Darker mornings and the delights of a pan of blackberries…..

autumn blackberries

And slowly slowly the year moves on, the weather finally seems to be catching up to the changing hedgerows and trees, mornings are dark and distinctly nippy, cobwebs strew across the raspberry canes and sparkle with an almost frosty dew, the marshes are covered with a low ground mist before the day clears and properly wakes up…..and then what seems but in the blink of an eye, twilight rolls in and then by seven it’s suddenly night….

I think like a lot of people Autumn is my favourite season, partly because I love getting out and having a kick around in the leaves, and the trees here can look so stunning, a breathtaking mix of yellow and saffron, flame, crimson amongst russetty browns, sepia tones and shades that look like gingerbread men….

I also love the food I tend to associate with this time of year, slowly cooked casseroles and hale and hearty stews, sticky fat sausages (vegetarian ones sitting in the pan alongside butter sauteed onions and crab apple jelly as they melt together into a sticky gravy) and blackberry crumble….it’s easily one of my top five favourite foods and while I can’t eat too much of the crumble mix anymore I happily can wolf down second helpings of the cooked fruit…..however it’s been another poor old year here for blackberries* so rather than pick them for just one or two brief tastings of pudding I’ve been making dark coloured jellies which will hopefully see us through the year.

berries in the pan

A couple of years ago my beloved bought me a huge French copper jam pan, it’s a bit of a beast as it’s so big and rather heavy to boot but it’s wonderful to make jams and jellies in, the changing patina of the copper reflects the gently cooking fruit and becomes even more beautiful every time I use it….. a pan of blackberries on the stove, simmering foamy bubbles slowly appear across the surface, welling up from the deep like a great and fearsome sea monster, a dark rich fruity aroma wafts up….my glasses steam over if I get too close as I try to breath it all in…..more than bonfires or the smell of a damp leaf strewn afternoon, this is for me the very essence of the smell of Autumn and is a yearly treat I begin to look forward to as soon as the days become longer and warmer….

Dark glistening berries, purple but often so dark they’re almost jet black, magically become a bright vivid magenta as they bubble and froth…like some Shakespearean witches brew …oh for a pair of tights in this colour to be worn with purple shoes.

purple fingers

The smell of bubbling berries is such a familiar one…even when I lived in the heart of the city I was always able to find some hidden up brambles and pick enough berries for a pot of jam or a tummy warming crumble…..I’m not a very chic forager though, I always seem to end up with the pinkest of fingers, stained like foxgloves and tingling with splinters and nettle stings (I never make foraging sound very attractive, but the rewards more than make up for any pickle or hedgerow tangle I find myself in).

I used to just make blackberry jam but the last couple of years I’ve switched to making jellies using some of the local wildlings and crab apples that grow so abundantly nearby….when I cook my apples I pop in a couple of star anise “stars” which gives the apples a heady almost mysterious aroma, and to the simmering blackberries I add in a few shards of concentrated liquirice juice….both add something that makes the blackberry jelly taste even more blackberry and Autumny.

Jelly or jam making is such a soothing process that always seems to help me ease and adjust into Autumn…gloomy mornings are rather miserable, the evenings get shorter as they draw in so quick all cold and damp outside, almost every day at the momentt I seem to encounter huge hairy spiders as they run across our carpet or lurk by the side of the stove which make me jump right out of my skin when I see them (yes, card carrying Arachnophobe here)…but an afternoon spent slowly stiring a pan full of berries, with the scented steam drifting out into the garden, maybe having enough left over for a crumble to pop into the oven…. and I’m blissfully content and feel I can cope with anything (regardless of how many hairy fast moving legs it has).

apples and quinces

In another week or so I’ll be making apple and quince jelly, I’ve got a bowl filled with small japonica quicne on our front room table and as they slowly ripen the quince smell more and more incredible, very citrussy and sherbety…at night I close the door so when I open it in the morning I’m greeted with a lovely uplifting perfume….

