Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A-Brambling We Will Go.

Today, July 17th

Dorothy Wordsworth, sister of the poet William Wordsworth kept a journal of day to day life with her brother in Grasmere in England’s Lake District, and we have peeked into it before on this blog. On this day in 1828, she was in the Isle of Man, and her diary notes read:

July 17th, Thursday. … Fine evening, beautiful, sunset, walked with Mrs. Putnam to the Crescent and above on the green craggy steep. Beautiful sea views and the cliffs charmingly adorned with green gorse, purple heather, brambles. Mrs. P. hurried home to salt her fish.

Dorothy does not mention picking the brambles, but she was not in her own home with the attendant obligations to bake for the little household, or presumably she would have taken advantage of the free fruit (or would they not have been ripe yet?) ‘Brambles’ can refer to a number of fruits from the Rose family that grow on thorny shrubs with long canes – but in England (particularly in the North) it almost always refers to the blackberry. In earlier times the bramble buds and leaves were often used in medicinal preparations for such old time illnesses as ‘inward bruises’, but the fruit can be used as any other berry, and it marries particularly well with apple.

The commonest recipe in cookbooks of the eighteenth century seems to be for blackberry wine, which sounds like a fine beverage indeed. Today they are far more likely to be used to make jam (‘jelly’, if you are in the USA), or pies (especially with apple) – and you can adapt any berry recipe for these. In search of something a little different for those of you who are lucky enough to have a bumper blackberry crop, I found this recipe from The Times, in 1938. It sounds like a wonderfully fruity ketchup.

Blackberry Pickle.
Take a quart of large blackberries. Put them into the preserving pan with two pounds of white sugar, an ounce and a half of all-spice, half an ound of ground sugar*, and the juice of a lemon. Pour over it a pint of white vinegar. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for about an hour and a half, then pass it through a sieve, and bottle.
The flavour of the pickles naturally depends considerably upon the aromatic vinegar in which they are cooked. Here is an old-fashioned recipe.
Spiced Vinegar.
Put half an ounce of whole cloves and the same quantity of allspice, celery seed, mustard seed, whole mace, chopped white ginger, a pound and a half of sugar, and an ounce and two thirds of pepper into bags of strong but thin muslin. Lay in the preserving pan. Pour over six pints of wine vinegar. Bring to the boil. Stand for four hours. Remove the bags, strain and bottle. These vinegars should be stored for at least a month before using.

[*This sounds like an error to me, should it be nutmeg or something similar? Presumably also if the spiced vinegar is used, the spices are not needed in the pickle]

Tomorrow’s Story …

In praise of Bouillabaisse.

Quotation for the Day …

O, blackberry tart, with berries as big as your thumb, purple and black, and thick with juice, and a crust to endear them that will go to cream in your mouth, and both passing down with such a taste that will make you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the wideness of that rich moment. Richard Llewellyn.


Lapinbizarre said...

The recipe below uses sugar, allspice and ground GINGER. Might this be it? Setting type from manuscript, it might be easy to mis-transcribe "ginger" as "sugar". Roger


Catofstripes said...

It is probably four or five weeks too early for the main blackberry crop in the UK and France. Last year I was picking in bulk in early September. That said, one or two of the king berries are ripe already but most of the brambles are still in flower.

Anonymous said...

I'm in the north-east of England; I've already picked some wild raspberries, but not seen any brambles yet. I think of them as a late summer / early autumn crop.

Anonymous said...

I love this line from DW's journal:

"Mrs. P. hurried home to salt her fish."

It sounds like Beatrix Potter with a dark edge.

Catofstripes said...

And now I must eat my words because I've just picked a bowlful of blackberries from a particularly early plant on the farm. It must be the strange weather we've been having, I've never picked many blackberries in July before.

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