Food for Free: Blackberries
September is one of the best possible times to get into foraging - there is so much out there at the moment; berries in particular. This month we are looking at one of the most well known foraged foods there is - the Blackberry (or Bramble if you’re Scottish).
Blackberries grow on singular canes which initially grow upwards and then bend over with the weight, either back towards the ground or getting tangled amongst other hedgerows. The ones that reach into the ground, will then grow new canes which in turn will then reach up and then back into the ground, leading to vast thickets of brambles. A word of warning when picking blackberries - you can quite often be hit with the double whammy of a bramble prick and a nettle sting at the same time in the search for the perfect berry!
In terms of identifying blackberries, a large proportion of us will already be very familiar with them from childhood but if you’re not, what you are looking for is a berry which ripens from green to red, to deep purple and finally black. They grow in ‘drupelets’ (yes, that’s the official term!) on spikey canes as described above and can only really be confused with wild raspberries, which to be fair, would also be delicious.
They grow pretty much everywhere so they shouldn’t be too difficult to find but as always, when foraging, avoid picking any that grow next to busy roads to avoid contamination.
It is thought that there are at least 400 different species of blackberry within the UK and the taste can vary greatly from berry to berry. When you look at a bundle of berries the one found right at the tip of the bunch will be the sweetest in flavour. As you work your way up the bundle they become less flavourful and the berries at the top of the bunch will be best suited for cooking rather than eating straight away.
Blackberries ripen from the end of August all the way up to the end of October so you have plenty of time to get out there and start picking! Although if you are superstitious you are not supposed to pick Blackberries after the 10th October because this is when the devil spits on them.. Blackberries grow in abundance, making it very easy to get a good haul for cooking. If you find yourself with leftovers - they also freeze very well and can be kept for a long time this way. If you plan to cook with them, make sure you pick them that day as mould spores grow on blackberries very quickly.
This is such a quick and easy way to make the most of a blackberry haul - no ice cream churner necessary. Simply boil 250ml of water and place in a small pan on a high heat. Add 200g caster sugar and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and allow to cool. Put 400g of your blackberries into a food processor along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Whiz until you have a puree. Strain the puree through a sieve into a bowl - this can take some time but is worth the effort as the seeds have an unpleasant texture in this. Combine the puree with the cooled syrup and place in a baking tray so that there is just a thin layer of the mixture. Freeze for a couple of hours until solid or solidish. Break up the mix that is in the tray and add in chunks back into the food processor. Whiz until you have a paste again and then decant into a tupperware or loaf tin. This process breaks up the ice crystals and gives your sorbet a much smoother texture.
Freeze until solid then serve!