The jelly is really simple to make and is rather marmaladey in taste.  It’s very delicate and it’s easy to see why it was eaten as a breakfast preserve before the fashion for oranges came in…I only made a few precious jars last year but I’m hoping to make enough to give some as Christmas gifts….I have a friend who now lives in London (she’s an amazing cook and has spent this last year studying at Leith’s Cookery School)…in Autumns past she’s been a foraging buddy, and we’ve picked bags of sloes and baskets of blackberries, so I’m hoping to be able to fit in a trip to London before the year is out and surprise her with some homemade preserves made from my solitary foraging escapades.

 

*the year before last we went blackberry picking about the mid twenty something of July right through September and into October, I must have picked in the region of 30 some lbs of blackberries, the hedgerows were fair heaving, and were so laden with fruit…the berries were fat and so sweet and flavoursome.  The first few times we ate the fruit as it was, just a dribble of Jersey cream or yoghurt on top….and even when I made it into jam the seeds were very few and far between…but every cloud has a silver lining, and as the harvest seemed a  bit sparce last year, I experimented more with what went into the jam pan and made some glorious jewel bright amber coloued hedgerow jellies instead.

Nettle tingling fingers and blackberry junkets….

It’s been really hot and sticky feeling here the last few days, a bit too hot for me really and I’ve not wanted to do much of anything….however as I’d started noticing some fat and shiny blackberries about when I’d headed down to the shops we decided it was time to start gathering something to put down for the pantry.  The wild mirabelle plums which I’ve picked every year since I moved here didn’t even come to fruit this year and the wild cherries were a rather poor show, I managed to pick a small handful to eat on the way home but there wasn’t enough to cook with.  I’ve been a bit worried about the blackberries as they seem to have been a bit slow making an appearance but this last week or so I’ve been seeing the odd glimpse of shiny jet black berries when I’ve walked down to the shops.

the sock thief

We’ve not actually been home all that long as we had to stay in this morning looking after a fledgling wood pigeon our neighbour’s cat had knocked out of our tree…Bernard’s a bit old and creaky to be springing up trees however little miss from next door isn’t very old and she’s also pretty fearless…..adult wood pigeons are beautiful if a bit…hmph’ty…they always remind me of Georgian politicians or fat old country squires with the gout.  We get a few come visit in the garden and thy make me laugh how they strut about. Their colouring though is so pretty but the fledgling …well it was definitely a face only a mother was going to love…sadly the poor little creature died and I’m afraid to say kitty got short shift from me when she poked her head around the door to ask if Bernard was coming out to play….she’s already in my bad books as she  sneaked in and played with/ pulled out a sock out that I was knitting…she’s also eaten soup I was planning to eat myself and she also has a taste for lemon yoghurt…do not let that cute face mislead…this is one bad cat.

black berries in dappled sunshine

But as it was sunny and nice we decided we’d still go out as planned but just set a very gentle and slow pace as we ambled over the marshes ….there’s one spot in particular where we think the blackberries are best but it’s got so overgrown and tangled that it was really hard to just get on in there and pick.  We’d taken small secateurs as we knew it was going to be a bit of a jungle but didn’t realize just how overgrown and wild it had become…. my poor fingers are so sore and tingling from the nettle stings and brambles.  It feels like there’s more than a couple of tiny bramble splinters too but at least I didn’t stand in any fox poo today or get covered in cobwebs which I’m quite apt to do so am looking at the silver lining….generally when I’m foraging by myself I end up half in the hedgerow and when I clamber out look more than a little like Catweazle but when I’m with my sweetie he seems to make sure I don’t bring home half the hedge with me.  A couple of years ago I bought a walking stick from a charity shop and it’s brilliant to take with me to gently pull down any laden stems that seem a bit far out of reach, and I also take an old pair of garden clippers that were a car booty 50 p purchase to lop down any nettles that tend to spring up right in my face, however, I completely forgot to take the walking stick and missed it pretty much as soon as I got there.

river side

However we still picked just over a couple of pounds before deciding it was just too scorchy and wouldn’t it be nice to get home for a cold drink so we packed up and walked back home a slightly different way…normally it’s too boggy and wet underfoot to walk across this piece of the meadows but today it was just perfect.  Up to quite recently they’ve had cows grazing on here so all the meadow grass and wild flowers have been nibbled down, but I could see lots of vetch shoots appearing however I’m not sure if they’ll have time to blososm before the Autumn weather creeps in.

