Blackberries this year have been wonderful. From early August until a few days ago, I’d come home from every country walk with stained lips and fingers, and a bag full of purple fruits. But it’s all over now, because on 29th September, Michaelmas Day, the Devil came along, as he does every year, and spat on every remaining berry. If you favour the old Church calendar, you’ve got till 10th October, but whichever one you follow, blackberrying’s pretty much over for another year. The Devil is not kind.
It’s been quite a year for blackberries. Fine juicy berries tumble from every bramble bush, staining our clothes and ruining our shoes. Even if, like me, you work on the principle of eating one berry for every two you collect for the pot, you’ll soon have more than you can realistically deal with.
Then there are apples. Kind friends have given us fruits carefully picked from their trees, but we consider these too fine to mix with other ingredients. When we have jellies and compotes to make, we prefer to rescue windfalls from back lanes in the village, cut away the bruises and discard the insecty bits.
This year, we have two best uses for blackberries, and for apples too.
This is a blackberry bakewell tart. The recipe is from the wonderful Mrs. Portly, and her recipe called for raspberries. I used blackberries instead, and my greedy family demolished the lot in a single sitting.
Much of the rest of our harvest has been used for blackberry and apple jelly. We no longer eat jam, but the intense flavour, and rich ruby colouring of this jelly is pure essence of blackberry, and a souvenir of late summer days in the dreary dark days of winter. It’s really worth making a few pots.
Take equal quantities of blackberries and apples. Roughly chop the apples, which you needn’t core or peel, and place in a pan, barely covering the fruit with water. Bring to a simmer till the apple softens and the juices run from the berries: 10 – 15 minutes.
Strain the juices through a jelly bag, or through a muslin-lined sieve for several hours. Measure the juice. Although I usually cook in metric, at this point, I go all avoirdupois, and work exclusively in pounds and ounces and pints. It just seems to work better for me.
Return the extract to the pan with the juice of a lemon, and for every pint of juice, add a pound of granulated sugar. Stir till the sugar has dissolved and boil rapidly till a ‘jell’ is obtained on testing. If you’re new to making jelly or jam, this article is helpful.
Our blackberry jelly will taste all the better because we had help from grandson William, aged two. He gathered berries, and hunted for windfalls. He’s a London child, and his parents were keen for him to help with any job not available to him in a city park.
His parents have taken a pot of jelly back to London as a souvenir, of course.