Season of blackberries, apples and mellow fruitfulness

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.

Blackberry bakewell slice – just out of the oven.

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.

Dozens of plums, hundreds of plums ….

This is Gillian’s orchard. Her apples were more photogenic than her plum trees. Thanks for all this fruit, Gillian!

We don’t seem to eat jam any more.  And gifts of English style chutneys, full of summer and autumn fruits and piquant with the inevitable malt vinegar sit reproachfully at the back of the food cupboard, uneaten and unloved.

There are only so many plum frangipane tarts you can eat, delicious as they are (thanks, Mrs. Portly!) Or plum cakes.

What to do with all these plums we’ve picked?  Open freeze some for winter cakes and puddings?  There, that’s sorted a kilo out.  Now what?

Gathering greengages.

Well, perhaps we could make some chutney after all.  Fired up with chillies and warming spices, they could make a decent addition to a simple winter supper.  Finding a recipe that fits our bill is a task Google was made for.  And here it is, courtesy of a blog new to me that I’ll be following with interest from now on, The Cottage Smallholder.

Hot spiced plum chutney
 
Author: Fiona Nevile
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 30 mins
  • 1.45 kilos approx of sweet plums
  • 500 ml of white wine vinegar (don’t use malt or white vinegar)
  • 4 chunky cloves of garlic sliced fine
  • 175g of dried apricots chopped
  • 600g of white granulated sugar
  • I lemon cut lengthwise into 8 slices and sliced very fine (ours weighed 100g)
  • 1 large pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 7 red birds eye chillis sliced fine, include the seeds
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of allspice powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 5 juniper berries
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp of dried chillies, chopped fine with seeds
  1. The night before you want to make the chutney, stone the plums and put them in a large heavy bottomed saucepan/preserving pan and add the vinegar. Bring to the boil, cover and leave to cool until the next day.
  2.  Add all the ingredients apart from the sugar and the dried chillies.
  3. Bring slowly to simmering point and add the sugar. Stir constantly until you are certain that the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Bring the chutney back to a good simmer and, after an hour or so, add the dried chillis to taste.
  5. Stir every few minutes to stop the bottom burning (this is a labour of love after all).
  6. Eventually depending on the strength of your simmer, the chutney will start to thicken (more like very thick soup than chutney), stirring every 10-15 minutes or so. Test for thickness by putting a spoonful in the fridge for half an hour and take the saucepan off the stove during the test.
  7. When you have a consistency that you like, very gently reheat the chutney and when it reaches simmering point pour into warm sterilised jars and seal with plastic lined metal lids. Leave for a month to mellow.
  8. N.B. Don’t use cellophane jam pot covers as the vinegar will evaporate and you will be left with relics from a Pharaoh’s tomb after a few months.

We haven’t had the chance to taste the fully matured version.  But this seems to be the business.  Hot, fiery, with complex flavours that aren’t overwhelmed by vinegar.

Chutney bubbling away.

And if you still want another chutney, good old Saint Nigel delivers another spicy treat in his cooking bible, ‘Tender’

Nigel Slater’s hot and sweet plum chutney
. 750g of plums (about 1 1/2 pounds)
. 350g of onions (about 3/4 pound)
. 125g of raisins (about 3/4 cup)
. 250g of light muscovado sugar (1 1/4 cups)
. 1/2 tsp of crushed dried chillies
. 2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
. 150ml of apple cider vinegar (5 1/2 fluid ounces)
. 150ml of malt vinegar (5 1/2 fluid ounces)
. a cinnamon stick broken in two

Halve the plums, discarding the stones. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Put the fruit and the onions into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. (DO not forget to stir it occasionally as it may catch if you don’t and you don’t want that to happen!) Pour into hot and sterilized jam jars. Seal. Allow it to mature for at least a couple of weeks.

Now then.  All you have to do is source your plums …. and get cooking.

The backdrop to all our picking activity. Not bad, eh?

Wild garlic, Mrs. Portly style.

