Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A Bounty of Berries

August is a busy month for me. 'Tis Harvest Time - the original reason for allowing children a summer holiday from school - and the main harvest in my house is blackberries. For any of you who have never been blackberrying, then you really ought to try it ~ it’s free food after all! You don’t need a lot of time or equipment, you don’t even to travel far to do it. Blackberries grow in cities just as well as they do in the countryside, try looking around the edge of parks, allotments, even business parks / industrial estates. There is some snobbery that city berries will be covered in petrol fumes and dirt, but unless they’re growing on an exceptionally busy road this really isn’t the case.

Having said that, it’s a much nicer activity to pick in a green place. I go to the local woods (which is still on the island!) with son and dog in tow, a toy bucket or an empty ice-cream tub in a carrier bag ready for my treasure. Do not wear your best white t-shirt! The juice can stain, and you will at the very least go home with purple fingers (and probably lips too!) The ripe berries are a plump glossy black, don’t pick the dark red as they’re not fully ripe and will just be sour and unpleasant. Likewise, avoid those with a dull sheen as they have gone beyond ripe and are beginning to moulder. An hour with a decent crop on the bushes should be plenty of time to fill a 2 litre ice-cream tub, which will give you approx 1 kilo of fruit. When you get them home stand the tub under a gently running tap and wash the berries handful by handful, draining in a sieve. Layer them on a sheet of paper kitchen towel (to absorb some of the water) in another empty ice-cream tub, removing each sheet of paper once the layer is full. This helps soak up some of the water and makes it easier to get the berries out once they are frozen. When the tub is full, simply replace the lid and pop it in your freezer. You now have berries to hand all year round!

As well as being delicious, blackberries have a multitude of health benefits:

1. Blackberries are one of the top ten foods containing antioxidants.

2. Blackberries are packed with polyphenols helping to prevent cancer and heart disease.

3. Blackberries are filled with anthocyanins (antioxidants which give blackberries their deep purple colour) which help in memory retention and the risk of hypertension.

4. Blackberries are said to strengthen blood vessels, help fight heart disease and help improve eyesight.

5. The high tannin content of blackberries help tighten tissue, relieve intestinal inflammation, and help reduce hemorrhoids and stomach disorders.

6. Ohio State University found that blackberries may protect against esophageal cancer, a cancer caused by gastric reflux disease.

7. Blackberries have shown to protect against other types of cancers. They contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), a compound believed to play a vital role in preventing breast and cervical cancer.

8. Blackberries are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Manganese and fibre.
9. The high fibre content of blackberries help reduce risk of intestinal disease and the risk of developing diabetes.

10. Blackberries are a healthy food choice that kids and adults love. They are a great way to refuel after a hard workout and help aid in fighting obesity.

One cup of fresh blackberries has 62 calories, 1 gram of fat, 15 carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and only 1 mg of sodium.

(from ingredients, inc.)

So, what are you going to make with them? My main uses of blackberries are jam, crumbles, and blackberry vinegar; but they are extremely versatile and can be used in many recipes. Try stirring them through muffin batter in place of blueberries, or blitz a handful of berries in a blender with a banana and some milk for a delicious smoothie – this is a particularly good use of the frozen berries as they chill the smoothie as well as adding flavour and a fabulous purple colour.   

Below is a quick and easy crumble recipe for you to try. I always use eating apples as they are what I have to hand. However if you want to use cooking apples by all means do so, but I would recommend adding a couple of spoons of sugar to the fruit mix.


Blackberry and Apple Crumble

Cooking time: 35-45 minutes
Serves:  4

250g Blackberries
500g Apples

Crumble Topping:
170 Rolled oats
50g Wholemeal flour
40g Demerara sugar
50g Butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350F / Gas 4.

Peel, core and slice the apples. Put in a large, ovenproof dish and stir in the berries.
Place the rolled oats, flour, sugar and butter in a bowl and rub together until well mixed. Sprinkle over fruit and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice-cream. Or custard.

The juice and grated rind of an orange makes a lovely addition to the fruity filling of this crumble, or why not try a little cinnamon in the crumble topping?

Blackberries are usually in season from early August until mid-late September, so you still have a couple of weeks left to enjoy them. I'd love to hear what you make with your berries!


  1. Defintely have to try your recipe! We usually have fencerows full of blackberries, but haven't a one this year, due to the drought, I suppose. I'm also surprised at the different harvest season. I thought we were fairly even, latitudinally-speaking, but our harvest month here is mid-July. Raspberries ripen by the 4th of July, and blackberries two weeks later.
    Try mixing peaches in with the berries instead of apples - SWOON!

  2. Ooh, peaches with blackberries?! I just happen to have a couple lying around, may try that tomorrow!
    Our harvest season has changed this year too, but at least we do have a crop. I can't imagine Mabon without blackberries!

  3. Don't have Blackberries here, it's too far north and too high up the mountain, but we get cloudberries, blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries, currants etc :) I'm just pissed I don't get to harvest much this year because of surgery.

  4. I'm sorry about your surgery. Do you have a friend / family member that might be prepared to do a little harvesting for you in exchange for a jar of jam or homemade crumble maybe? I wish we got Cloudberries here ~ I've only ever tasted them as jam and they were delicious, plus the name is so beautiful, they sound like something from a story!

  5. For me, it is an interesting fruit combination. I am the kind of person who likes to know and try new recipes and this one worth the try !

    When I was a little girl, we, the children used to go to the pastures and eat all kind of berries directly from the plants or bushes. The cattle farmers considered the berries as weeds because took room from the pasture for the ruminates.
    I remember we eat the berries and the cows ate the bushes later. So, we shared.

    Thanks for the recipe and I am going to try it with different varieties of apples.

    1. Trying different varieties is a great idea, Ana. That works to great effect with the apple nachos I posted about here: http://acheerychicken.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/pinspiration-strikes.html
      Pears would also make a great partner to blackberries in this crumble recipe, they give a softer flavour. I am going to try drained tinned peaches, and maybe add some flaked almonds to the crumble topping. Mmmmm ♥