Wild foods: Blackberry pickle

Hackney wilds

I am a hunter-gatherer at heart. I love looking back on my wild, tangled childhood, when I spent hours combing the beach for seaweed, following my grandmother out to her whitebait spot, or following my Mum on a wild mushroom and freesia hunt. There’s something to be said for making something beautiful and tasty for free. However, I don’t really know that much about British flora and fauna. So when I spotted the opportunity to learn about foraging at the Tower Hamlets Cemetry Park, I leapt at the chance.

A group of seven of us learned about everything from Fat Hen, a spinach-like weed often found on cultivated land, to wild fennel, juniper berries – which take two years to ripen! There was also an opportunity to check out the very poisonous deadly nightshade in the flesh, and I was also ‘lucky’ enough to experience my very first nettle sting. No one in the group could believe I’d never met a nettle before!

Blackberries

One of the highlights of the day for me was the chance to indulge in a British classic, blackberry picking. Blackberries can be found in hedgerows (and surprisingly, urban Hoxton) from July to October. We got stuck into picking from a large thorny patch on the edge of a park, right by the railway. It’s a good idea to actually taste as you pick, as the flavour profile of berries can vary from plant to plant. It took a while to nip and pluck all the berries, leaving my arms looking  they’d been attacked by an army of kittens, but we enjoyed a decent haul. Terry also told us that you can buy thorn-less plants now – definitely an idea for the garden!

Box of berries

There you have it, 1.5kg of wild blackberries, ready to be turned into a tasty blackberry pickle, which we made back at HQ. Terry says he chose this recipe as it’s unusual to see a savoury take on a famous preserve:

PICKLED BLACKBERRIES
{
From Rosamond Richardson’s book Hedgerow Cookery (pictured below)}

Ingredients

  • 500g sugar
  • 300ml vinegar
  • 1tsp allspice
  • 1tsp cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1kg blackberries

Method

Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar over a gentle heat. Put the spices in a muslin bag, and put them in to simmer for several minutes. Add the blackberries and cook for between 10 and 15 minutes. Remove the spices, pack the blackberries into hot jars, and then boil the vinegar down until it turns syrupy. Cover the blackberries with the vinegar, and seal the jars.

These pickled blackberries are delicious with bread or served with crackers and a nice and squidgy cheese like brie (it works best with creamy flavours).

Hedgerow cookery

Empty jars

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