8 oz soft, fresh goats’ cheese

Cobnuts (a couple of dozen)

Baby Beetroot or other leaves

For the dressing:

Salt and pepper

1 tsp honey

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

½ tbsp balsamic vinegar

5 tbsps cobnut oil

Chopped chives

Remove the tops from the beetroot.  It they are really fresh the leaves can be retained for the salad, if not substitute rocket or other leaves.

Wash the beetroot and double wrap them in foil.  Place this foil parcel in the oven at 130˚C for about 2 hours (add or subtract half an hour depending on the size of the beetroot).

When the beetroot are cooked, but whilst still warm, remove the skin and toss, halved or quartered depending on size, in the dressing.  You can either proceed with the salad immediately, whilst the beetroot are still warm, or keep, covered, in the refrigerator until required.

To finish the salad mix the beetroot with the leaves, crumble over the fresh goats’ cheese and top with roughly chopped cobnuts and chopped chives.

COBNUT AND HONEY TART

This tart really showcases the crisp yet milky texture of fresh cobnuts, but it will take patience to shell them.

Makes an 11″ tart (serves eight)

For the Shortbread case:

250g/9 oz plain flour

150g/6 oz butter

75g/3 oz caster sugar

For the filling:

4 eggs

225 ml/8 fl oz double cream

90g/3½ oz clear honey

2 tbsp demerara sugar

135g/5 oz whole cobnuts (shelled weight)

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

This shortbread pastry is very easy to make and handle. Cream the butter and sugar until light (this can be done in a food processor). Sieve the flour and mix in to the creamed mixture (do not over process if using a processor).

Roll out and line the tart case(s). Prick well with a fork and bake blind for 20 minutes.

Beat together all of the filling ingredients, apart from the cobnuts, and pour into the partly baked pastry case. Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Arrange the hazelnuts on top of the filling and cook for 5 minutes more.

Serve cold but not chilled dusted with icing sugar. Whipped cream flavoured with Frangelico liqueur is an ideal accompaniment.

HAZELNUT AND RASPBERRY CHOCOLATE BROWNIES


This recipe can be made with fresh cobnuts, but is also good made with toasted hazelnuts.  It is based on a recipe from Adriana Rabinovich’s “The Little Red Barn Baking Book” as she makes the best brownies I have ever tasted.  Her top tips for making great brownies are: bake in a square tin, do not over mix the filling, do not over bake the mixture (the most common cause of failure).

Makes 16 brownies

125g plain flour

½ tsp salt

110g plain chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids)

110g unsalted butter

150g dark soft brown sugar

150g caster sugar

2 eggs

110g toasted hazelnuts, chopped

150g raspberries (frozen are fine)

Butter and flour a 23 cm square cake tin.  Preheat the oven to 170˚C/Gas Mark 3.

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl.  Melt the chocolate with the butter in a bowl set over, a pan of hot water – the bowl must not be touching the water.  If you have a microwave you probably know how to melt chocolate in this – one of the few things they are good for.

Remove from the heat, add the brown and caster sugars and let them dissolve in the heat of the chocolate, stirring to combine once the sugars have begun to dissolve.  Now add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the mixture after each addition.  The mixture should be nice and glossy at the end of this stage.  Toast the hazelnuts lightly in a dry frying pan then chop them (a food processor is useful for this). Mix them with the sifted flour then fold into the chocolate mixture , remembering not to over mix.

Spread the mixture in the prepared tin and top with the raspberries.  Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until just set in the middle – a skewer inserted into the centre should come out with just a few moist crumbs on it.

Leave to cool in the pan for 30 minutes before attempting to cut into squares, but serve whilst still warm.

AUTUMN CHEESE PLATE

I love the way that, even in restaurants, Italians will offer just a bowl of fresh fruit or a single cheese at the end of a meal.  Good ingredients speak for themselves and we would do well to emulate this restrained approach.  Serve fresh cobnuts with a mature ewes milk cheese – Lord of the 100s, Spenwood and Berkswell are all good British Pecorino style cheeses.  You should also find the first British pears ripening at around the same time as cobnuts.  A Damson “cheese” is a very British accompaniment, or, taking further inspiration from Italy, try drizzling the cheese with honey.  The Italian’s would use a Sweet Chestnut Honey, but as yet I haven’t found a British version.  Heather Honey has a similarly intense, slightly bitter flavour and as 75% of the world’s remaining Heather Moorland is to be found in Britain, we should celebrate this at every opportunity.

Rosemary Recipes

ROSEMARY OIL

A Kilner jar is useful for infusing the oil, but something with good seal so that you can shake the bottle without fear of any spillage.

Strip leaves from the rosemary and lightly bruise them in a mortar with a pestle to release the oils.  You can add a little oil to help lubricate this.

Put the bruised rosemary into the jar and add decent olive oil to cover.  Put in a warm place for a week, shaking the year each day.  After a week strain through muslin into a clean bottle.

