Why is Ireland having a bumper year for blackberries?
In season: You’ve filled bucket after bucket with plump blackberries, now what to do with them?
Homemade tart with blackberries and caster cugar
According to folklore, you shouldn’t pick blackberries after Michaelmas (September 29th) because they will be bitter, the devil having spit on them to claim the dark, juicy fruit for himself. There is also a belief that a big crop of wild berries and nuts is a precursor to a hard winter, so they’re not something farmers like to see.
But it seems Ireland is having a bumper season for the wild fruit, with hedgerows still adorned with clusters of berries, and reports of buckets and buckets being gathered all around the country. So, the devil be damned – they are still there for the picking ... and the tarts, and the jam, and the cakes.
Global warming may be behind the unusually bountiful harvest, and Irish Times columnist Michael Viney, citing research done at the National Botanic Gardens, confirms that “brambles have indeed, been flowering and fruiting earlier, with higher temperatures.”
Fruit and veg grower Dermot Carey, puts the glut down to “ideal growing conditions, a cool wet early spring, ending the season with the extended Indian summer into September.”
GIY expert Michael Kelly says it has been “an amazing year”, and he has been “freezing them like the divil”.
Journalist Lisa Cope confirms that there are indeed plenty of berries for the picking this autumn, and that there are “way more and they are way bigger than last year.”
And so now that you’ve got your buckets of free fruit ... what to do with it?
Food writer Clodagh McKenna has been making pots and pots of jam, and Laura Peterson, commenting on Twitter, also recommends getting the jam saucepan out – and calling it coulis if it doesn’t set quite right.
At the Dan O’Hara Homestead in Connemara, the foraged fruit gets turned into harvest cake, along with apples, hazelnuts and oats. Katia Valadeau of the food website properfoood.ie suggests freezing the berries whole, “to use in gin and tonic, instead of ice.”
Spice merchant Arun Kapil of Green Saffron Spices in Cork also confirms the unusual abundance of blackberries, and he has lofty plans for his haul. “Olive and I have picked loads and there’s plenty more yet to go. I love to make a bramble and damson ‘lungi’, my seasonal twist on a Rajasthani chutney, sweet with jaggery, spiced with fennel and chilli,” which he says is “ace with game, beautiful with roast partridge, guinea fowl.”
Sue Glackin, writing from Donegal, says “It has been has been a bumper year for berries for sure. I’ve been out many times picking berries since the 19th of August. They just keep appearing! I’ve been making the usual jam and also blackberry ice-cream.”
If the birds, or the devil, have stripped the branches where you are, you can buy cultivated blackberries, like social media personality and cookbook co-author James Kavanagh, who says he does his ‘foraging’ in Fallon & Byrne.
Here are some suggestions, from food writers, on how to turn this autumn fruit into something delicious.
VANESSA GREENWOOD’S BLACKBERRY CAKE
You can use bought or foraged blackberries for this
225g butter, room temperature
225g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1tbsp boiling water, if required
250g fresh blackberries
Cream cheese icing:
50g salted butter, softened
50g full fat cream cheese
100g sieved icing sugar
Zest of half a lemon
1. Preheat an oven to 160 degrees Celsius fan, or equivalent, and line a 18cm x 28cm baking tin with parchment paper (or use a 20cm square).
2. Using an electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add vanilla. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time.
3. Sieve the flour and baking powder together into a bowl then mix the sieved ingredients into the batter. If the batter is very stiff after adding the flour, mix in the boiling water to loosen the consistency, if required.
4. Transfer half the batter onto the base of the lined baking tin. Toss two thirds of the blackberries in a teaspoon of flour to lightly coat them before scattering them over the batter in the tin (tossing them in flour stops the berries sinking to the bottom).
5. Cover the blackberries with the remaining batter.
6. Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until risen in the centre, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
7. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before upturning the sponge onto a wire rack and peeling away the baking parchment. Allow the cake to cool completely before topping with cream cheese icing.
