I always wonder what to do with all of nature’s bounty, and blackberries are one of the most worrying crops. They fruit so generously, although the plants are perfectly capable of sending out runners and reproducing that way, they don’t really need to make fruits and seeds. But they do, and we benefit, along with all the animals and birds that depend on the fruit and the shelter from the bushes. By the way, don’t worry about taking the fruit, you aren’t depriving the animals, as I’ve sometimes heard people comment when blackberry picking. Like any fruiting plant, the blackberry will make more ripe fruit the more that are picked. If you didn’t pick the first ones, the later berries wouldn’t ripen, so it’s not greedy to make your own harvest and then leave the later ones for nature.
When picking, I have two tubs. I separate out the “breakfast quality berries” for us to eat right away and have the larger tub for “processing berries” which go into jams, pies, crumbles and make large quantities of fruit vinegar.
Fruit vinegar is an incredible substance. If you haven’t tried it yet in a salad dressing, you will be amazed at the difference it makes. Like balsamic vinegar only more so. It’s sweet, tasty, fruity and irresistible. It enhances your cooking in multiple ways. Every salad dressing is the better for a splash of it; add it to sauces when you’re reducing to add that touch of sweetness and shine; add it to deep flavoured soups to give that extra lift; add it to meat gravy when stirring up the juices from the bottom of the pan; de-glaze a pan of fried mushrooms with it; and you can even drink it diluted with hot water or fizzy water for a healthy and (allegedly) cold-curing cordial. Really, what more could you ask? I think you can tell I’m a convert.
You can use other berries and fruits for fruit vinegars, but not the very fleshy ones like plums, as their juice would dilute the vinegar too much and affect the keeping properties.
It’s the perfect Christmas gift for cooking-interested friends. You can’t buy fruit vinegars easily in the shops and a homemade present is eagerly received. Do save up some pretty bottles for gifts, the ones that maple syrup comes in are nice, or some swing-top lemonade bottles.
I have to thank Pam Corbin and her River Cottage Handbook # 2, Preserves, for the basic recipe, but it also comes from many home cooks and older fashioned collections.
The basic proportions can be multiplied many times to use up your harvest.
Makes about 3 x 600ml bottles Timings: picking, 3-4 days pickling and then 30 minutes to finish and bottle
Put your berries in a container with a lid. I prefer not to leave food in touch with plastic for long periods, so a large saucepan is ideal if you know you don’t need to use it for some days. Cover the berries with the vinegar and mash them down a bit with a wooden spoon to release the juices.
Cover and leave for 3-4 days. If your cover is not tight enough, the fruity vinegar will attract all the fruit flies in the neighbourhood so do make sure it’s well covered.
After the 3-4 days, drain the liquid from the berries by placing in a jelly bag overnight. If you don’t have a jelly bag, you can make one from an old teatowel securely tied up into a bag shape with string and then suspend it from a kitchen cabinet handle or some other method of letting the juice drain out into a large bowl.
Discard the fruit. Measure your liquid.
Place in a large pan and add 450g of sugar to each 600ml of liquid.
Bring to a boil, simmer briefly and skim off any scum if it rises.
Cool a little and bottle into clean decorative bottles.
It keeps for over a year in a cool dark place but you can give most of it away at Christmas with a glow of pride.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.