BONED LEG OF LAMB COOKED OVER THE FIRE

I normally prefer my meat cooked on the bone but in this recipe any loss of flavour seems to be more than compensated for by the delicious flavour that cooking over wood gives. It also allows you to cook a leg of lamb in a remarkably short space of time.

Leg of lamb (about 6 months old is perfect) – ask your butcher to remove the bone and open the meat out into a flat piece.

2 cloves garlic

rosemary

black peppercorns

salt

2 tbsps olive oil

Cut the garlic into slivers and use a sharp knife to cut incisions in the meat to insert the garlic slivers and sprigs of rosemary. Grind black pepper and salt over the meat and rub in the oil. Cover and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove from the fridge whilst the fire is getting hot so that it comes back to room temperature.

When the fire is white hot position a rack just a couple of inches above it. Lay the lamb on the rack skin side down. The fat will drip down causing the flames to flare up and envelop the meat. Cook for 7-8 minutes and then turn the meat over to cook for a further 7-8 minutes if you like it pink. For well done lamb cook for 12 minutes a side.

Serve with redcurrant or rowan jelly, salad and potatoes.

ROSEMARY CRÈME ANGLAIS

4 good sprigs of rosemary

½ pint (250 ml) full cream milk

4 egg yolks

1½ oz caster sugar

Wash the rosemary and put it in a saucepan with the milk.  Heat the milk to simmering point, then remove from the heat, cover the pan and leave to infuse for half an hour.

Whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until pale and creamy.  Strain the milk through a sieve onto the egg yolks and mix well.  Return to the cleaned pan and cook over a low heat, stirring the whole time, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  Do not be tempted to turn the heat up to speed this up or the mixture is liable to curdle.

Serve with a rich chocolate pudding.

ROSEMARY FOCACCIA

This Italian bread is eaten on its own, and is ideal for barbecues or parties.  In Italy it is often made with semolina flour, which is unfortunately quite difficult to obtain here but the bread works perfectly well though with ordinary strong bread flour.

15g/½ oz fresh yeast

1 tsp. sugar

15g/½ oz sea salt (preferably Maldon)

450g/1lb strong flour (or half semolina flour, half bread flour)

300ml/½ pint tepid water

2 tbsp. olive oil

Topping: Fresh rosemary, rosemary oil and sea salt

Mix the yeast with half the water and the sugar.  Leave to stand for 5 minutes until a froth on the top of the liquid shows that the yeast has started working.

Meanwhile tip the flour and salt onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center.  Pour the yeast mixture, into the well you have made.  Using only one hand, gradually draw a little of the flour into the liquid.   When this liquid is absorbed into the flour add the other half of the water and olive oil.  Continue mixing in this way until all of the flour is incorporated.

Now knead the dough by stretching it away from you and folding it back over on itself.  Knead for about 8-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  When prodded with your finger, the dough should spring back into shape.

Lightly flour your hands and the top of the dough.  Shape the dough into a round and place it in a clean mixing bowl.  Score the top of the dough, this helps it to rise, cover it, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about an hour).

After the dough has risen, knead it again briefly to knock out all the air, and then roll it out until it is about ½” thick (the finished bread will rise to about 2”). Lay the dough on a greased baking sheet and then press sprigs of rosemary into the dough with your fingertips until the dough is dimpled all over. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and a light scattering of your chosen topping.  Leave to rise again, heating the oven to 230C/Gas 8 whilst it rises, and bake for about 15 minutes until golden.

When it comes out of the oven remove burnt rosemary and feed the top with a little more rosemary olive oil plus salt if required.

Spelt, Rosemary and Raisin Bread

Mushroom Sauce

I most often serve this sauce with pasta but, up until the stage that the butter and cream are added, it would also make the base for soup.

If using dried porcini, cover them in lukewarm water and leave to soak for at least 30 minutes.  The strained liquid can also be added to the sauce and then cooked off until only the flavour is left.

Serves 4-6

1½ lb of cultivated mushrooms (including some shiitake if possible), sliced

Wild mushrooms – a couple of fresh or an ice cube size of cooked and frozen, or ¼ oz dried fungi, reconstituted as above

3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic

2 tbsps chopped flat leaf parsley

1 oz butter

4 fl oz double cream

salt

freshly ground black pepper

3½ oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add chopped onion, cook gently until they are just beginning to take on some colour. If using reconstituted dried mushrooms, add these next, with their liquid, so that you can cook until all the liquid has been driven off.  Then add the garlic and parsley and cook together for a minute.  Now add the cultivated mushrooms and plenty of salt and pepper.  The salt will help to draw liquid out of the mushrooms and you should continue the gentle cooking until this has simmered away, which will take about 10 minutes.  Now add the butter and cream, turn up the heat, and boil until the cream has reduced by half. Toss the sauce with drained, freshly cooked tagliatelle and the grated parmesan cheese.