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Picking free food from the hedgerows

brambles2This is a bumper autumn season for fruit.  In the UK we have a “magnificent” crop of apples, and plums have been good.  I’ve been making fruit compotes with apples, plums and blueberries.  But one really nice autumn treat is brambles, and there are plenty of them this year.  In England they are called blackberries, but in parts of Scotland they are called by the same name as the bush that produces them.  From the Isle of Arran comes a delicious bramble and pear jam that a friend brings me back.  However, the real delight is free food plucked straight from the hedgerows, and that’s what I was doing in Cambridge last weekend.

The great thing about brambles is that they don’t all come at once.  Over the course of more than a month different parts of the bush produce ripe brambles.  I spent a happy twenty minutes in the sunshine picking enough for maybe three apple and bramble crumbles or pies.  I’ll be able to do the same for the next few weekends.  They are nutritious as well as tasty, with a lovely sharp tang that is softened by brown sugar.  Wild brambles are not as big or as luscious as the cultivated variety available from shops or market stalls, but they are packed with taste.

Brambles freeze well.  I wash them and dry them before popping them in the freezer.  When taken out to use in pies and crumbles they taste just the same as fresh ones, and they keep for months.  You rarely use them by themselves because they seem to go naturally with apples, though I have used them to make blackberry syllabub and blackberry fool.  It’s not just the taste; the fact that they are free food picked yourself from the hedgerows is part of their charm.

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