blackberries

Making the Most of Blackberries

At this time of year, there are blackberries to be found all over the place, from the slightly run down corner of the car park in town, in the country park or in the hedgerows around the farm. Food for free. Who can resist?

Blackberry Picking

There’s a certain nostalgia attached to blackberry picking. I always imagine a picture lifted straight from a 1960s Ladybird book with a happy family, wicker basket in hand wandering along a country lane on a sunny autumnal afternoon. Possibly with the prospect of a picnic at the end, complete with red gingham tablecloth and bottles of pop.

The reality of our blackberry is picking is slightly less romantic when Beth and I set out laden with containers to pick blackberries for Beth to make into Blackberry Gin. We lean precariously over ditches, stand on tiptoe to reach high branches and debate the lowest height of a pickable blackberry (answer – no lower than a large dog can cock his leg). Luckily, there’s also an unruly bit of hedge on the garden boundary with just enough blackberries for me to pop out with an enamelled basin and pick for the kitchen.

blackberry tart

Blackberry Tart

Blackberries bridge summer and autumn beautifully. Used like any other soft fruit they can be heaped into bowls, piled atop pavlovas or mixed with autumn raspberries to top an autumnal tart or used for making this simple no-churn ice cream, replacing the raspberry puree with blackberry puree. On cooler days, blackberry filled crumble, betty or pie sitting in a pool of yellow custard make a warming pudding.

hat made with wool dyed with blackberries and brambles

Natural Dyeing with Blackberries

But blackberries aren’t just for eating. Did you know that you can use the stalks and the berries for dyeing yarn and fabric? This hat was knitted with yarn dyed with brambles and blackberries; it’s surprising how many different colours you can get by using different mordants and modifers.

Making the most of blackberries - instructions for dyeing, preserving, cooking

If you’re looking for something different to do with blackberries, perhaps because you’ve already made blackberry jam and had your fill of blackberry crumble and apple and blackberry pie, take a look at this little booklet Making the Most of Blackberries, which has more ideas for using blackberries.


blackberries in hedge

Simple Pleasures | September

I love these late summer days.

No matter how many decades it is since I left school, each September I still feel that sense of sadness that summer is ending, tinged with the anticipation of a new term. I may not need new shoes or feel the need to sharpen and organise the crayons in my pencil case, but it’s the start of the netball season*, there are classes to resume and new activities to take up while on the farm the ground is prepared and the seeds sown for next year’s harvest.

There are so many simple pleasures to be had in September.

Enjoying

hedgerow berries

Every day as I walk through the fields, I notice another change as we move closer to autumn. The colours of sun-bleached August are giving way to autumnal hues as brown earth replaces the wheat stubble and the hedges fill with orange, red and purple berries.

I’d enjoy it even more if we had some rain.

Picking

In the garden we’re picking the last of the raspberries and the first of the Discovery apples. In the fields, the blackberries are now ripe for snatching a handful on a walk or filling a container to bring home.

Eating

We’re still eating fresh vegetables from the garden every day. Supermarkets may try to connect with our hunter gatherer instincts by offering us loose vegetables to pick into our trolleys, but nothing beats the satisfaction of pushing a fork into the soil to prise out a handful of carrots. Even if they aren’t perfect.

 

Making

natural dyeing with blackberries

Last year I tried dyeing with many different plants and produced an amazing range of beige. Unfortunately, I was usually aiming for yellow, orange or pink. This year I’ve tried to reproduce some of last year’s more successful colourings. Above are blackberry, feverfew, blackberry with wood ash water modifier, brambles and walnut husk. Blackberry dyed yarn is well-known for not being colour fast; some of last year’s faded to a rather beautiful silvery grey, though one batch is still a dusky purple. As I only use this wool for knitting hats and the like, I don’t mind the colour change and rather enjoy watching the decline.

Anticipating

blackberries

Later this month, Ruth and I are holding a Blackberry Day when people can pick blackberries from the fields and bring them back to The Barley Barn where we’ll use them for dyeing and jelly printing. We’ll make blackberry vinegar, eat blackberry cake and I’m sure we’ll have time for a little Blackberry Gin tasting too.

 

Do you like September? What are your simple pleasures

*I have slowed down to walking netball, which (the way we play, though I cannot vouch for other more elderly teams) is much faster and more competitive than you might imagine. It’s also tremendous fun.