Tag Archives: brambles

Box Hill Bramble Jam

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Summer Pudding

Summer in Britain means an abundance of soft fruit, and this year has been a bit of a bumper crop. I just spent the weekend back at the family ranch (note: not an actual ranch) up in Scotland, and the garden was positively groaning with raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and blackberries. Things don’t get much more local – or tasty – than this.

Often one of the best ways to eat summer’s bounty is “as is”, possibly with cream or ice cream. However, there are times when you want something a bit fancier, but which still shows off these fruits to their best. If this is the case, then you might want to think about a summer pudding.

The origins of summer pudding seem to be a bit vague, but to me it has the air of something that probably comes from the Victoria period. Nothing that I can put my finger on, but I just have a feeling. Origins aside, it’s a real star – light but bursting with flavour.

This dessert is actually quite cunning in its simplicity – cook the fruit for a moment to that the juices are released, then put in a bowl that has been lined with bread. The bread absorbs the juices, and becomes sweet and velvety-soft. And the fruit, as it has had only a minimum of cooking, retains all of its fresh flavours and aromas. It also has a real visual “wow-factor” – it’s a deep purple, and surrounded by fresh fruit straight from the garden, it really does capture the essence of a summer’s day.

Given how simple it is, you might think it should just fall apart. However, as the bread absorbs the juice, the pudding does magically stay together.

To serve, I recommend a dollop of softly whipped cream. I’m normally not a fan of cream on desserts, but in this case, I think it really helps to highlight the flavours and bring them to life, so you can enjoy the “fruits” or your labour in the garden. Or, like me, to take advantage of all the hard work that a family member put in. Thanks!

If you like to experiment, you can try adding a dash of vanilla, a pinch of spices such as cinnamon or cloves, or some citrus zest. If that’s what you like, then go for it, but I like it with just the fruit. Then finish it off by arranging lots and lots of fruit around the pudding in an artful-yet-rustic way. I think you’ll agree, it looks stunning!

To make a large summer pudding:

• 750g soft fruits (raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries…)
• 1 loaf of slightly stale white bread, thinly sliced and crusts removed
• 150g caster sugar
• 2-3 tablespoons cassis (blackcurrant) liqueur

To prepare the fruit:

Put all the fruit (apart from any strawberries, if using) into a sieve and rinse. Shake dry. Put into a saucepan. Add the sugar and cook over a low heat until the fruit releases its juices but the berries still hold their shape. Leave to cool slightly, then add the chopped strawberries and cassis liqueur (if using).

To assemble the pudding:

Line a pudding bowl with cling film. Cut a circle of bread for the base. Dip one side in the fruit, then place juice-side down in the bowl. Cut more bread into triangles, dip one side in the juice, and use to line the inside of the bowl. At the end you should not have any gaps, and aim to have the bread coming up over the edge of the bowl.

Pour the fruit mixture into the bread-lined bowl. It should come to the rim of the bowl.

Use more bread to cover the fruit (this will form the base of the pudding). My tip is to rest the bread on top of the fruit for a moment, then flip over so that the base will also be properly coloured by the juice. Trim any extra bread from the edge of the bowl.

Place something flat (like a baking tray) on top of the bowl, then weigh down something heavy (stones, tin cans, weights…). Place in the fridge for 4-5 hours or overnight.

To serve:

Remove the pudding from the fridge about an hour before serving. Trim off any bits of excess bread. Put a plate on top of the pudding and with one swift movement, flip over. Remove the pudding bowl, and then carefully peel off the cling film. Garnish with fresh fruit.

Serve in slices with softly whipped cream.

Worth making? Yes yes yes! This is an easy but spectacular dessert – very worth trying, either as a large pudding or in individual portions. Can also be adapted depending on what is in season. In fact, to show how easy it is to make – we did this twice over one weekend. Simple!

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Bramble Jam, Apricot Jam

On holiday, I had a lot of spare time, and so had the chance to make some jam. In fact, there was quite a lot in season in France, and in the end I made two lovely batches, one with brambles (blackberries, or perhaps I should be referring to them as mûres, as I got them in France?) and the other with local apricots from a fruit shop.