As the weather is due to be hot and sticky  tomorrow as well I’ve decided to make some little blackberry junkets…they need to be kept in the fridge once they’re set as they don’t have any preservatives in them but they’re so delicious that to be honest I generally can eat them til they come out of my ears.  Like possets they’re a wonderfully old fashioned recipe and are ridiculously easy to make.  This is the best weather to make them but really we should have gone out this morning to pick the berries so they had time to set while the sun was at it’s strongest, but I’ll pop them in the fridge overnight and then sit them out for a few hours in the sunshine tomorrow (and if all else fails I’ll add a little sugar, bring to the boil and get a set that way)…..when the early blackberries are picked they’re really super full of pectin and set naturally in sunshine, because they don’t contain any preservatives they do need to be eaten up quite quickly.  They are so eye closingly good on a just out of the oven scone with a smear of clotted cream on top but I think they’re also nice with yoghut or creme fraiche.

Blackberry jam, a junket for two and brandy sozzled berries…..

berries in the pan

For Christmas the Arpette bought me a French copper preserving pan, it’s possibly the best present I’ve ever had, it’s huge (I’m pretty sure if we had a baby we could bathe them in it) incredibly heavy and is just the most beautiful colour.  I love how the blackberries look when they tumble into it…when they start to bubble up in a sugary syrup then the colour combination of deep purple berry and glistening copper are stunning….but most importantly I’m finding my jam making has improved no end by using it.

So far this summer I’ve made blackberry jam, mirabelle jam, blackberry and licorice jam (which is the most deepest darkest jam I’ve ever made…I liken it to a passionate embrace on the moors with Heathcliffe but without the thick ear), various blackberry treacles, an incredibly red raspberry jam with the raspberries from the garden and a raspberry and peach jam that looked so beautiful as the syrup was bubbling (all salmon pink, coral and apricot while it was bubbling up).

blackberry jam

This is the blackberry jam recipe I use, it’s my favourite jam in the whole wide world, and I think it’s best eaten in the Autumn…especially on toasted spiced breads and bagels, it’s also good spread between layers of chocolate cake, and lovely stirred into yoghurt.

Blackberry jam

Ingredients

1 kilo of blackbrries

800 g of granulated sugar

juice of one lemon

Method

Pick over the blackberries, and give them a very quick rinse in cold water.

Tip the berries into your preserving pan, cover with sugar and the lemon juice.

Bring to a steady simmer then transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl.  Cover with baking parchment, allow to cool before leaving overnight in the fridge.

Next day pour the fruit and syrup into the preserving pan (you may want to be wearing a pinny as it is a bit splashy) and bring to a rolling boil.

Cook for between 5 and 10 minutes, checking for a set on a cold saucer (I tend to keep a couple in the freezer while I’m making jam so that each time I check the set the saucer is really cold)

When the jam makes a good set (it will wrinkle when you push your finger into it, and it’s also tacky between finger and thumb), pour into sterilised jars, and seal the tops with little waxed circles.

blackberry and licorice treacle

A couple of years ago we were both rather addicted to the very delicious Giu desserts, they came in sweet little glass jars and I saved umpteen of them for using for jams and marmalade…they’re a really good size for the blackberry treacle  (I’ve used them for a lot of the other jams too) as their size allows you to store lots of small quantities in the cupboard.  Once you open a jar of the treacle it needs to be kept in the fridge but it tends to thicken up (you can add a little boiled water to a couple of spoonfuls of the treacle in a separate bowl before using if it thickens up too much…it’s a bit of a pfaff but gives a good result if you are using the treacle poured into yoghurt or over ice cream.)

