Sunday, August 08, 2010
The blackberry season spans the end of summer and the beginning of autumn and their usage can be adapted accordingly. During August we like to enjoy blackberries served simply with a little sugar and a lot of cream. They're also great muddled into a cold martini on a balmy evening. Later, we inure ourselves to the onset of autumn with deliciously comforting hot pies and puddings made by combining blackberries with the first apples of the season, to devastating effect.
Blackberries are more highly prized as a food in Britain and Northern Europe than anywhere else in the world.
Rubus fruticosus is the Latin name for the European blackberry, also known as bramble. Like the raspberry, it is an aggregate fruit and relative of the rose. It is a highly adaptable and fast-growing shrub, found in hedgerows, woodland, meadows and wasteland. It is a good pioneer species (early coloniser of a habitat) as it can grow in poor soil and its prickly stems help protect other plants' young shoots from being eaten.
Blackberries are packed with antioxidants, including vitamin C and ellagic acid, which may provide protection against cancer and chronic disease. Their many tiny seeds make them a good source of fibre. They also contain salicylates, a group of analgesics that include the active substance in aspirin.
If possible, don't - wild berries have a depth of flavour rarely rivalled by cultivated varieties. Take a container and an umbrella (for hooking branches) and search out brambles near you, avoiding roadside or polluted spots. Even in cities you can find blackberries growing on scrubland, canalside paths and in wooded areas.
Alternatively try a farmers' market or a PYO farm (good blackberries aren't widely available in supermarkets as they're difficult to transport intact). Look for plump, dry, darkly-coloured fruit that are neither too firm nor too squishy. Check the bottom of the container for stains from soft and mushy berries. Trust your sense of smell to help you gauge quality and ripeness.
Keep blackberries dry and cool and eat within a day or two. Blackberries freeze well and it's a good idea to get a few bags in the freezer to use with apples in puddings throughout the winter. Spread unwashed berries in a single layer on a tray and freeze until solid before transferring to air-tight bags or containers.
Wash thoroughly before use. Blackberries vary in sweetness so adjust the amount of sugar you add to recipes according to taste.
An extract from How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn:
O, blackberry tart, with berries as big as your thumb, purple and black, and thick with juice, and a crust to endear them that will go to cream in your mouth, and both passing down with such a taste that will make you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the wideness of that rich moment.