Blackberry Messenger

Blackberry Messenger

Posted on 10/09/2016 in Autumn

Blackberry picking was a seasonal family ritual when we were children. We would return home with purple mouths and hands, our legs and arms scratched by the brambles and often having eaten far more than we gathered. We would happily trawl the hedgerows looking for berries as they ripened in quick succession. The real reward for our labours would be Mum's blackberry and apple crumble or simply stewed apple with berries smothered with custard. When we managed to pick serious amounts of them, they would be turned in to bramble jelly to be enjoyed in the winter months on homemade scones or fresh buttered bread.

Blackberries, I think, are better picked wild than the cultivated versions. It’s a fascinating berry that comes with lots of myths and stories. It is said you shouldn't pick them after a certain date. It’s one of those folklores that changes depending on what part of the country you are from. Some say its the 29th September others 10th or 11th October. One adaptation of the myth is that after the devil was thrown out of heaven and he was seen taking his anger out on blackberry bushes stomping and spitting on the brambles withering them away to a shrivelled tasteless pulp. But then my grandfather’s version of this story was that it was in fact witches that spat on the berries.

Another blackberry fact I found whilst researching was written by food writer Dorothy Hartley, who suggests you should pick blackberries from the bottom of the bushes upwards. The lowest and first ones ripened are the sweetest and should be picked and eaten raw, the ones in the middle of the bushes are the next to ripen and should be made into pies and puddings and the ones at the highest points of the hedgerows that you have to reach up and pick are best for jams and jellies as, by the time they are ripe, the pulp is best strained as there is a higher ratio of pips to fruit. I have to say I pick the ones I can reach and that are ripe, I haven’t noticed a sequence to which part of the bushes ripens first. But I will look from now on!

If I can, I make copious amounts of stewed blackberry and apple, its still one of my favourite puddings. But, if I am organised and have a moment, I try and make some blackberry whiskey. It’s my Mother’s recipe and makes a lovely rich dark liquor. Using slightly frilly “wine connoisseur” speak, it tastes of a mixture of summer berries and chocolate and, if made now, it will be ready to decant and drink at Christmas.

To every 1lb of slightly crushed blackberries you need to add 1 to 2 cloves, a small piece of cinnamon and 1 ½ ounces of sugar. Then cover the berries with whiskey. Its best made in large kilner jars, and keep repeating the process until the jars are full. Store somewhere cool and leave for 2 to 3 months.