In praise of the blackberry

William Clement 1 October 2009

In the first of a series celebrating seasonal food, William Clement goes wild for blackberries

The beginning of autumn means a couple of things, gastronomically at least: game and autumn fruits. This week we’re praising the blackberry. The hedgerows are bursting out in fruit right now and, if you’re a bit of a naturalist, or if you just like snaffling whatever’s good and going free, there are few more pleasurable things than going black-berrying; especially in the early evening, when the sun is low and everything glows terracotta and red. Blackberries are the taste of autumn’s new colours.

Sometimes I’ll pick a bagful and take them home, staving off the temptation to scoff there and then. But the best thing, for an autumnal sense experience, if by chance you’re in search of one, is to stand at the blackberry bush and taste one from here and one from there, proceeding along the hedge. It’s astonishing the difference in taste. One will be acidic, the next sweet. The sourness can be anything from citrusy to mouth-puckeringly tart. The sweetness can be just plain sugary, or it can be rich and toffee-ish. Sometimes they’ll taste of nothing; sometimes they’ll be winey, with a deep, fortified flavour like port. Once I had one I swear tasted of cinnamon and cloves, as if some benevolent creature had passed and judiciously spiced the hedgerow.

There’s an enjoyment in knowing where the best-tasting blackberries grow. I home I’ve found the bushes that produce the most gloriously blackberry-tasting blackberries and the ones that taste as if someone’s hung little purple sacks of spit in the hedge for a laugh. If you know where you can pick good ones in Cambridge, let me know. I’ve been buying them from the market, because I’m lazy, but I do feel I’m missing out on the purple-stained hands and bramble-scratched, nettle-stung arms which are as much a part of the joy of black-berrying as the blackberries themselves.

Recipe – Blackberry & apple compote

Something magical happens when you pair blackberry with apple. Eat this hot blackberry and apple compote and it’s not just that it’s warming, it’s that it’s headily perfumed and alive. It just sings. It’s hardly a recipe it’s so simple.

Take 2 or 3 good-sized Bramley apples; 250g blackberries; sugar. Peel, roughly chop the apples and put them in a pan with a splash of water. Cook until fluffy and broken up. Put in the blackberries and watch the apples turn deep purple. Add sugar to taste, a good handful. Serve warm with thick cream and shortbread biscuits.

PS: Have you smelt “Right Guard Cotton Dry for Women”? It’s almost the exact whiff you’ll get from a good blackberry and apple compote, because apples seem to draw out the essential blackberry perfume. Weird! Pop into Boots and try it.

William Clement