Thursday, 23 August 2007
Summer's bounty caught up in a hedgerow
As I have said before, the cottage that we live in is surrounded almost completely on all sides by lovely orchards, full of fruit. In the springtime, we are overcome with oceans of beautiful pink blossom, and in the autumn the air is filled with the scent of ripening apples and pears. We often take our Border Collie, Jess, for long walks through the orchards, and along the hedgerows at the edge.
Hedgerows are one of the things I love most about Britain. Wire fencing over here is quite rare, instead, plots of land are divided by lovely, green and lush hedgerows. From the air it looks like a lovely, fluffy green quilt. Todd says that the ones around us are very old. He says that the way you can tell that is because there are quite number of different species of plants growing in them . . . the larger the variety of species, the older the hedgerow.
We were quite disturbed several weeks back, to see the farmer trimming the hedges with this horrible, big trimming machine. My, but it was big and noisy and . . . brutal. It didn't seem so much that they were trimming the shrubs and trees, as it seemed that they were ripping them apart, raping them and tearing off great swathes of branches. The trees in the hedgerows looked ravaged and torn. It was ugly to watch, and I could feel their pain. I suppose the farmer does know what he is doing, and it is probably a necessity, although it seems to me, there must be a better and more humane way of doing it.
Right now the hedgerows around us are just full to the brim with beautiful blackberries, their heavily laden branches bowed beneath the weight of these lovely, shiny black fruits. It is a race between the birds and us to see who can gather the most.
I like to freeze them. I place them on parchment paper lined, rimmed baking trays in single layers and then pop them into my freezer. Once they are frozen solid, I then pour them into zip lock bags. That way they are loose frozen and in the long winter months ahead I can take out just as many or as few as I need to use, at any one given time. I do the same with all my berries that I freeze.
In Canada, when my family was growing up, I used to put up pints of blackberry jelly for the winter every late summer. We lived in a rented farmhouse on the banks of the Georgian Bay at one time, and the hillside down towards the bay was stogged full of wild black berries. In the late aAugust every year, I regularly donned a long sleeved shirt and faced the brambles in my quest for the lovely black beauties. Back at home afterwards, I would make jar after jar of Blackberry jelly, to be enjoyed in the coming winter on thick slices of freshly toasted homemade bread or spread in between the soft sweet layers of a freshly baked Victorian sponge. It also made the loveliest of jam tarts. What didn't make it into the jelly pot made it into my freezer, to be enjoyed at a later date, baked up into delicious dessert bakes, muffins, cobblers and pies.
I have't made much in the way of jams and jellies since I moved over here. Todd and I are just two people, and it takes us ever so long to eat them up. So long, that I fear they will spoil long before we can get them used. Instead, I gather them up, leaving some for the birds, and what I am not able to use right away fresh, gets frozen for use in the cooler months ahead. They are lovely in crumbles and pies. A little taste of summer to light up a dreary winter's day ...
*Blackberry Pie with Streusal Topping*
Makes one 9 inch pie
You can use store-bought blackberries for this delicious pie if you wish, but I prefer to use the wild ones picked from the bramble hedges. They seem to have so much more flavour, and I suppose the effort one has to make in order to acquire them makes them taste all the better . . .
prepared pie crust to line the bottom of a nine inch pie dish
(ready made or make your own)
1/2 cup of caster sugar
2 1/2 TBS of cornflour
pinch of salt
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
the juice of 1 lemon
1 pound of fresh blackberries
3/4 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup of plainflour
1 TBS water
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup of butter softened
Preheat the oven to 205*C/425*F.
Make the streusal topping by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl until crumbly. Set aside.
Roll out the flakey pastry to about 1/8 inch thick and about 12 inches in diameter. Carefully transfer it to your pie tin. Trim the edges to about a 1/2 inch over hang. Fold this under until even with the rim of the pie dish all around and then flute the edge decoratively.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornflour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest. (I only use unwaxed lemons. Who wants to eat wax. If you don't have unwaxed lemons wash them really well in soapy water to remove the wax coating. I have a microplane that I used for zesting. It does a lovely job!) Put the blackberries in a bowl and pour this mixture over them, tossing them gently to coat. Try not to crush the berries too much. Let them sit for about fifteen minutes and then, giving them a final gentle toss, pour the whole mixture into the prepared and waiting crust. Sprinkle the top evenly with the streusal mixture. You will most likely have too much, but that's ok. Just freeze what you don't use in a zip lock bag to bring out and use another time. It goes great on muffins, coffee cakes and other things.
Place on a cookie sheet that you have lined with aluminum foil and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 to 45 minutes until the filling is all bubbly and the streusal all crunchily golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack before serving. We like to have it warm with big scoops of cold vanilla ice cream.