Blackberry time of year

Katharine Green
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One of the joys of travelling on foot is that it gives you so much more time to appreciate what is going on around you. Whether it be encountering a mouse running across your path, or wild flowers in the hedgerow. We surely use more of our senses when out walking than any other form of exercise. I am writing this from the North Norfolk coast where the smell of the salty sea air and sound of birdsong are hard to ignore, as are the ripe blackberries…..

We had a successful time scrumping yesterday, which reminded me of the hundreds of different, often unexpected pleasures one can get from going for a walk. Not only did we manage to gather about 15 ripe figs from a tree overhanging the road, but we then walked through the village allotments to find a sign saying 'Gratius' with a pair of overgrown beetroot and a courgette next to it.

This time of year for me is always symbolic with picking blackberries, and Nordic walking is the perfect way to spot where the best blackberries are. It is not so commonly known that blackberries are a ‘superfood’ and like blueberries and acai, blackberries are loaded with potent antioxidants including anthocyanins, flavonoids, poylphenols, and cancer-fighting ellagic acid. In fact, in terms of sheer concentration of antioxidants, blackberries rank higher than almost any other North American foods. A 2006 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reported that blackberries’ antioxidant content is far above that of other foods. But unlike pomegranate or the more popular berries, they have received far less attention. Perhaps they don’t seem exotic enough, since they don’t come from the Amazon or Morocco. But pedigree aside, they are titans of protective, age-defying nutrition. The fruits are good sources of vitamin E, contain some beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and provide other vitamins and minerals as well.

Perhaps one of the factors that has prevented blackberries from achieving superstar status is the quantity of seeds they contain. Each berry has dozens of crunchy little seeds, and not everyone enjoys this. For those that don’t, I recommend cooking them with a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon, then sieve the mixture to produce the delicious dark nectar. This can be stored in the fridge or freezer and used in so many different ways, whether adding to crumble or other fruits to make a compote.

Blackberries make excellent jams, but for me nothing beats my family favourite, bramble jelly.

Bramble Jelly

Simply put the brambles in a pan, and just cover them with water. If you don’t have very many blackberries you can pad it out with some chopped apples, which also help the setting. Simmer until the fruit is disintegrating into the water. Remove from the heat, and strain into a large bowl through a jelly bag or muslin. When as much liquid as possible has drained and squeezed through, measure the liquid and pour into the rinsed out saucepan. For each 1 pint (600ml) of liquid add 1 lb (450g) of granulated or preserving sugar. Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar completely in the fruit juice, then bring to the boil and boil fast. After 10 minutes’ boiling, pull the pan off the heat and drop some on to a cold saucer. Wait for it to cool, then push the liquid with your fingertip, if it wrinkles then it’s set. If it does not wrinkle, replace the pan on the heat and boil fast for a couple more minutes, then test again. Using a small jug or ladle with a lip, pour the jelly into warmed jars, cover with waxed paper discs and seal with cellophane and rubber bands when cold. Delicious eaten on hot buttered toast or added to a meat casserole.

So when your are not thinking too hard about your Nordic walking technique remember to make the most of what our wonderful Suffolk countryside has to offer!

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