Sweet, sharp and inky blackberries are the most prolific of wild fruits. There are reputedly more than 400 varieties growing in the UK, with endearing regional names such as Bumly Kites, Country Lawyers and Lady's Garters. Traditionally, there is even a date after which blackberries shouldn't be picked – Old Michaelmas Day, 11 October – after which time the devil is said to spit, stamp or piss on the berries. Though this is more likely to be a result of various moulds that infect the fruit when the weather becomes wetter and cooler, it is also true that they gradually start to deteriorate later in the season.
Despite the onset of autumn, blackberries are still colonizing certain areas in my garden, their vicious prickly stems thrusting forward through any shrubs that get in their way. They are thriving in Dorset lanes, too, just waiting to be gathered and turned into appetising autumn dishes and conserves.
Blackberries are exquisite just as they are, perhaps with a dusting of sugar or a spoonful of cream. If you're feeling slightly adventurous, try my recipe for Blackberries with Sweet Spiced Ricotta, a simple but impressive dessert in which blackberries are adorned with light and creamy ricotta sweetened with spice-laden sugar.
Blackberries also go hand-in-hand with apples in pies and tarts – the one adding colour, the other substance, both adding balanced sweetness and acidity. A handful or two are delicious stirred into rice pudding or tucked between slices of bread in bread and butter pudding. They also go well with dairy foods and eggs. Swirl them into thick Jersey cream to make a beautiful lavender-tinted fool, or souse them in eau-de-vie in a boozy baked batter pudding.
For a richly coloured sauce to serve with pancakes or ice cream, simmer a saucepan of blackberries with sugar (about 100g for every 400g of blackberries) for 15 minutes until soft and thickened. Whizz to a purée with a stick-blender or food processor, and push through a fine sieve if you want to get rid of the seeds.
Blackberries are good in savoury dishes too. I like them stuffed into the cavity of roasted game birds, particularly grouse. They offset the richness of the meat and tint the gravy a magnificent royal purple. They also look very stylish floating in a glass of chilled prosecco.
Like all soft fruits, blackberries are best eaten on the day you pick or buy them. If buying in punnets look for plump unblemished berries, and check the base for signs of mushy fruit.
© Christine McFadden, October 2019