With evenings beginning to draw in attention is turning to the harvest

A Generic Photo of blackberries growing freely in the wild. See PA Feature GARDENING Nematodes. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Nematodes.
A Generic Photo of blackberries growing freely in the wild. See PA Feature GARDENING Nematodes. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Nematodes.

In 1923 May Byron wrote about blackberries in her Jam Book: “This most prolific and excellent wild fruit was long neglected except by peasants and country folk . Seldom used, either in a raw state or dressed, to quote a cookery book of sixty years ago.”

These thoughts from the mid 1800s are just as pertinent today.

I read in a paper recently that August is the Sunday night of summer and while the evenings are drawing in, there is much to be hopeful for with the impending harvest.

The sight of plump, purple, blackberries appearing at the side of narrow roads always gladdens my heart.

With lashings of rain and bursts of sunshine, ripe ones are popping up on bushes now.

Blackberries, like rowan berries, elderflowers and elderberries, certain mushrooms and wild raspberries are wild and free. Grab a bucket and pick to your heart’s content.

You might get a few scrapes along the way but that’s just part of the joy. There’s nothing as fulfilling as picking a kilo of these ripe berries and then transferring them into wine, vinegar or chutney to enjoy throughout the winter. We live in a society where instant gratification is the norm.

In food terms this can mean ready washed and peeled vegetables or even already cooked.

May Byron had issues with this too: “The harvesting of blackberries from fields and commons is in itself a pleasure : which the greengrocer’s blackberries, at the unconscionable price of fourpence to eightpence a pound, I can never give!”

In the here and now, why would you pay £3 a punnet for something you can pick for free?

While filling the freezer with bags of these prized fruits is an easy way of preserving them, there’s a lot more fun and value to be added to capturing their essence.

You could make a simple blackberry vinegar by infusing blackberries in red wine vinegar for a couple of days and then straining into clean bottles. Blackberry vodka can be made in the same way as sloe gin – mix a kilo of berries with a litre of vodka and 500g of sugar in a kilner jar. Seal and shake twice a day for a week and then leave to infuse for a month. Strain and bottle. The liquor soaked blackberries are great added to the juices when you roast a duck or with venison. If you want to go a step further I’ve included a recipe for homemade blackberry wine. This does need some specialised equipment and while the initial outlay costs a bit, when you get into the swing of wine making, you’ll recoup the costs in no time. Nature’s Way on the Newtownards Road in Belfast has all the gear you’ll need.

I’ve also added a recipe for a non alcoholic cordial that’s simple to make, keeps well and is delicious.

Blackberries and local plums appear serendipitously together at this time of year and I’ve combined them in a light cake – lovely with a dollop of cream to celebrate these gorgeous beauties.

For something savoury there’s a recipe for a spiced blackberry chutney – cooked with sweet sugar, sharp vinegar and some aromatics. Imagine opening it in December to have with some good cheese and getting that heady whiff of late summer with decadent spices.

These hedgerow gifts are only here for a short while so plan a raid on mother nature’s larder. Make the most of them and she’ll be delighted.