Wild garlic is the ingredient du jour these days.  Good Lord, you can even buy it in the shops.  Just as you can buy dandelion leaves in France.  It even turned up in my veg. box last week: which was faintly annoying, as I can have as large a haul as I want of the stuff, simply by stepping out of the door and taking a two-minute walk to the woods.

It was fine though, as it made sure I tried this recipe from one of my favourite food bloggers, Linda Duffin, aka Mrs. Portly.  A recipe for gnocchi? Good.  With wild garlic?  Excellent.  But fried in butter and oil before serving?  Wasn’t that a little odd?  No, it wasn’t.  It changed those gnocchi from comforting nursery fodder into something altogether more satisfactory to accompany a fine plate of local sausages and some barely cooked purple sprouting broccoli.  Don’t tell Linda, by the way, but I steamed my potatoes rather than baking them.  It was absolutely fine.

Linda’s asked me to cut and paste her post rather than reblogging it.  I hope this won’t dissuade you from exploring her site. You’ll find some recipes you’ll want to try out within moments.

Mrs Portly’s Kitchen

A Suffolk Aga Saga

Image of wild garlic

Pan-Fried Wild Garlic Gnocchi

Image of wild garlic in woodsWild garlic abounds at this time of year … everywhere except in my neighbourhood. I am planting some for next year but in the meantime I have to forage far afield to find it. There are alternatives though if it’s equally elusive where you live.

You can replace it with three-cornered leek, which often grows wild where garlic doesn’t, or steal a few leaves from any domestic garlic bulbs you may have growing in the garden. I haven’t tried it with the green part of spring onions but it’s worth experimenting.

You don’t have to pan-fry the gnocchi (in which case try brown butter, a few fried sage leaves and grated parmesan) but it’s a lovely way to eat them, either as a side dish, or on their own with a good tomato sauce.

We ate them with seared venison fillet and purple sprouting broccoli, steamed and tossed with a mixture of butter, lemon juice and zest and anchovy.

Any leftover gnocchi can be frozen, uncooked, in a single layer. Transfer to a sealable bag and when you want to eat them, cook from frozen, straight into boiling water.

Image of wild garlic

A note on foraging: it’s not illegal to pick flowers, fruit, fungi and foliage in the UK provided it’s for personal rather than commercial use. There are exceptions to this: local by-laws may forbid foraging and for obvious reasons you can’t do it at Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

It is illegal to uproot a plant and it’s sensible to pick a leaf or two from lots of plants rather than to denude one. And bear in mind that while foraging isn’t classed as theft, you may still be committing the civil offence of trespass. If in doubt, ask the landowner.

PAN-FRIED WILD GARLIC GNOCCHI

  • Servings: makes around 40

Image of gnocchi frying

Ingredients:

700g floury potatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

120g wild garlic leaves, thoroughly rinsed, or 80g domestic garlic leaves

2 egg yolks

150g plain flour

Rice flour, for dusting

Olive oil and butter, for frying

Method:

image of potatoes being riced

Bake the potatoes until soft. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, scoop out the middles and push through a ricer into a bowl. Allow to cool.

Blanch the garlic leaves in boiling water for a minute, drain very thoroughly and chop finely. Add to the potato along with the eggs yolks and stir with a fork to mix.

Image of ingredients in bowl

Season well and add three-quarters of the flour, stirring with the fork again. Form into a dough and add more flour as necessary until you have a soft, pliable but not overly sticky dough. You may not need all the flour. Try not to over-work it or your gnocchi will be tough.

Dust your work surface lightly with rice flour. Divide the dough into four and roll into sausages, about 2cm in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut into 2.5cm sections.

Image of gnocchi being formed

You can either use these as they are, as little cushions, or roll them over a floured fork to make indentations. These ridges are supposed to help sauce adhere but honestly, I don’t think it makes much difference and unless you are deft and experienced, there’s a danger of over-working the dough.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and drop in the gnocchi in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan. They’re about done when they bob to the surface, around three minutes. Give them another 20 seconds then taste one: it should be cooked through and not floury. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil with a good knob of butter in a heavy-based pan and fry the gnocchi on each side until golden brown. Eat straight away.

Image of gnocchi served