Early autumn is truly a bountiful time and where better to start the harvest than with the humble blackberry. Easily recognised, brambles, sméara dúbha or to give it its Latin name Rubus fruitcosus, has long been a valuable food source in Ireland. Not only is it valued for its delicious berry but it has long been used for natural dyes, the briars are often used in basket making or weaving and it provides us with a source of medicine throughout most of the year. In the wild they also perform an ecological role by protecting young tree saplings from grazing animals. Not surprisingly we have many references to it in local sayings and also in folklore and myths. The best part of a collection is often referred to as the ‘topmost blackberry’ and it something is very common then it is as ‘widespread as blackberries’. In lore it is said that you should never pick blackberries after Michaelmas (29th September) as the Devil or púca has spit in them! This superstition makes sense as blackberries are often on the ‘turn’ by early October. An arch of bramble that rooted at both ends is particularly potent and if you wanted to curse your foe, you could invoke evil spirits by crawling under such a briar on Halloween night whilst making your unholy request! In many parts of Ireland a bramble found entangled in a cows tail on May eve was often seen as a bewitched token put there by a jealous neighbour to steal the unfortunate animals goodness. Conversely in ancient times blackberries were supposed to protect against ‘evil ruins’ if collected correctly under a full moon.
Blackberries have been eaten as a food since the earliest of times. In fact seeds have been found in the stomach of Neolithic man dug up at Walton-on-the-naze in Essex. In Ireland the berries were traditionally mashed up and mixed with oatmeal and later used for making jams and tarts. My own particular favourite recipe is to make blackberry whiskey, see below!! The roots were used to make a dark green die but also in parts of Ireland they were used as the inside core of hurling balls or sliotars.
Medicinally our humble blackberry is a truly extraordinarily useful plant. At the start of the year, young shoots and baby leaves are prized for their cleansing, nutritive properties. Later in the summer the older leaves are used in teas and are said to soothe inflamed tissue and combined with other herbs such as sage they are excellent as a gargle for sore throats. In early Autumn we harvest the berries which bursting with antioxidants and vitamin C and you can use crushed leaves to stem the bleeding from the almost guarantee cuts when picking blackberries.
An oxymel is a mix of honey and vinegar to make a traditional summer drink, favoured by the ancient romans. I love to add these to sparkling water or into a summer dressing for salad but my favourite is to add it syrup and used over a fruit salad.
- 400g fresh blackberries
- Organic Live apple cider vinegar
- Local honey
Fill a sterilised Kilner jar or similar glass container loosely with the fruit, seal and then leave to infuse on a sunny window sill for about a month. After the month strain out the fruit and reserve the vinegar. Mix equal parts of vinegar and honey and pour into sterilised bottle, label and date. It will keep unopened for up to a year in cool dark place but once opened keep it in the fridge.
I have made blackberry whiskey, gin and vodka but after mature recollection and tasting!! Blackberry whiskey wins for me but the process is the same so do try them all!!
- 400g fresh blackberries
- Whiskey (quality isn’t really a concern)
- White caster sugar
Fill a sterilised Kilner jar or similar glass container loosely with the fruit, then add in the caster sugar to about 1/3 of the jar. This is not an exact science and you after your first batch if you need to adjust the amounts. I prefer less sugar because I prefer more of a schnapps than a liqueur. Next pour your whiskey into the kilner jar and fill to the top. Seal the jar and store in a dark cool place turning it once a day for the first week or two then periodically. Leave it for at least two months but the longer you leave it the better and mellower the flavour becomes. When you can bare it no longer strain out the fruit (I often use the discarded fruit in cakes or pies) and pour into sterilised bottle, label and date.
This is adapted from a lovely recipe that I found on the blog site Chocolate & Zucchini….well worth a look.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Serves 8.
- 225 grams self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 150 grams unsalted butter
- 100 grams caster sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon milk, or more as needed
- 300g blackberries
- 1 tablespoon crème fraîche (substitute heavy cream and/or sour cream)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 egg
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and grease a 22 cm (9”) cake pan, preferably springform.
- In a food processor, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and butter. Add in the sugar, and mix again. Add in the egg and milk, then mix again until just combined; avoid overmixing. The batter should be thick, but not dry; depending on the flour you used and its absorbency power, add more milk as needed.
- Pour the batter into the pan and spread it around with a spatula. Arrange the apricots on top, skin side down, in a circular pattern.
- In a small bowl, combine the crème fraîche, sugar and egg, and beat with a fork. Pour evenly over the top of the cake.
- Bake for 40 minutes, until golden. Leave it in the turned off oven for another 10 minutes.
Serve slightly warm, at room temperature or cold, dusting with icing sugar at the last minute.