Sunday, 9 September 2012

Blackberry Picking - From Brambles to Crumbles

I read a comment recently by MasterChef’s Gregg Wallace who said that there is a certain sadness when blackberries come into season as they are the last of the summer berries.  I have to agree with him as I feel the same!

Not only sad in the sense of the finale in berry crops, but also as their appearance signals the end of summer.  However, there is a positive spin on this as hedgerows are covered with beautiful onyx coloured fruity jewels which are just begging to be picked.

The ‘Indian Summer’ has descended upon the UK this September (a much welcomed relief from constant rain clouds) makes berry picking the perfect pursuit for maximising those last few weeks of evening sunshine before the dark nights draw in.

Canal-side hedgerows, open fields and recreation parks are great environments for wild bramble bushes which bear an abundance of blackberry fruits and as these are public places, you can pick them free of charge!  (It is worth noting that before picking, ensure you are picking berries on public land as opposed to private property). 
 
Armed with Tupperware boxes, we made our way down to Knowle Locks which is on the Solihull/Warwickshire border and began picking berries along this locally loved canal side.  With the few days of good sunshine, there were some ready to pick and some that we know will be ripe in the days to come. 
 
Even though the brambly blackberries aren’t known their perfect form, we picked whatever we could find as ripe.

But there is culinary use for unripened blackberries which I discovered recently. Forage Fine Foods pickle unripened berries which then form the perfect accompaniment for a cheese board, a delicious sourness within the berry which contrasts beautifully with a mature cheese.  To try them, visit www.foragefinefoods.co.uk for details. 
But back to our own agenda and thinking ahead to making crumbles, picking blackberries which perhaps weren’t perfect was fine as fruit will soften and stew when cooked for a crumble so a perfect specimen isn’t vital (scroll below for recipe).

Picking blackberries feels very idyllic, like going back to basics to more gentler times, reminding me of childhood to a point, perhaps when blackberries and apples were known as Autumnal fruit rather than electronic devices!  But it certainly proved to be a lovely way to relax after a busy day at the office which is a welcomed thing.

As the sun sets on Knowle Locks and indeed on summer itself, with a box brimming with a bounty of blackberries, we headed home with plans of making a late supper of Blackberry & Gooseberry Crumble (with clotted cream ice cream, mmmmm).....


Blackberry & Gooseberry Crumble
100g Blackberries
300g Gooseberries (canned in syrup)
1 Tablespoon Caster Sugar
Crumble Mix: 
75g Margarine/butter (diced/cubed)
50g Caster Sugar
100g Plain Flour
Or ready-to-use Crumble Mix.

·         Make sure the blackberries are washed well in cold water before cooking.
·         Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4-5.
·         In a saucepan gently heat the blackberries with gooseberries (plus syrup) and the caster sugar.
·         Keep heating and occasionally stir the mixture until it becomes stewed and mushy.

·         In the meantime, create the crumble mix if you are making your own.  Place all the crumble mix into a bowl and mix together with your fingers.  You will soon notice that the mixture becomes like little crumbs which is what you are looking to achieve.  Keep mixing until everything becomes crumb-like.
·         Place the stewed fruit into an oven-proof dish and cover with crumble mix (home-made or ready-to-use).
·         Place in the oven for 20 minutes or longer if required, until the crumble mix has become slightly golden.
·         Serve hot with ice-cream, custard, or cream.


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