Sunday, 21 August 2016

The Blackberry Patch Rules

Freshly churned
Blackberry Ice Cream

It's mid-August and the sun is on our backs at last.  In a summer when we've seen so little of it, it's far more welcome than it would normally be on a summer allotment visit.  Hot, unrelenting sun is not ideal when there's back-breaking work to be done.  But in truth there's been a bit of an uncharacteristic lull on Plot 45.  Though, even at this late stage, there are signs of a possible surge.

Peas and broad beans have all been harvested, their mottled stems cut down to the ground for the last residues of nitrogen to disperse into the soil.  The crop to follow on next year - Brassicas - will benefit.  The garlic planted last autumn is lifted and hangs in the cool, dry conditions it needs to be useable right into late winter with any luck.  All the early La Ratte potatoes have been eaten - a few not by us, it has to be said - as Salade Niçoise has been a constant request this summer.  We have started harvesting the Charlottes and most of the storing onions are drying on the balcony while we make successive forays into the Florence Red onion bed.  These long-necked non-keepers, grown from seed, cook to an unmatched silky smoothness and make a wonderful Onion Tart Tatin (thank you Fern Verrow) and a sweet partner to salty anchovies in Pisssladière.

Harvest of Blackberries, Raspberries
and fragrant sweet peas

This year we confidently constructed extra cane wigwams for Runner and Borlotti Beans.  Hubris met its nemesis in the form of slugs and snails, their population has exploded this year and we're still waiting for our first climbing bean crops.  Chard, spinach, beetroots, courgettes and pumpkin plants have also battled to recover from constant cropping by armies of these gastropods.  But we have had an abundance of extraordinarily fragrant roses and sweet peas to compensate.

Blackberry Ice Cream
with blackberry fruits

Strawberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants are now but a memory - though the freezer is stuffed with pots of fruit and purees for making ice creams and sorbets.  We've moved on from 'summer' to 'autumn' raspberries but the ripening blackberries are a godsend in this lean year on the allotment.   You can buy blackberry plants to cultivate, some are even thornless, but why would you when they grow so prolifically in the wild.  That said, not all 'bramble' patches are equal.  Find one with large, juicy berries and remember where it is for next year is my advice.

This day we circle 'our patch', searching for spots where the fruits are particularly wine-dark and plump.  This year, they look full of promise but taste is all so, of course, we try a few to make sure. They live up to our hopes.  Their flavour is, I think, so much more intense than the cultivated varieties and it's that intensity I want to preserve.  We try not to take too many.  They can be good until late September so there's time aplenty.

Blackberries are undeniably seedy, more noticeably when they fruit after long, dry spells.  Last year's crop was exceptionally seedy here, the year before we hardly noticed seeds, and this year the fruits fall somewhere in between.  As fond as I am of a Blackberry and Apple Crumble, sometimes it's better to sieve out the seeds and make a puree that can be used straight away or kept in the freezer. So, let's make ice cream.

Blackberry swirl

In the UK we tend to think of ice cream beginning with an egg custard base, but as Caroline and Robin Weir point out, in their invaluable book Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati - The Definitive Guide, egg yolks in ice cream didn't appear in England until the middle of the 18th century, probably influenced by the French who wanted to enrich the original Italian recipes.  This recipe from the book dispenses with eggs because, as the authors point out, "Blackberry is a flavour that is all too easy to lose" and in a no-cook ice cream "it comes over loud and clear".

Blackberry Ice Cream 
(makes about 1 litre/4 cups/32 fl oz)

450g (1 lb) Blackberries
150g (5 oz)unrefined granulated sugar
Juice of half a lemon, strained
2 tbsp Crème de Mûre (optional, I find)
500ml (16 fl oz) Whipping/Heavy cream (around 36% fat), chilled

Pick over the blackberries and rinse in cold water.  Drain and place them on a double thickness of kitchen paper then leave to dry off.  
Put them in a food processor or blender with the sugar and blitz for 1 minute.
Strain the pulp through a nylon sieve into a clean bowl, rubbing until all that is left are the seeds.
Add the lemon juice (and Crème de Mûre, if using) to the puree.  Taste and add a little more lemon juice if you wish.  Chill in the fridge.
When ready to make the ice cream, stir in the cream and churn according to the instructions for your ice cream machine.

If you're not eating it straight away, keep in the freezer but allow 30 minutes in the fridge to soften for serving.

I'm off to pick more blackberries.  There must be a bit more space in the freezer to preserve this special taste of summer.  With any luck I'll need my sun hat, and, who knows, there may be beans, chard, spinach and courgettes on Plot 45 at last.