For the first time today we encountered competition! My husband spotted a new blackberry patch while out jogging (when your partner takes up exercising there are benefits for the whole family) and we visited there after visiting the beach this afternoon. We took our gumboots, sheet of cardboard and the hockey stick. The girls helped pick the low berries and my husband and I worked together to get the trickier ones (me lying on the cardboard across a large thorny branch while my husband used the hockey stick to pull a prolific branch closer. After we had half a smallish bucket we noticed a Mum and her son further along. A small creek bubbled along and while we were on the bank the mother and son were in the creek. We were very envious (and look forward to the day we can send our children into creeks to assist with berrying). I asked about their berry recipes (blackberry muffins with fresh blackberries mixed with cream cheese for icing) and we respected our various spots.
Another car drove slowly by. They pulled in behind our car and I instantly knew what they were considering. They continued on, I guess noticing that the area was well covered and likely picked bare. They drove off and I didn't think about them until a couple of minutes later, when I realised that they had gone on to the private driveway above the creek and were picking from there. As we left, two members of their group circled back to check out the patch we had just covered! They were not going to find any!
A friend asked what I do with all the caterpillars on the blackberries I picked and it occurred to me to write a few blackberrying facts:
Blackberries and caterpillars:
- Just about every blackberry will have a tiny caterpillar on the inside. I found spreading them on a tray while fresh and picking them off every time I walk by the most effective method of removal.
- If you soak the berries it can drown the caterpillars. I suspect though that many caterpillars drown still inside the berry.
- If you freeze them the caterpillar remains inside the berry.
- Inadvertently eating tiny caterpillars is an inevitable fact of cooking with blackberries.
- Keep your eye out for blackberry patches every time you are out driving. They love creek beds and overgrown bush.
- Blackberry bushes are thorny - wear running shoes or gumboots and old clothes. Expect scratches and thorns stuck in your fingers. Wearing gloves makes it hard to pull off the berries.
- Take along a hockey stick - it can help you reach high up branches
- A bucket looped over your arm makes picking easier.
- Consider how likely it is that the berries have been sprayed. You will need to wash them well if they have been sprayed (add a small drop of detergent to the washing water, then rinse with clean water)
- Children get very bored with picking berries quite quickly and are likely to stop after the first prickle. We took a lot of snacks to keep them amused.
- Manage your expectations for the amount of berries you are likely to get. Altogether we have picked about 40 cups of berries....but probably spent about ten hours altogether doing this over many trips. Picking berries for up to an hour is fun, picking for much longer a chore.
- Take a first aid kit with plasters, splinter probes and tweezers. Insect repellent is also a good idea. My legs look like I've been subject to a vicious cat attack, interlaced with red shiny mosquito bites. Attractive.
- Rinse them straight before using them, not when you get home. If the berries are kept dry and cool they are much less likely to go mouldy. Even refrigerated, washed berries are likely to get mouldy overnight.
500 grams blackberries
300 grams caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten.
90 grams butter
Take 500grams of blackberries and quarter a cup of water and heat together in a pot until boiling. Once boiling reduce to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes. Squish the berries while cooking. Place a sieve over a bowl and press the mixture through using a wooden spoon. This will take about five-ten minutes - you want to end up with nothing but a dry, seedy mixture left in the sieve.
Most people use a double boiler arrangement to cook sweet curds but I do not have the patience. You need to know that you will be able to pay full attention to the curd while cooking if you do it in a pan. Heat the berry juice in the pot on a medium low heat. Add 300 grams of caster sugar and stir until dissolved. Beat four room temperature eggs lightly, then temper by adding a spoonful of the berry juice to the eggs and stirring. Repeat tempering a few times (otherwise you will scramble the eggs when you tip them into the pot). Slowly add eggs to the pot, stirring constantly. Add 90 grams of butter and keep stirring.
Bring the heat up slightly to medium, but never enough where the mixture starts bubbling. When a very thick ribbon forms (this happens quickly) take off the element and pour into sterilised jars. The mixture should last about two weeks in the fridge.
Recipe inspiration: From Stephanie Alexander's A Cooks' Companion and Cream Until Fluffy
Blackberry BBQ Sauce
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cloves of garlic
Dash of hot sauce (or a finely diced red chili)
Half a cup brown sugar.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Put the berries and fruit in a pot and simmer for about thirty minutes (I simmered for nearly an hour, but had dashed to the shop and forgot that I left the pot going, thankfully my husband was still here! Push the sauce through a sieve to remove berry seeds and fruit stones. Be aggressive with sieving, keep going until the leftover seeds are a dry thick paste. Add garlic, tomato sauce, hot sauce and sugar. Season. Simmer for about twenty minutes for taste. I found the original mixture too heavy on the vinegar so I added 2 TBSP of the blackberry cordial I made earlier. You can just add extra sugar if too acidic. If too sweet you can add more sugar. Use a stick blender to make sure the garlic is incorporated and then pour into sterilised bottles.