What was sort of fun was that this was jam making à l’ancienne. I had no scales, so I had to guess. So what to do? Just recall the old “three-quarters” rule. Cook the fruit just long enough for it to soften and release its juice, measure the lot, then add three-quarters of that volume of white sugar. So if you have two cups of stewed fruit in its juices, then add one-and-a-half cups of sugar. Then add lemon juice and boil gently until the jam sets. And if it all went wrong, I would just have a lot of fruit compote to mix with yoghurt for breakfast.

In the end, I am very happy to declare both batches a complete success. The bramble jam was superb, with a rich, deep purple colour and fresh, juicy flavour. The berries went from bush to jam to breakfast in less than 24 hours! It also set perfectly, which was happy with. The apricot was also great – a bright, vibrant, sunny orange colour, and very fruity-tasting, and while it thickened, it didn’t set. I don’t know if more lemon would have made a difference, but I didn’t want to overpower the flavour of the apricots. In both cases, as there was more fruit than sugar, the jam was actually not overly-sweet. I know this sounds bizarre given how much sugar we’re talking about even in my version, but if you use equal parts of fruit and sugar, you’re getting into the world of fruit-flavoured sweets rather than jam.

So on holiday, no excuses not to make jam! Get out there and enjoy what the local area has to offer. Just remember a few tricks and it’s easy. Firstly, the three-quarters rule will usually work. Secondly, the juice of a lemon will help to set the jam. If you don’t mind a stronger lemon taste, then you can add the juiced lemon to the jam as it cooks, and remove it once the jam is done. If you’re making a lot of jam, you might add even more lemon juice, but just wing it – that’s what my grandmother did, and her jam rocked. Finally, cook jam gently – you can test regularly for a set, but you want to make sure that you don’t go too far in case the sugar caramelises (then the jam is still edible, but the caramel taste is a little strange!).

And in the end, we mashed the jam up with yoghurt anyway for breakfast. And it was delicious!

For bramble jam:

Wash your berries and place into a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water. Mash some of the fruit, cover the pan, and cook gently until the fruit is soft and the juice comes out of the fruit (around 20 minutes).

Measure the volume of the fruit. Return to the pan, and add three-quarters of the amount of sugar by volume. Stir well, and add lemon juice (roughly one lemon per 500ml of fruit juice), plus the rest of the lemon (if using).

Bring the mixture to the boil, them simmer gently until the jam sets(*). Once ready, remove the scraps of lemon, and pour into sterilised jars(**) and seal.

For apricot jam:

Wash your apricots, remove the stones and cut into quarters. Place into a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water. For every 20 apricots, add a cup of water. Cook the fruit gently until soft and mushy (around 20 minutes).

Optional: Meanwhile, take 5 apricot stones, crack them open and remove the kernels. Put them into a cup, pour over boiling water and leave for 30 seconds. Drain, and peel the seeds. Add these to the apricots. This will give a very subtle bitter almond note to the finished jam.

Measure the volume of the fruit. Return to the pan, and add three-quarters of the amount of sugar by volume. Stir well, and add lemon juice (roughly one lemon per 500ml of fruit juice). Don’t add the scrap pieces of lemon, as they will overpower the apricot flavour.

Bring the mixture to the boil, them simmer gently until the jam sets(***). Once ready, remove the scraps of lemon, and pour into sterilised jam jars and seal.

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little jam on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the jam  “wrinkles” when you push it, the jam is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again later. This is why you are better to cook gently but for a longer time, as if you miss the set, the sugar will start to caramelise, and the jam will be very thick, sticky and syrupy.

(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 120°C / 250°F for at least 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, and fill with the jam. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.

(***) Apricot jam might not set, and instead it just goes very thick. Either add more lemon juice (or liquid pectin, if you have this), or accept that this will be a runny jam and learn to love it. It’s bright orange, how couldn’t you love it?

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