The Great Blackberry Caper

Homemade Blackberry Jam (and other recipes)

We’ve been mercifully distracted from preparations for the start of school, and have spent all our free time over the last few days foraging in hedgerows.  The unusual combination (for England, anyway) of endless sunshine interrupted by intense downpours of rain has ensured that nature is putting on a glorious show as the seasons turn; blackberries are everywhere you look; acorns are likely to fall from the sky and render a nasty ding to your forehead should you be foolish enough to stand still, and the air is perfumed with cider as a million windfall apples quietly ferment in the grass. (Do I sound a little tipsy and effusive?  Blame it on the apples..).

blackberry picking

Harry has proven to be a stoic and unflappable blackberry-picker; whilst I bumble along, shrieking and tossing my pail in the air with fright every time a bug walks over my hand, Harry tuts gently and gathers our fallen harvest before starting over again.  We returned home a little sweaty and scratched up, but with enough blackberries to fill several baskets and make for a weekend of berry-tastic cooking.  We started with our favourite… JAM!!

blackberry jam recipe from katescreativespace

I’ve found through trial and error that presentation is everything when it comes to homemade jam, and minimises the chance of recipients gingerly clutching their gift whilst stealthily examining the jar for mould, unconventional ingredients or smeary fingerprints. I made berry coloured labels for ours and then cut disks to cover the lids from a print-out of the photo above (at least there’s no doubt about the contents..).  Sparkly thread covered the rubber band and completed the look.

decorating jam pots

with approximately a bathtub’s worth of berries leftover we decided to invent a new recipe; blackberry crumble bars, which combine sponge cake, blackberries, jam and crumble, and thus contain all the main food groups.  All the ones we’re interested in anyway..

blackberry crumble bars

blackberry bars recipe

Exhausted – and deliciously full – we decided to abandon all further attempts in the kitchen and instead to package up our leftover berries and take round to friends and neighbours.  I found these pretty trays on sale and added labels with recipe suggestions, and then Harry practised his balance and co-ordination skills with moderate success…

blackberry gifts

And now, in a further fit of procrastination as I avoid all school-related thoughts; what to do with our first apple harvest?  We taste-tested these, and once we’d managed to un-shrivel our taste-buds, roll back our eyes and breathe without gasping, decided that they are probably a little too tart to be eating apples.  If you have any to-die-for recipes for cooking apples I’d love to know; at the moment I’m just enjoying their beauty and scent as they adorn our kitchen table (but I know I need to act soon….).

apples on kitchen table apple harvest

Have a great weekend, when it arrives!


A berried feast for Autumn

This weekend we went blackberry picking, or, as Harry would have it, ‘hunting and catching black strawberries’. Whereas strawberries are quite robust and able to resist the pincer-like grip of a two-year old, blackberries were something of a revelation to H, given their tendency to explode into purple mush at first grasp.  Our journey along the hedgerow was thus peppered by startled exclamations & chortling from Harry and much wiping of blackberry juice from eyes, hair, clothing and the occasional unfortunate passerby.  Our exertions left us suddenly hungry, causing us to eat almost all of our spoils – so we had to start again.  I now understand why supermarket blackberries cost so much; it can take hours to fill a bucket..

We added an apronful of windfall apples from the garden and some homemade lavender sugar to make these individual crumbles, which seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye, though doubtless will reappear on my waistline shortly.  I made up this recipe, I must confess, so feel free to adapt and experiment; we love a dash of ginger and cinnamon so you’ll see both here… and whilst purists use brown sugar in the compote, we prefer our white lavender sugar for a taste of sunshine.  My quantities make 4 individual crumbles, so just flex your quantities, keeping the ratios, for the size you need.

For the fruit compote:

  • 5 eating apples, or 2 cooking apples
  • 2 cupfuls of blackberries
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar (halve this if using eating apples, which are much sweeter and less tart). I used lavender sugar, made a few months before by stirring dried lavender sprigs into a jar of sugar and sealing tight; this gives a lovely hint of flavour and aroma to the sugar which is enhanced by cooking.
  • pinch of cinnamon

Peel, core and chop the apples into bite-sized chunks, and soften on the hob with a spoonful of water and the sugar.  Set the oven to 180c/350f to come to temperature whilst you prepare the crumble.  After 5-10 minutes the kitchen will fill with the delicious smell of caramelising apple; take the pan off the hob and stir in the berries and cinnamon.  Spoon into individual ovenproof bowls or a single dish.

For the crumble topping

  • 200g / 7oz plain flour
  • 100g / 3.5oz soft brown sugar
  • 100g / 3.5oz butter, at room temperature
  • pinch of ginger (optional)
  • handful of flaked almonds or chopped nuts

Stir together the dry ingredients and then add the butter, crumbling together with your fingers till you have a lumpy, sandy consistency; don’t work it in completely as you don’t want the top to be too fine and smooth.  Spoon this mixture over the fruit and sprinkle with the nuts, if using.

Finally pop in the oven for around 20 minutes; they’re done when the top browns slightly and the filling begins to bubble.  Use this time constructively to decide whether you are going to accompany these with custard (the traditional British favourite), whipped cream, ice cream or – heart health be damned – all three.  When cooled slightly, pile these beauties onto a tray and find a nice tree in the garden under which to eat them, because food really does taste better outdoors, especially after all that hard work in the hedgerows…