Because of the glut of blackberries this year I’ve been trying out different recipes and ways to use them, as it’s been a bit on the pippy side in the evenings we’ve already been eating blackberries crumbles but for a warm evening one of my favourite recipes  is the humble but divine tasting Blackberry Junket…surely one of the easiest blackberry recipes and one of the tastiest.

Blackberry Junket

Ingredients

Really ripe freshly picked blackberries (best picked on a nice warm day so the berries feel warm from the sun)

Method

Pick the blackberries over.  Put them into a large bowl and give them a good mash with a potato masher (an apron is pretty much essential to wear as it’s a bit messy so you don’t get covered in juice).

Once you have a good pile of what looks like blackberry mush, strain it through a fine sieve (or lay a couple of squares of muslin in a not so fine sieve.) over a clean bowl.

Allow the liquid to collect, then cover with a tea towel and place to one side in a warmish spot for a few hours.  Don’t put it in the fridge.

After 3 or so hours it sets to become a delicious fruity jelly*

Have with freshly baked scones and clotted cream, or on delicate boudoir biscuits served topped with whipped cream as a sort of trifle.  Or if you are feeling all healthy then it’s just as delicious with yoghurt or creme fraiche.

*if it doesn’t set, don’t fret, just add a few desert spoons of sugar to the juice and bring to a steady boil…allow to cook for about 5 minutes then pour into a bowl (or a couple of smaller shallow bowls), leave to cool….it’s not really now a junket, but is still a very nice blackberry syrup which is nice over ice-cream or yoghurt.

Blackberry Brandy

We’ve also made some blackberry brandy which we hope to start drinking in a few months….it’s really simple to make and the best bit is you can eat the brandy sozzled berries as a dessert.

Ingredients

500 g blackberries (picked over)

175 g castor sugar

1 litre of brandy

sterilised mason jar

Method

Put the blackberries in to the mason jar.  Cover with the sugar.

Pour over the brandy and seal the jar.  Store away form direct light.

Shake the jar a little every day.

After 2 months, strain the brandy.  Reserve the berries.  Pour the brandy into a bottle.

The berries can be used in a pudding, they are incredibly nice on pudding biscuits (allow them to soak in for an hour or so) with mascarpone cream on top or used as a boozy cheesecake topping.

Two patchwork blocks for dear ethel and a blackberry crumble for my pudding…

amish shoofly

Two new patchwork blocks for my “dear ethel” quilt…I’m starting to feel a bit sad that I’ve  only got about  25 more blocks to piece…I’m still pfaffing about how I’m going to join them together, I know I’ll use sashing but I’m a bit un-sure exactly which colours I’ll use.  Anyway that is still a little way off.

In the meantime, in case you’d like to know, this block is called Amish Shoofly, the red fabric was some from my sister’s stash, and the pink lamby fabric (one of my favourite fabrics) is a Lecien print.

capital T

This patchwork block is called Capital T.  I really like using orange and red together, it’s fantastically bright and colour clashing, and reminds me so much of sticky sweet rocket lollies from the seventies.  I had to un-pick some of the pieces as I’d managed to sew some upside down and on the side (I’d carefully fussy cut the fabric so the pattern all ran in one direction and then wasn’t concentrating while I was sewing it)

It actually makes my eyes go a bit funny when I stare at it.

I’m very aware the light in the evening is changing….it’s getting tricksier and tricksier sewing in the evening (I seem to wind up sitting on the other end of the sofa to where the light actually falls….) and am in the process of sorting out un-finished woolly projects from last year (hmmm thinking about it most of them seem to come from the year before that), thinking to see if I can finish them so they’ll be all ready for when it becomes properly chilly (though there was such a definite nip in the air this morning when I was out in the garden picking caterpillars off our sprouting broccoli, so am thinking it won’t be long and I’ll be wrapping my self up in scarves and shawls…..