8.To make the icing, beat the butter and cream cheese together until lump free. Add the sieved icing sugar in three batches, beating till smooth, lastly mix in the lemon zest.
9. To serve, spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake and scatter with the reserved fresh blackberries.
10. Serve with blackberry coulis, made by simmering 150g blackberries with 25g sugar and half a teaspoon vanilla extract, blitzing then passing through a sieve.
LILLY HIGGINS’ PEAR, APPLE AND BLACKBERY POP TARTS
150g cold butter, cubed
200g fine wholemeal flour
40g plain flour
20g icing sugar
4 pears, peeled and diced
2 apples, peeled and diced
1 handful of blackberries
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp whole chia seeds
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
1. Place the flours and butter in a food processor and blitz. Add the egg and blitz again until it forms a smooth dough. This can be done by hand too, just rub the butter into the flour then add the egg, mixing with a round bladed knife till it comes together.
2. Form a flat disc with the dough, wrap in greaseproof paper and place in the fridge to rest.
3. Place the blackberries, pear and apple in a pan over a medium heat. You may need a splash of water, but it must not be too wet. Simmer the fruit mix till everything is soft and it becomes a puree when you stir it. Add the vanilla, honey and chia seeds. Mix well and set aside to cool.
4. Preheat an oven to 180 degrees Celsius, or equivalent. Line a tray with baking paper.
5. Roll the pastry out on a floured surface and make 8-10 rectangle shapes. Place half the pastry shapes onto the tray. Brush the beaten egg around the edges of the pastry. Spoon some of the cooled fruit mix in the centre then top with the remaining pastry. Use a fork dipped in flour to seal the edges. Brush each tart with egg wash and bake until golden, 15-20 minutes.
6. Leave the pies to cool before serving as the fruit will be hot. Drizzle with icing or serve as is, with yogurt or cream.
DARINA ALLEN'S APPLE AND BLACKBERRY TRAYBAKE
8-12 lemon geranium leaves (Pelargonium graveolens)
3-4 cooking apples, such as Bramley Seedling or Grenadier
75g caster sugar
Crème fraîche or softly whipped cream, to serve
For the sponge base:
225g softened butter
175g caster sugar
275g self-raising flour
4 organic, free-range eggs
You’ll find yourself reaching for this recipe over and over again. Here I use apple and blackberries with sweet geranium, but I also love it with green gooseberries and elderflower, or plums. I enjoy arranging the blackberries and apples in neat lines, but if you are super busy just sprinkle them over the top of the sponge base.
Lemon geranium plants are available from the majority of garden centres and can be used in a myriad of ways – lemonades, compotes, sorbets, granitas, crystallising – it’s really worth looking out for and you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
You can substitute one teaspoon finely grated organic lemon zest for the lemon geranium leaves and mix with the 50g granulated sugar as stated in recipe and sprinkle over the tray bake as directed in final paragraph.
1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Cesius/gas mark 3. Line the base of a 33 x 23 x 5cm cake tin, or a 25.5cm sauté pan or cast-iron frying pan with parchment paper, allowing it to hang over the sides. Arrange 6-8 sweet geranium leaves over the base – these give the sponge a haunting lemony flavour.
2. To make the sponge base, combine the butter, sugar and flour in the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a second or two, then add the eggs and stop as soon as the mixture comes together. Spoon the mixture over the base of the tin as evenly as possible (over the sweet geranium leaves).
3. Peel the apples. Cut into thin slices and arrange on top of the sponge in three lines. Arrange a line of blackberries in between each row. Sprinkle 25g of the caster sugar over the top and bake for about 50 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, whizz 2-4 sweet geranium leaves with the remaining 50g caster sugar in a food processor. Spread over a baking tray and set aside at room temperature to dry.
5. Once it is fully cooked, the centre of the cake should be firm to the touch and the edges slightly shrunk from the sides of the tin. Serve in the tin, sprinkled with the sweet geranium sugar. Alternatively, leave to rest in the tin for 4-5 minutes before turning out. Serve with crème fraîche or softly whipped cream.