Blackberries

By Sue Quinn

There’s something bewitching about blackberries, which is why these harbingers of autumn inspire such wonderful poetry.

“Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot."

-Blackberry-Picking, by Seamus Heaney

They’ve also acquired a mythical status over the thousands of years of being foraged and enjoyed in the UK. British folklore holds that blackberries should be picked before Old Michaelmas Day in October, when the devil will spoil them. Or perhaps this had something to do with the evil brew – strong ale – concocted from blackberries during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Actually, the juicy, inky fruits are a bit of a misnomer, as they’re not really berries but clusters of drupelets (or stone fruit), each with a tiny pit nestling inside. Technicalities aside, blackberries grow wild on their long thorny stems throughout the UK and Europe, as well as parts of Africa and Asia, and North and South America.

Whether you’ve foraged them yourself or bought them from the supermarket (where they’re likely to be sweeter, with less desirable tang than wild), blackberries make sublime eating. Their tart-sweetness and deep flavour are pleasures on their own or paired with a cool bowl of yogurt for breakfast, squished on top of ricotta toast or smuggled into a bowl of good muesli.

Blackberries turn porridge into a joyful shade of purple if you add them in as you cook the oats (try other grains to make porridge too, like wheat grain, spelt, or flaked quinoa or amaranth). Topped with some chopped dried apple and toasted hazelnuts, this majestic bowlful makes a hearty, delicious and picture perfect breakfast.

Of course, blackberries make wonderful jam, being naturally high in pectin, the compound that causes fruit to thicken when heated with sugar. (If the tiny pits that get stuck in your teeth diminish the pleasure of eating blackberry jam, be sure to push it through a sieve before bottling).

Blackberries also get on famously with other fruits of the season: cosy them up with late season peaches, plums and nectarines or autumnal pears and apples in crumble and tarts. Or a blackberry trifle?

Bake your favourite plain sponge cake in a baking tray (reduce the cooking time accordingly) and stud with whole blackberries and a scattering of demerara sugar.

Or blackberries cooked down a little with a splash of water and sugar just long enough to release the juices have endless uses. Swirl through softly whipped cream for a blackberry fool, or spoon over the top of a rich cheesecake. Alternatively, whip 600ml double cream, beat in one 397g tin of condensed milk, then fold in the cooled blackberry sauce mixture. Spoon into a loaf tin and freeze to make ice cream: no churning required.

Blackberries also deserve an outing in savoury dishes.Their juices leak deliciously into grain-based salads – try spelt, freekeh or barley – along with chopped soft herbs (parsley and coriander), roasted beetroot and perhaps a butter milk dressing.

Blackberries and roast meats are also loveable companions, so here’s a simple sauce to serve with pork, game birds, venison or duck.Gently cook a finely chopped shallot in butter until soft and sweet. Add a good handful of blackberries, crush lightly with a fork, then pour in a generous splash of red wine or marsala, the same amount of chicken stock and a couple of teaspoons of sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir. Add a sprig of thyme, then cook gently until the blackberries have cooked down a bit to release their juices and the sauce has started to thicken. Add some meat juices from the roasting tray if possible before you serve.

Don’t forget, as you enjoy your blackberries, that they’re nutritional powerhouses as well. Blackberries are packed with nutrients including potassium, magnesium and calcium, along with vitamins A, C, E and most of our B vitamins. Their purple colour is down to compounds called anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage.

Blackberries pair well with:stone fruits (particularly apricots), almonds, red wine, game meats, pork, mint, dairy (notably Greek yoghurt and goat’s cheese), hazelnuts, walnuts, root vegetables such as beetroot and parsnips.

Sue Quinn

Sue Quinn is an award-winning food writer, journalist and cookbook author. Her articles and recipes regularly appear in national newspapers and magazines, including the Telegraph, The Sunday Times, the Guardian, delicious, The Washington Post and BBC Good Food magazine. She has written fourteen cookbooks on a range of topics, from Japanese and Spanish cuisine to children’s cookery and vegan food. Her latest, Cocoa: an exploration of chocolate, with recipes, was published by Quadrille in 2019 to wide acclaim. In 2018 Sue won the Guild of Food Writer’s Award for articles showcasing British food producers, and in 2016 she received the Fortnum & Mason Online Food Writer Award for her work in the Guardian and the Telegraph. Sue has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme and Woman’s Hour, and Channel 4s’ Sunday Brunch. In 2019 she was awarded a bursary from the Guild of Food Writers to research the life of British Food Writer Florence White. Trained as a journalist in her native Australia, Sue now lives by the sea in Dorset with her husband, two teenage children and a loveable hound Cookie.

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