Blackberries are Mother Nature’s gift

Blackberries.

Blackberries.

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At this time of year Mother Nature has a wonderful way of cheering us up. The nights might be drawing in and there’s more than a whiff of autumn in the air, but the hedgerows are teeming with deep purple blackberries. There’s something comforting about taking a bowl and gathering this free food.

Earlier this week I picked some of these juicy berries, warm from a rare burst of sunshine. They tasted sharp and sweet and the slight heat accentuated their natural fruitiness. The whin bushes growing beside them had spider’s webs that looked like tiny hammocks, dusted with diamond like droplets of dew and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather have been at that moment.

I’ll spend the next month picking these prized treats and then preserving them for the winter months. The easiest thing to do is freeze them and use them for crumbles, sponges and cakes. This year I’ll make blackberry wine again – it’s a bit of a flaff but worth it. A simpler way to preserve them is mix 500g blackberries with 500g sugar and a litre of vodka, gin or rum. Place in a kilner jar and seal. Give it a shake twice a day for a fortnight then leave it for six weeks before straining.

Papa’s Mineral Company is a Belfast based cordial maker and among their range is a great Sarsparilla. This root extract has a vanilla and slightly aniseed flavour and serendipitously is great with blackberries. You could use it as a compote for ice cream but I’ve used it to make a savoury glaze that would be ideal to glaze a baked ham or ribs.

When I was younger we used to stay in a hotel in Ennistymon in Co Clare. They had a vegetable patch at the back of the hotel, a rarity in those days, and you could tell what would be on the menu that evening from what the chef was gathering in his basket. I remember clearly, seeing him pick blackcurrants and that evening we were served a delicious fool. This fruit and cream confection was beautiful and what better way of showcasing great fruit than to let the natural flavours sing.

In my own garden the lavender is at its height at the moment and blackberries, plums and this fragrant plant go wonderfully well together. Plums cooked with a hint of lavender work really well with the fool. I’m picking it at the moment to dry and then mix into sugar to add throughout the winter and inject a bit of summer sunshine into my life. Less is more with lavender – too much and it’ll taste like soap!

Making fruit vinegars is an easy way of preserving their goodness. Steep the fruit in vinegar for 10 days then cook with sugar, strain and store in clean bottles to capture their essence.

Forage Ireland have some events coming up in September to get the most of your hedgerow, including a trip today at 2pm in Slieve Gullion Forest Park and a picking and jam making event tomorrow at Eden Allotments in Carrickfergus.

Check out www.forageireland.com for details.