I often see photos on social media of beautiful women picking blackberries with long white dresses, elegant straw hats, and big smiles. They walk gracefully among the brambles, sometimes escorted by furry dogs.
I’ve always had different experiences. In my family, we prepare to go blackberry picking as if we were readying for war—or at least for hunting for mushrooms in the deep woods.
Big heavy shoes, long trousers and large shirts, socks up to your knees to possibly protect you from snakes, twisted branches, thorns, and nettle. “Cover your neck,” my mother would say, as it is dangerous when you dive into the bushes. “Wear gloves, bring a stick, a pair of gardening scissors, and a basket or two.”
We leave in the early morning and trek silently downhill, surprising deer still grazing in the fields. Sometimes we’re startled by a pheasant suddenly flying away into the woods, and the dull sound of its flapping wings.
There have been years when we picked blackberries by the bucket, running unweighted downhill in the early morning and dragging ourselves back up the slope, heavy with our spoils, a few hours later. Mum would make a dozen jars of blackberry jam, I would freeze a bag of berries for the winter, and others would end up directly in a crostata or a cake.
Other years, we might collect just enough blackberries for a focaccia and two meager jam jars. You have to make do with what nature offers you, don’t you?
Blackberries taste like the last days of summer, when you still enjoy bits of freedom while looking forward to your new September life. First it meant back to school, then back to work; now, for me, September means back to a new season of classes, projects, and explorations. It means long socks and scarves, warm tea in the mornings, new books to read, ingredients to welcome back into the kitchen (hello pumpkin, I missed you so much!), daily routines to tweak to include all the novelties that the new season certainly will bring.
Don’t you find that blackberries hold all the magic of this rite of passage? Blackberry picking is the last summer adventure, a farewell to a season of carefree days, peach juices dripping down your chin, dinners al fresco, nights spent watching the stars from the garden.
The transition from a season to the next is a bittersweet symphony. Blackberries have the taste of these mixed feelings, which grip your heart until you find yourself well into autumn, set into your nourishing new rituals of soups and teas.
Apple and Blackberry Jam
This jam is made with equal parts just-picked blackberries and apples, cooked down and pureed with a food mill. You’ll weigh the fruit puree to figure out how much sugar to add: 5 ounces per pound of puree.
Tasting notes: Black velvet. A deep, intense, sharp, spicy, and musty flavor, resembling bramble and earth, thanks to the blackberries. The apple adds a soft, creamy touch.
My favorite way to eat this jam is on bread with a generous spread of Greek yogurt, which creates an interesting visual contrast and enhances its sharp sweetness.
- Blackberries, just picked from the brambles
- Gala apples, the same amount (in weight) as your blackberries
- Sugar (see headnote)
Wash the berries and remove the stalks. Peel the apples and cut into large pieces. Add blackberries and apples to a large, thick-bottomed pot or saucepan.
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or at least until the blackberries and apples are soft and begin to melt. The cooking time will depend on your volume of fruit.
Puree the fruit with a food mill, using the disc with the smallest holes, and weigh the fruit puree.
Return the puree to your pot, and for every pound of puree, add 5 ounces of sugar. Bring to a boil again (mind blackberry splashes!) and let it simmer slowly over low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the jam thickens.
Pour the jam into sterilized jars and seal tightly. Put the jars in a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 20 minutes, and then remove from heat. Let the jars cool completely in the pan, then remove them from the water. You can store them for several months in a dry, cool, and dark place.
Giulia Scarpaleggia is a Tuscan born and bred food writer, food photographer, and author of five cookbooks, including “From the Markets of Tuscany.” Find her online at her blog, JulsKitchen.com. This article was excerpted with permission from JulsKitchen.com