Berry good ideas for using up fruit

This article appeared in The Hinckley Times on 12 September, and came out of my recent post about Blackberry Jam and Blackberry Vodka

I’ve heard several reports that this year has been a great one for fruit, and on a recent walk out I discovered the proof was indeed in the pudding. Or the crumble. Or the pie really… Blackberries are growing in abundance around our local fields, hedgerows and jitties, so I decided to go foraging.

Learning from experience that a) brambles are lethally prickly and b) I may have to manoeuvre around dog doo, on went the long trousers, long-sleeved top and sensible shoes. Armed with a load of collecting bags, I was prepared for my mission and set off in the direction of the lane.

In no time at all – the branches were literally heaving with fruit – I had myself just over 2 Kilogrammes of lovely plump berries. Wanting to try something a bit different to a crumble, I opted for blackberry vodka and blackberry jam.

Blackberry vodka
You’ll need a 70cl bottle of cheap vodka, a clean, empty wine bottle with a screw top, sugar and blackberries.

Split the vodka between the two bottles, and put about 100g of sugar into each. Then simply plop blackberries into both bottles until they are full and screw on the lids. Put them in a cool dark place and about once a week, turn the bottles (think bell-ringer) so all the contents are well mixed. By Christmas, the berries should have infused into the vodka. Sieve and put the liquid back into just the vodka bottle. Enjoy!

 

Blackberry jam

Blackberry jam

Blackberry jam
The rest of the berries weighed 1.5 kilos and these went into a large cast iron pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 8 minutes until the fruit is soft.

Add the same weight of sugar (1.5 kilos), a teaspoon of lemon juice and a sachet of pectin. (Pectin makes the jam set, and blackberries don’t contain much of it naturally).

Bring the whole lot to a rolling boil for about another 10 minutes. The jam has to get to a certain temperature in order to set, and you’ll know when that’s close as the boiling liquid will suddenly look calmer, appear glossier and less frothy. To test if it’s ready, take a tiny bit of the jam and put on a cool plate. It will form a skin if it’s ready: if not, boil for longer, testing at regular intervals.

The jars need to be sterile to store the jam, so these should be washed and rinsed thoroughly. Whist the jam is boiling put the jars and lids on a tray in the oven on a medium heat. When the jam’s ready, funnel it up to the neck of each jar and screw on the lids.

Extreme caution should be deployed at this point, as the jam is approximately the same temperature of the earth’s core, and the jars and lids will be red hot too.

So, for the price of a bottle of pop and a couple of bags of sugar, we will be enjoying blackberries right into the New Year.

The Hinckley Times 12 September 2013

The Hinckley Times 12 September 2013

Sloe gin: the harvest

It’s an annual tradition for me and the 13 year old to venture out into the wilderness to collect sloe berries for the Christmas gin. We’d been told of a new location where apparently the hedgerow was bursting at the seams with them.

The first time we went, we made absolutely sure that we were picking sloes, and not some ‘berry of death’ (might make an interesting conversation piece, but we wouldn’t be invited back again). Sloes are a bit like miniature plums, but slightly smaller than a marble. They’re purple, with a cloudy skin, and a small stone inside. Some say not to pick them until October/November, but we’ve found that by then they have either been eaten by the birds or picked already. Get the ones higher up – they will be riper as they have had more sun.

So there we were, in the idyllic Leicestershire countryside with the canal running through, and you could almost imagine someone in a field somewhere drinking ‘lashings of ginger beer’. It soon became apparent that our  informant was indeed correct: there were LOADS of sloes around!

Our bountiful harvest of sloes

But peace was to be shattered. In a neighbouring farm, we thought someone was teaching someone else how to drive a tractor. We heard, “turn the wheel,” then a slightly more panicked, “turn the wheel,” then a truly ear-shattering, “TURN THE F****KING WHEEL!” Bemused at who could be making such a racket, we dashed up the lane to have a look.

Turned out that the shouter was actually in the digger scoop of a tractor, trying to do some work on a barn roof. Someone else was trying to get him there without much success….
Related posts:

Sloe gin in 5 easy steps

Sloe gin: the sticky end

 

Elderberry wine in five easy steps

I was finally ready to embark on my virgin flight of hedgerow wine-making. The only bit of equipment I had was a demijohn that had been rescued from the depths of my friend’s shed, so I went off in search of other bits and bobs I might need. These now consisted of: one piece of voile, one car washing bucket and one punch bowl. Armed with citric acid, wine yeast and an airlock , I was ready for the off.

I fished my elderberries out of the freezer and sterilised all my equipment.

Mashed elderberries steeping in boiling water

Step one: put 3lb of elderberries in the punch bowl, mash them about with the spud masher and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few hours to go cold. (Note – smells like old socks)

Step two: put 3lb sugar in the demijohn (funnel required) and pour on a couple of pints of boiling water to disolve.

Step three: stretch the piece of voile over the bucket and secure with a big elastic band, tip cold elderberry mix on, and leave to strain through.

Step four: tip elderberry syrup into the demijohn. Agitate to mix with sugar. Ensure contents are just warm, add one teaspoon of citric acid and one sachet of wine yeast. Fill to the neck of the demijohn with lukewarm water, bung with an airlock.

Step five: leave in warm place.

Roll on next year...

Happy to say that the wine is bubbling away like crazy this morning. I’m moving it around the house in order to catch the hot spots.  Apparently I do more stuff to it when it’s finished bubbling (watch this space), and it should be drinkable in … ooh, about a year.