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  • Michael

#0051: Wild Spirit

At the height of summer, the verge which borders my garden becomes a thick, soft cloudscape of frilly, white flowers running rampant through the hedgerow, alive with the sound of bees gathering nectar.

Now however, two months closer to winter, the sun tracking noticeably lower in the sky, and the leaves showing their first hint of gold, the blossom is gone. In its place, as dark and shiny as the eyes of the robin which keenly watches as it hops from branch to branch, those same prickly brambles hang heavy with fat, ripe blackberries.

Like the hinge of my rickety old garden gate, which creaks gently in the chill breeze, blackberry season is the fulcrum on which summer swings into autumn on the Secret Coast.

There’s nothing quite like wrapping up against the dropping temperatures, and spending an hour or two foraging for berries, the weakening sun gently warming your back as you reach into the cool, damp shadows of the hedgerow.

Under coils of blue-grey smoke curling up from chimneys in the village, fingertips become stained with red juice, and as many berries disappear into impatient mouths as make it into baskets.

Foraging is great fun, and there's a sense of real achievement in cooking with ingredients you have brought home from your latest adventure. However, if you're not too familiar with the species you're looking for, it's best to take an identification book or app with you, so you can be sure you're picking the right thing. If you're in any doubt at all, leave it, do a bit more research, and come back once you are absolutely sure that you have found what you are looking for.

There are so many ways to cook with wild blackberries, but my favourite way to bring in the autumn is with a glass of bramble whisky. It’s delicious, not too sweet, and makes for a great companion to a cozy evening beside the fire as the nights draw in.

You’ll need a lot of blackberries to make this recipe, so pick plenty, but be sure to leave enough for birds and foraging animals. What’s a treat for us is essential for them, as they prepare for the long winter ahead.

So strap on your boots, delve into the hedgerows, and get picking.

One you’re home, smelling of fresh air, and weighed down with your crop, sterilise a large preserving jar by washing it with soap and water, then filling it with boiling water. When you're ready to use your jar, carefully pour out the hot water, and you're good to go.

Pick any stalks and hard, dead pieces from your blackberries, and give them a good rinse to get rid of any creepy crawlies. Place the berries in the sterilised jar, add about one tenth of their volume in light brown muscovado sugar, and pour in a whisky of your choice, until the blackberries are fully covered. Then seal the jar and move it to a cool spot, away from direct sunlight, giving it a gentle shake every few weeks to help the whisky take on all the flavour of the berries.

After six months, the whisky will have turned a deep, dark red, and will be ready for bottling, so strain the liquid through a fine filter, such as a muslin cloth, into a sealable, sterilised bottle. Don't throw away the soused berries though; they make a cheeky addition to an apple crumble or, frozen, go incredibly well with ice cream.

Then, once the bottle has cooled, there’s nothing more to do than stoke the fire, pour a dram, and raise a glass to another season turned.

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