For me early September is a magical time in the food calendar. Blackberries teem from thorny bushes, the fragrant elderflowers have turned into plumb green berries and scarlet fruit laden rowan berry trees dot the countryside.
The solitary apple tree in my garden is awash with a ruby red crop. I cut one open and was instantly transported back to childhood and dunking for apples – when apples smelled and tasted like they should as opposed to the insipid supermarket variety that tastes of nothing.
The elderberry bushes are straining with green berries. We make cordial and champagne from the lacey white flowers in mid summer, then inexplicably ignore them for the rest of the year. Seamus Heaney describes the ripe black berries as “A swart caviar of shot. A buoyant spawn, a light bruised out of purple.”
When they’re ripe, tart berries make a tangy syrup that will ward off winter colds because of the rich nutrients in the fruit or make them into a jelly with port and thyme to have with winter game. In the meantime pick the green berries, submerge them in seasalt for three weeks, wash, dry and then pickle in vinegar. These little orbs are like floral capers and just a teaspoon will elevate a sauce or dressing for oily fish or grilled lamb with a sweet scented piquancy.
Picking blackberries should be a mandatory part of the curriculum in primary schools!
As well as learning where food comes from class could swing past the supermarket afterwards and compare their free crop with the £3 measly punnet imported from Peru. Horticulture, maths and geography in one simple lesson. The blackberries you pick are infinitely better than cultivated varieties – they tell the story of a rain lashed summer with pockets of steamy early autumn sunshine.
I’ve added a recipe for blackberry and plum cake to enjoy now when the fruit is freshly picked. But it’s always good to preserve fruit for the winter months.
The other recipes are for blackberry wine and cordial. The wine takes a bit of effort but the result is very satisfying and rewarding. If you want something more instant the cordial is perfect to capture the essence of it’s loveliness.
Rowan bushes seem to be particularly laden this year. These trees with their clumps of coral hued berries are ready for picking now. Rowan berry jelly is an old fashioned preserve that should be revived. My other recipe pairs the berries with apple to make a classic jelly that can be jarred to enjoy for the rest of the year. Roast lamb or duck with rowan berry jelly is hard to beat and you have the added satisfaction of making something from an abundant, free food.