“Autumn days, when the grass is jewelled, and the silk inside a chestnut shell” – Wordsworth? Nope, legendary school hymn. Good work Estelle White, composer of this schooltime gem. The excited shoutiness encouraged, and, I believe, required by this hymn is happening inside me, right now. About Autumn. Sad? Yes, probably. But Autumn is there for me, same as last year, even though a job currently isn’t.
Let me explain. I’m sorry for the long gap between posts. I’m trying pretty hard to get a real person’s job, you see – success – as of yet, unconfirmed. The changing seasons thus clearly fill me with dread and panic, as it becomes clear that we are entering Autumn, technically a WHOLE SEASON on from graduation, and I still haven’t found a job yet (I might even use the word ‘unemployed’ and go to the Job Centre before the week is through…sob).
Other than that, however, there is nothing, in my opinion, to dislike about Autumn. This is where foraging really comes to the fore, as there is just so much to reap every time you walk through any open spaces (bet you haven’t said ‘reap’ for a while. No, me neither…). Whether old hand, or complete novice, Autumn is the perfect time to start.
Though I am now all words synonymous with ‘keen’ (avid? zealous? yup, all of those) about foraging, I am no expert (fungi for example…sigh. Hard. Hard and scary. Going on a fungus foray next week, though, I hope, so I’m looking forward to some mycological madness).
So, in the vein of trying new things, I will start with a recipe which uses the thing you have ALWAYS foraged for in Autumn, whether you thought you were a ‘forager’ or not – blackberries. Yes, as you’ve noticed, Autumn makes me exclaim about nature in an irritatingly Romantic fashion. Just get the image right – me, at home, in my pjs, unemployed, getting excited about blackberries. Yep, you’ve got it. That’s me, an illiterate Wordsworth. (Dunno if he did any foraging though, so I might have him on that one). So, here comes a litany of Autumnal recipes to keep all you unemployed, graduate, nature-loving foragers (just me, then? Oh, so lonely!) occupied, as the golden light becomes more precious, the leaves become more crispy, and I become more excited about the C-word (not THAT C-word! The C-word where Santa comes, obviously)!
So, to begin:
Yes, chutney! Jam’s easy, and obvious – if you make sure they aren’t all over-ripe, you should have enough pectin in there to simply whack in equal amounts of sugar and jar it. Last year I added lemon, as my berries were a little bit ripe, and a bit of nutmeg. Don’t know why. Bit different. Nice I’d say.
Chutney however, is a new ball game. I love chutney. And I am certainly not implying that it’s hard to make – it isn’t. Blackberries makes a tart yet fruity chutney to put a smile in your storecupboard as the season becomes less plentiful, and you realise you aren’t bored of the ‘blackberry-and-apple’- pudding prefix anymore.
Ideally, leave it a month or so to begin to develop flavour. Properly sterilised, you could be eating it all the way to next year (but I doubt it’ll last that long)! I keep it in the fridge once opened. Here is a rough recipe, but measurements and spice choices are basically a matter of taste and experimentation. if you don’t like anything, just change it and see what happens! Halve the amount with no problems. This made me 5 good jars.
500g Blackberries (pick over to remove any stalk, and any naughty, wormy additions)
2 small Onions (or 1 large. I prefer red onions here), sliced thinly
5 small Apples (or 2-3 normal eating size. Bitter are best – the ones on our tree at home are pretty gross – perfect! If you dislike them raw, chuck ’em in!) Slightly less in weight, once prepped, to your blackberries. Core, peel and chop into 2cm-ish cubes
1tsp Mustard Powder
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
2cm-squared piece of fresh Ginger, peeled and chopped very finely (for the fresh, zingy taste) // OR // 1-2 tsp of ginger powder (for a more typical, and sweet, preserve taste. I actually prefer powder here, or a bit of both)
Raisins (an overflowing handful)
150g Soft Brown Sugar (or Golden Caster works fine. Sugar to your taste – you can go up to 220g-ish, or down from here. Up to you, but this suits me – not too sweet, as you have apples and raisins to counteract the sharpness)
175ml vinegar (I prefer an equal mix of red wine vinegar and cider vine
gar here, but white wine vinegar works fine too)
Salt and Pepper
Before starting, sterilise your jars. I used to clean them well with hot soapy water and then dry them upside down in a low oven, but I’ve recently garnered a better method – fill your (clean) jars to the top with water and place in the oven at around 150degrees. When they boil they are completely sterilised. (You’re putting jams and chutneys into this glass at scalding temperatures, so the glass should be fine – I’ve had no explosions, and neither has my dear aunt, chutney and jam queen, who has been at it her whole life)!
Add all dry ingredients (except salt and pepper) to a decent size saucepan.
Splash in half the vinegar and stir for at least 5 minutes until the blackberries burst and begin to make everything purple.
Add the sugar and the rest of the vinegar and cook until it’s at the consistency you like – for firmish apples and a liquidy consistency, jar after 10mins or so of cooking. I like my apples visibly separate from the chutney but
not crisp, the blackberries softened to a pulp, and some moisture removed – so that it sits obediently by your cheese, rather than anything too runny. For this consistency jar after 30-40mins.