We had blackberry crumble for pudding last night, I’d picked blackberries in the morning and had some left over from making jam……it seems a bit strange eating a crumble in the summer (to me it’s very much an autumn or winter pudding, to be eaten after a hearty casserole or something with lots of mushrooms and fat vegetarian sausages) but it was so chilly I really needed something warm.  I just put the fruit into a shallow baking dish, sprinkling them with brown sugar and then covering them with crumble mix from the freezer…25 minutes later the fruit was bubbling up through a crisp and crumbly topping…..perfect.

Blackberry Crumble

blackberries (allow a good handful per person…more if you are like me and are a bit greedy for puddings)

soft brown sugar, a desert spoon per person

crumble topping

Crumble Topping

8 oz of plain flour

4 oz unslated butter

2 oz castor sugar

Tip the flour into a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small cubes and using the tips of your fingers, rub the fat and flour together until the mixture becomes dry and sandy breadcrumbs.  Add the sugar and mix in well.

This is enough for several crumbles.  Store in a sealed bag in the freezer and just sprinkle over fruit when you want a delicious and hot fruity pudding.

(you can also add a desert spoon or so of chopped hazelnuts and of rolled oats before using the crumble topping in the oven)

Method

Turn the oven on to gas 6

If you like you can use a small knob of butter to lightly grease the baking dish first, I do this for fruit I have frozen, but not if I am using fruit I’ve picked that day.

Pick the blackberries over and give them the quickest of rinses in a bowl of cold water.

Put the berries into a shallow ceramic baking dish, sprinkle over the sugar and toss together.

Scatter over as much of the crumble topping as you like…the berries needs to be well covered so try to hide all the fruit.

Bake in the top third of the oven for about 25 minutes, the crumble topping turns a lovely golden brown.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.  Very good with cold thick cream, creme fraiche or vanilla custard.

For some crumbles I add a little cinnamon to the topping, this is just gilding the lily for a blackberry crumble, as far as I’m concerned, the simpler the better…though it is very nice with the hazelnuts and rolled oats mixed into the crumble top.

If I have made a big fruit crumble and there is some left for the next day, when I re-heat it, I’ll put some of the crumble mix from the freezer on to a lined baking tray and let that toast for a few minutes so that there is still a  crumbly topping.

Breakfast, Bernard and some patchwork blocks….

blackberries and yoghurt

Yesterday I had the most wonderful tasting breakfast…. raspberries from the garden, thick yoghurt and a dark and wobbly blackberry jelly.

The jelly was one of those happy accidents in the kitchen where when one recipe fails, another appears …. just as delicious

I’d made some blackberry junket and even though my berries were juicy and sweet, the junket didn’t really set…so I just added a few heaped tablespoons of sugar and bought the juice to a simmer, sort of like when you make a jelly (or blackberry treacle) then I let it continue to boil for about 5 minutes, stirring it all the time to make a thick syrup.

We used a little of the cooked blackberry syrup over boudoir biscuits with whipped cream on top as a quick little pudding, but the rest I poured into tiny bowls and left them covered with a clean tea towel.

When I came downstairs the next morning the “syrup” had set to a dark purpley red, bright and glistening jelly….. I turned one out and had it for breakfast with the yoghurt and raspberries…. mmm so good

I think it would also make the most incredible cheesecake topping.

Bernard in the window

Someone (mentioning no names of course!) wanted a tummy rub at 3 o’clock in the morning…..

nap time

And just as I’d dropped off about four thirty….the mewling started again…..this is now a regular occurrence…sometimes a tummy rub is required, other times he needs an early breakfast…and then there are the times when we all have to budge up so there is room on the bed for him to jump up, poke the bed til it’s comfy then curl up and fall asleep (generally with his tail half across my face!)

sleepy kitty

So now he’s all worn out and sleepy, I’ve been mewed at because I was making too much noise (and you know, he’s really tired so pipe down please)….he’s actually snoring in these pictures…he never used to snore…this is something he’s started doing over the last year or so…. he’s all stretched out on his window seat quilt (I made it for him out of one of my sister’s shirts and a old pair of her pyjamas)

summer snoozing

Behind Bernard you can see some of our raspberries, this year has been really good with a good early harvest which we’ve had most mornings for breakfast….hoping that the later crop is good as well, those are the berries we make into jam.

