Lucy Antal is a longtime friend of Transition Liverpool, and a creator of some truly wonderful foodie goodness. So when we saw some of her recent tweets on blackberries, we just had to pester her for a blog post and recipe.
Here at the Alchemic Kitchen we have a principle of not wasting edible food. If we can turn it into something, we do. That extends to edibles that might not at first glance seem promising but with a little alchemy we can change spent beer grain into granola, citrus peels and apple cores into tisanes, sour milk into cheese, and coffee grounds into brownies.
We collect food from the wholesale fruit and veg market, gardens and local farms that could be deemed unsellable or is being discarded because it’s too big, too small, too wonky or just too much. Gluts are our friend. We preserve and process this spare food into a range of sauces, jams, pickles, marmalades and chutneys which we then retail to support our community work, teaching and demonstrating ways to make use of ALL your food, love your leftovers and help change people from passive consumers to active food citizens. Part of that work includes basic kitchen skills, building confidence and most importantly, helping to create equal access to fresh food for all.
We also like to get out in to our urban (and countryside) landscapes to run Gleans – foraging and picking food that might otherwise be abandoned. We work directly with farmers if we are going on their land – always get permission! – but we have a great relationship with many local farms in Lancashire and Cheshire that are pleased to see their hard work growing food isn’t totally wasted if the market doesn’t want it. Sadly, this is a thing born out of our centralised food system, which has created an artificial demand for fruit and vegetables all year round, irrespective of seasonality, and within strict parameters of size, shape and appearance.
Nature doesn’t work in straight lines, so in order to meet their contracts with big retailers, farmers often over grow by up to 30% to ensure the uniformity demanded by the wholesale market. This leaves a surplus, and that’s where we step in with the Feedback Gleaning Network – you can sign up here as a volunteer picker or to set up your own group.
On a smaller scale, there’s a tremendous amount of free food available in our urban spaces as well. Remnants of old orchards now incorporated into public spaces, accidental growing trees from discarded apple cores, tangles of wild raspberries and blackberries, elderflowers and elder berries, wild garlic and more. The key is to a) always be sure what you are picking b) ask permission if it’s not on publically accessed land and c) don’t take it all.
This year is a wonderful year for wild fruit. The benign neglect of our parks and green spaces (we mow the grass and that’s about it as far as maintenance goes), has led to an absolute flourishment of blackberries across the Liverpool City Region. The hot spring and somewhat wetter summer has produced thousands of juicy blackberries, and earlier than expected. Now is the time to get picking them, they are starting to go over but there’s still plenty out there. Take a take out box – they’re the ideal size and prevent the berries getting bashed in a bag – and fill it with ripe berries.
Blackberries ripen at different stages so it’s perfectly possible to have ripe berries next to still green ones. You don’t need to wait for the whole cluster to ripen, pick off the black ones and come back for the others in a week. Ripe
berries will literally fall off into your hands, you shouldn’t have to tug. Once you get them home, give them a quick immersement in cold water to dislodge any hitchhikers and drain in a sieve. Let them dry a little and then you can either open freeze them – spread out on a plate to keep them from lumping together, and then once frozen you can pour them into a bag for storing, or you can make something delicious to eat right now.
Nature’s very clever. With absolute serendipity, the blackberries are available at the same time as plums, damsons, apples and elderberries – all of which beautifully complement each other. Blackberry and apple crumble is a sensory delight, with the tangy dark juices of the blackberries staining the sweet apples and bubbling up through a crunchy porridge oat infused crust. Plums and blackberries go well together in a dark jam or you can put apples, blackberries and elderberries with bay to make a jelly perfect for cheese.
Blackberry and apple crumble – serves 6
900g mixed apples – quartered and cored (if you only have sharp cooking apples, add a little extra sugar)
50g demerara sugar
225g plain flour
55g soft brown sugar (or demerara)
125g porridge oats or muesli
150g cold unsalted butter
NB we don’t peel the apples, as most of the nutrients are close to the skin but it’s up to you.
Also, you can use plain white sugar if that’s what you have in.
Preheat your oven to 170°C, Gas Mark 3.
Put the quartered apples in a bowl and mix them up a bit. Mix the cinnamon with the demerara sugar in a separate bowl. Put half the apples in an oven dish and sprinkle with a third of the sugar mixture. Add the blackberries and sprinkle with the second third of sugar mixture. Cover with the remaining apples and add the remaining sugar and cinnamon mixture. Pop in the oven for 20 minutes until the juices begin to run and the apple has softened. Give it a good stir. Taste and if too tart, add a little more sugar.
To make the crumble topping: Put the flour in a bowl, then stir in the sugar and the oats/muesli Cut the butter into small cubes (or grate it), add to the mixture and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture is the texture of breadcrumbs. Don’t make it too fine. The chunky bits are what makes a crumble interesting. Scatter the crumble mixture on top of the fruit, but don’t pat down. Leave it loose.
Bake the crumble for about 30 mins. Keep an eye on the top. The sugar should go golden, not black. Serve with homemade custard, Greek yogurt or ice cream. Also good cold.
Lucy is a cook, preserve maker & occasional writer who really enjoys eating and sharing the culinary delights of the world around her.