There's something uniquely enjoyable about picking blackberries. It's about getting back to nature; it's the ultimate antidote to portion-controlled, perfectly-shaped supermarket shopping; it takes you out into the fresh air; and (best of all, perhaps!) it's free.
The mere sight of all that luscious fruit, which is usually at its best from mid-August to late September, is enough to set some of us salivating with anticipation – even without thinking of the jam, pies and summer puddings in which it might end up.
Blackberrying aficionados jealously guard the location of their favoured picking places (mine are surprisingly close to Castleford town centre, but that's all I'm prepared to reveal), keeping a careful watch as the berries turn from green to red to black, then pouncing as the fruit hits the peak of sweet, juicy ripeness.
Alternatively, their cries of anguish will turn the air blue if they're greeted with the frustrating sight of trodden-down grass, the sure sign that someone else has beaten them to it!
Although bramble stems are covered in vicious thorns and nettles have a sneakily sadistic fondness for growing up through them (usually unnoticed until they've administered a sting), nothing quite compares with the simple satisfaction of throwing on an old jacket, grabbing a bowl or bag and plucking a pound or two of fabulous free fruit.
Once you've got your black bounty back home, you can use it straight away or freeze it for future use. If opting for the latter, just give the berries a quick rinse in cold water and seal them in a strong plastic bag: no need to cook them first.
But just remember: you must pick your blackberries before the end of September, as that's when Owd Nick – aka the Devil – spits on them… (In truth, depending upon weather conditions and where they are growing, the berries can be good to pick well into October.)
Here, then, are two simple recipes for making the most of blackberries.
Blackberry and Apple Jam
1½lb (675g) blackberries
1½lb (675g) cooking apples
3lb (1.3kg) sugar
A little water (no more than a cupful)
Peel, core and slice the apples and add them with the blackberries and water to a suitably-sized pan. Heat slowly, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is nicely softened, then fold in the sugar.
Bring to the boil then simmer gently, stirring regularly to prevent the jam sticking to the pan.
The jam has reached setting point when a teaspoonful turned on to a cold saucer develops a thin skin as it cools, which wrinkles when you pull a finger through it. There is no need to add pectin as the natural sugars in the fruit are sufficient to set the jam.
Sterilise the jars by washing and rinsing in hot water then placing them in a very low oven until needed. After filling, place a waxed paper disc (shiny side down) on top of the jam and screw the cap on tightly straight away: let the jam cool as little as possible before sealing the jars.
This should make five jars. For greater or lesser quantities, simply keep the proportions of each fruit the same and use the same weight of sugar as fruit.
1lb (450g) blackberries
3oz (75g) caster sugar
3oz (75g) soft brown sugar
6tbsp butter, melted
4oz (125g) self raising flour
Gently mix together the blackberries and caster sugar, being careful not to break up the berries if possible, then put the mixture into a 1.5 pint ovenproof dish lightly greased with butter.
Beat the egg and brown sugar together, then stir in the melted butter and add the milk. Sieve the flour into this mixture then fold together lightly until a smooth batter results.
Slowly pour the batter over the berry mixture then place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes at gas mark 4/180C/350F or until the sponge is firm and golden cloloured.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sugar and serve hot with custard or cream.