If you’re in northern climes, the signs of autumn will surely have arrived. Fresher days, cooler nights and leaves on trees turning from green to red and gold. And, if you’re unlucky, there is a wild apple tree in the street that attracts a couple of really loud crows at odd hours of the night…and too early in the morning…
With this time of the year, there are benefits. Most countryside walks will yield some sort of haul, and one of my favourites is picking blackberries. I had one attempt in early September in Epping Forest to the north-east of London, but for some reason the season had not quite arrived there yet, and I came away with about twenty berries in total. This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that the blackberries lining the railway lines in south London seem to be groaning with fruit, but of course it’s rather dangerous to try picking fruit along some of the busiest tracks in Europe. Another plan was needed.
A few weeks later, I was at Box Hill in Surrey for a bit of fresh air and walking in the forest. As you can see, lovely views, green woodland and – most vital of all – lots and lots of ripe blackberries!
I came away with about a kilogram of deep black fruit, all picked from wild bushes far from roads and beyond the reach of passing dogs and foxes. And if you look carefully in the blackberry picture, you can even spot of spider – fret not, he remained in the freedom of the great outdoors!
Once the fruit was home, I rather quickly realised that I didn’t have time to do anything with it, so the whole lot went into the freezer. This is a great idea if you’re either busy, or have been collecting berries over the course of a few weeks (for example, if you’ve got one fruit bush, you can collect the fruit over a period of time until you’ve got enough to do something more exiting). Just whip them out the night before you plan to use them, and they will be ready in the morning.
So what should I make with these blackberries (or brambles, if you’re giving them their Scottish name)? Jelly is always delicious, and I made some a few years ago with fruit from a more successful sortie to Epping Forest, but I was a little annoyed with the amount of wasted fruit pulp that gets thrown away at the end. So forget jelly – when you’ve put this much work into picking the fruit (and then removing some of the spikes from your hands) it has to be jam.
Bramble jam is really quite special, with the fruit turning the whole thing into something black and delicious. However, I tried something a little different. First, I kept the fruit to sugar ratio on the high side, and added a little extra boost to the flavour with some burgundy wine. This gives the jam an extra richness and slight tartness. And beyond that, there really is not much more to say, other than this is utterly, perfectly delicious and perfectly suited to the chilly days of winter spread thickly on warm toast or added to yoghurt.
To make bramble and burgundy jam:
• 800g brambles
• 600g jam sugar
• 150ml burgundy wine
• 1 lemon, juice only
1. First, the boring bit. sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.
2. Pick over the fruit, removing any bad berries. Throw into a saucepan with just a little water and the sugar.
3. Place the pan on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then add the wine. Keep the jam on a slow rolling boil for around 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, then start to check for a set every minute or so – put some jam on the cold plate, leave for a moment to cool, and if it wrinkles when you push with your finger, it’s done.
4. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.
(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.
Worth making? Yes – the wine is a great addition to the brambles. The alcohol will boil off during cooking, so don’t worry about getting boozy at breakfast.