Blackberries. Or, if you live in Scotland, brambles. I do think the latter is a much better name, since it suggests the tough, scratchy nature of these plants. They’re quite the worst things to pick, because they have lots of needle-sharp thorns which tear or score your skin. And sometimes, if a stem is caught at an awkward angle, a thorn will break off and press into your flesh. I was gathering them at the weekend, and as I struggled my way through thickets, cursing and sucking various injured fingers, I was reminded again of what a pain they are to pick.
But… they have delicious fruit. Although even that is contrary. The berries ripen from the top of the stem back, so you can only pick one or two off a stem at any time. If you want a good amount you need to come back every day to pick the rest as they slowly ripen. I read once that the best way to pick them is to snip the tips off a pair of washing up gloves and use them to protect your wrists and hands, while your fingertips are free to pull them off. Any that aren’t ripe won’t slip off their stem, and you find your fingers slowly covered in deep purple juice from the ones that were over-ripe.
I made crumble with my harvest – stewed fruit with a crispy topping made from flour, butter and sugar. And some added plums, since I hadn’t managed to gather as many brambles as I had hoped. I also forgot to wash them after taking them home, so there may have been some extra protein in the dish! But it looked so pretty, with the purple, almost black juice seeping up through the topping, that I don’t think anyone noticed.
Bramble crumble is a homely pudding, best served in earthenware pots rather than silver salvers. But if you’d like to know more about the grander side of cooking and serving food, leave a comment to be entered into a draw to win a copy of “Stately Service Then and Now”. This book, produced by the Historic Houses Association, describes service in stately homes in the past and today, when even more visitors arrive to see how life used to be lived.