I almost felt a little guilty, standing there, covered in tiny seeds and with purple-blue stained fingers, eyeing up the clusters of juicy, dark fruit in the hedge.
How many times had I sworn at these wild brambles? Called them names? Threatened to rip them out for good?
The spiky arms of the wild blackberry have always been of great abundance and even greater nuisance on the allotment. Despite our best efforts to tame the randomly appearing tentacle-like shoots, they kept crawling out from the hedges, behind tufts of grass and from underneath forgotten stones. My feet caught in an arched trap, they would send me flying over the vegetable plots – arms flapping, lips cursing. Worse though were the branches that would sneak up inside the hawthorn hedges to then casually stretch themselves mid-air into the side paths. They would grab me by the elbow and rip a thousand tiny holes in every inch they could get hold of. In the generally following furious attempt to detangle myself – with long pinched fingers as to not poke holes into myself too – I would threaten and curse and tear at them, only to allow them further hold of my clothes. As a result many of my gardening jumpers are shredded to bits.
But a few weeks ago I was suddenly ready to forgive and forget. I was busy cleaning up the weeds underneath the hedge, when a black shimmer above caught my eye. I didn’t recognise it at first. For never before did any of the shoots that climbed through the hedge bore any fruit. Carefully avoiding the thorny shots both of the brambles and the hawthorn, I stretched a curious hand out.
Plop! A thick juicy blackberry fell into my hands almost by itself.
Pop! The soft fruit vanished in my mouth as quick as it was found.
I must have closed my eyes over the sensation of hundred tiny juice pockets bursting open on my tongue. When I opened them back up again, there were berries everywhere. Hundred of them literally dangled at my fingertips. Left and right, all along the hedge, I could spot clusters of ready-to-harvest fruits.
Feet stumbling, arms flailing and barely avoiding the courgettes in my path; I hurried back up to the greenhouse. Under the potting table, I dug deep into our wired basket of junk. Throwing pots and plates around like a mole on a mission, until I finally fished out a small plastic box. A quick rinse with the garden hose made due of the dust and mud, before I hastily returned to the hedge. Up and down the hawthorn I went, turning over leaves, venturing into the undergrowth, always careful not to get stung by the hundreds of thorns that were protecting its precious goods.
One, two, three; in the basket; Number four in the mouth. Within minutes the small box was piled high with juicy berries and my fingers and lips stained with their succulent sap. So if not then; standing there a little sheepish for never following through with any of my threats; definitely later that evening, when the hot blackberry crumble was melting on my tongue – the brambles were forgiven.
A Stewed Blackberry Crumble
While a full box of berries can make my heart light with forager’s pride, it also raises the question what to do next with the bounty? If I can’t simply store them in the freezer for future days I came across a recipe for stewing them in the oven this summer. It is quick, easy and leaves me with plenty options to spoon the fruit onto my breakfast toast or turn it into yummy desserts during the rest of the week. Like our family favourite – the humble crumble.
This recipe was inspired by the gorgeous The Great Dixter Cookbook:
For the stewed fruit:
1kg blackberries (also works with gooseberry (!), apples, pears and plums)
1/2cup of brown (dermera) sugar
For the crumble:
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g muscovad sugar
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
200g butter, melted
Fill the fruit in an oven dish and sprinkle the sugar over it. The amount is really up to your taste, I use half a cup to one kilogram of fruit. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the fruit in the oven for 30min at 180degree Celsius (fan).
If that’s all you’ve got time for, let the fruit cool down after and store in the fridge for later. If you want to plough on prep the crumble while the fruit is stewing. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and pour over the melted butter. Stir well with a spoon or your fingers until the mixture is evenly moist.
Sprinkle the crumbles over the fruit in the oven dish and let it bake for a further 30min on a low oven rack, until the top looks golden and the fruit bubbles through.
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