contrary wife 2

I’ve finished piecing together a few more blocks for “dear ethel”…..  this is another block named “contrary wife”…. I’m still on a bit of a yellow kick with my fabric choices…maybe the blackberry picking has influenced me with the purple fabric…..

cornerstone

This brightly coloured block makes me think of those cheap sea side lollies that would stain tongues, lips, fingers…..they were always incredibly sweet tasting like undiluted orange squash…. the block is called “cornerstone”.  I really like red teamed up with orange, it seems to make each colour even brighter.

toad in the puddle

This block is called “toad in the puddle” which has got to be one of the best names for a patchwork quilt block ever…the block itself isn’t from my usual reference book but I saw it in another book which I picked up a couple of years ago at a car-boot…. it might well be in the other book and I’ve just missed it (when there are over 5000 blocks in there it’s easy to miss one)…..  I know I’ve made a few blue and yellow blocks already but it’s a combination I never tire of.

Blackberry treacle and the joys of blackberry picking

blackberry treacle 018

Last Autumn I went blackberry picking and made by accident the most amazing Blackberry Treacle (it was supposed to be a jelly but it has the consistency of treacle)  Picking the blackberries was in itself a bit of a palaver, the bushes near my home had been well picked so I needed to wander somewhat further afield than I had initially intended.  Then once I’d got to the new blackberry picking spot the skies darkened so it was a bit of a race to pick before the heavens opened.

I wasn’t really wearing the right footwear for climbing about in the hedgerow too much and so when I accidentally stepped into a giant nettle patch I was propelled forward into the heart of the bramble bush, came face to face with a huge spider (far closer to my eyes than I like anything with eight legs to be) jumped back with half the brambles entwined around my arms and legs and finally finished off what was turning into a perfect afternoon by stepping in some fox poop.  Needless to say I looked somewhat bedraggled by the time I got home and when I saw my reflection in the hall way looking glass I realised I was still half covered in brambles and cobwebs.

Anyway, I then made what was supposed to be a blackberry jam but even after cooking, the blackberries were as hard as bullets, so I sieved the mixture and brought it back to the boil to make a jelly.  Only after pouring it in to two jam jars did I realise that I had forgotten to put in any extra water so I was a bit worried quite what I had made.  But it was one of those happy accidents, and instead of a gleaming,translucent jelly, I had two jars full of what looked like a dark purple treacle but which tasted the very essence of Autumn.

I was hoping to pick some more this last week before the devil had a wee on them (so my nanny always told me) but the weather has been so wild, wet and windy that I’ve stayed indoors and hoped that that particular gentleman at least had a brolly.

blackberry treacle 021

Blackberry Treacle

Ingredients

1 kg wild blackberries

800kg granulated sugar

juice of 1 lemon

Method

Pick the blackberries over, and give them a quick rinse in cold water.  Strain them in a colander.

In a large pan, mix the blackberries and the sugar, and squeeze the lemon juice over them.  Bring to a gentle simmer and then turn off the heat.  Pour the contents into a shallow glass bowl.  Cover with a circle of baking parchment directly on top of the fruit, and leave overnight in the fridge.

Next day, pour the mixture back into a large pan, and bring to a boil while you gently stir it.  Cook on a high heat for about 7 or 8 minutes while you keep stirring it.

Take it off the heat and pour through a sieve (take care as it will be hot) and you can press the fruit with the back of a metal spoon.

Now pour the liquid into a clean pan and bring back to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes.  Check the set, it will be softer than a regular jelly and more like a jam.

Pour the thick dark liquid into sterilised jars and seal the tops with waxed discs.

It might seem a bit of a hoo hah to make but is well worth the effort.  It doesn’t make as much as a regular blackberry jelly but it has a much deeper and more delicious taste.  It’s really lovely on spiced bread (teacakes, cinnamon bagel etc) and is very nice spread in the centre of a chocolate cake.  It seems to keep well once opened if the jar is kept in the fridge.