My foraging opportunities may be a lot more limited in London, but I am finding consolation currently in the glut of blackberries.
These thorny bushes, like foxes, are perfectly at home in an urban environment. If you get a suburban train in London you can usually spot blackberries growing in abundance alongside the railway line, tormenting would-be pickers with their inaccessibility.
Your nearest common is a good place to start the blackberry hunt. Slightly wild ones are better than those that are too much like a huge and well-kept lawn. Common edges are particularly good hunting ground, so you might want to seek a common that is bordered by back gardens or a railway line rather than ending next to a road, where you are less likely to get blackberry bushes. Tooting Bec Common is absolutely full of them - much to my relief. (The blackberries are helping to make up for the fact that the nearest I am getting to wild plums is looking at expensive punnets of them at farmers' markets.)
Unfortunately I have been too lazy to weigh them but I have filled a one litre ice-cream tub six or seven times over. It's difficult to eat that many blackberries at once, so I have been freezing most of them. Blackberries freeze well - the best way is to spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet or similar, and then transfer them into a freezer bag or plastic box once they are frozen.
Much of the time I don't do anything more exciting with blackberries than scatter them over my morning muesli. But if I am going to get a bit more creative, these are my favourite dishes:
- Blackberry pavlova. You can use ready made meringue nests - top with whipped cream and plenty of blackberries. I love the colour contrast. Or make your own family size pavlova - whisk three egg whites (four if you want a really big one) and once the egg whites are in stiff peaks, gradually whisk in 6oz of caster sugar (8oz if you have used four egg whites). Pile onto greaseproof paper (on top of a baking sheet) in a circular shape and bake for an hour and 10 minutes at gas mark 1. Turn off the oven and leave it in the oven overnight to dry out. Top with cream and blackberries as above.
- Same ingredients, different format will make blackberry Eton Mess. You need to crush some of the blackberries (leave others whole), and fold together with whipped cream and meringue pieces. This is ideal if your meringues have broken anyway.
- Layer blackberries, whipped cream and meringue pieces in a glass with ice-cream to make a sundae. You might want to cook the blackberries with a little sugar so you get more sauce - leave a few berries raw for decoration. Vanilla ice-cream works well here but if you want something more exciting you could try flavours like fudge or toffee, honeycomb or even stem ginger.
- Melon and blackberries. Cut a ripe melon into cubes, scatter with blackberries. This works for breakfast or dessert, maybe even a starter. Charentais or other sweet orange-fleshed melon works best.
- Blackberry shortcake. Shortcake base, whipped cream (clotted cream if you want it even richer) blackberries on top. You can add an extra layer of each if you want it to look even more special.
I think there will be blackberries around until at least the end of the month - so make the most of it. If you have any favourite blackberry recipes, please do let me know what they are.