Purple craze

Out with the strawberries and cream, in with the darker, more characterful fruits and dishes of autumn. Mark Hix picks some of his favourites
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A few weeks ago it seemed impossible, but now those delicious English summer berries we'd waited so long for just don't seem as thrilling as they did when the season began.

A few weeks ago it seemed impossible, but now those delicious English summer berries we'd waited so long for just don't seem as thrilling as they did when the season began.

In their place come the later, darker varieties to tide us over the autumn months as the evenings get shorter and the leaves start to rustle. Part of the pleasure is picking them yourself - blackberries and elderberries, anyway, which are hard to buy - then you can freeze them to last even longer.

Admittedly they are not as sweet and juicy as strawberries, raspberries and other summer fruits, but blackberries (or brambles) and elderberries, once they are cooked and sweetened, are just the thing to finish off a dinner as the evenings get colder and we start thinking of pies and crumbles.

I can never resist stopping if I drive past a tree of dangling elderberries, or a fruit-laden blackberry bush while I'm cycling with the kids or out gathering autumn mushrooms. It's certainly a bonus if the funghi are scarce and you need to return home with something that's edible. When they're so abundant and as free as air, a blackberry pie, jam or jelly is irresistible.

Though we'll go out and buy all sorts of exotic jellies and preserves, turning the fruits that grow wild in nearby woods and hedgerows into jellies and jams is a dying pastime. I'd like to encourage it, though. In the winter months to be able to offer blackberry jelly with some blue cheese to guests, or as a snack, is a real treat, and luxurious because it's now so unusual.

Make cocktails suit the seasons with blackberries, too. Instead of the more familiar cassis, try champagne mixed with a little crème de mûre, the blackberry instead of blackcurrant version. Or add freshly blended and strained blackberries with a fresh blackberry as a garnish as a gorgeous autumn cocktail. Replace the champagne with vodka or gin and some ice, and you've got a blackberry martini.

Blackberries aren't the only late summer variety, but they're by far the most widely available. This year they've come early. Others, like the loganberry and tayberry, have almost vanished and unless you grow them at home there's not much chance of experiencing them. It seems a shame we're so stuck on raspberries and strawberries, because even they can become a bit tedious by the end of the summer. If people are prepared to buy sour Dutch cross-bred blackberries that look better than they taste, surely someone out there could revive and farm tay and logan berries. Are they really that difficult to grow, is their yield too poor for commercial sales, or do people just not know what they are and what to do with them?

I've concentrated on berries that are easier to buy or pick. It can't be a coincidence that all these recipes call for generous dollops of crème fraîche or Jersey cream. Ivory cream against the deep purple fruit - it's enough to turn prose purple.

Blueberry pie

Serves 4

Blueberry pie is a comforting sort of dessert, especially with thick soured cream or crème fraîche in the American style. Individual tarts travel well if you're risking one last picnic to spin out summer as long as possible. Instead of fresh Dorset blueberries - which are harvested into September - you could use frozen ones, or make the pie with blackberries, but you'll probably need to add more sugar to taste for the filling. The English blueberries are sweeter than imports. Either make 4 individual pies in 10cm x 3cm-deep tins, or one large one in a 16-18cm x 4cm-deep tin.

for the pastry

125g unsalted butter
180g caster sugar
1 large egg, beaten
250g plain flour
flour for dusting

600g blueberries, fresh or frozen
120g caster sugar
1tbsp water
1tsp arrowroot or cornflour
1 egg white, mixed with 1tbsp caster sugar
150g sour cream or crème fraîche
Icing sugar for dusting

First make the pastry. In a food processor, mixer or by hand, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Slowly add the beaten egg - scraping the sides of the bowl every so often if you are using a mixer - until they are mixed well, then slowly fold in the flour. Mould the dough into 2 balls, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry on a floured table to about 3mm thick. Cut 4 discs large enough to line 10cm x 3cm-deep individual tart tins and leaving about 1¿2cm overlapping the edge. Cut 4 more discs to fit the tops. Or adjust accordingly for one larger tart tin. Lightly grease the tins with butter and line with the larger disc of pastry to just above the top of the tin. Leave to rest for 1 hour in the fridge.

Meanwhile put the blueberries into a saucepan with the caster sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Dilute the arrowroot with a little water, add to the blueberries and simmer for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Transfer into a bowl and leave to cool.

Pre heat the oven to 200°C/390°F/Gas mark 6.

Remove the pastry from the fridge about 10-15 minutes before you need it, in order to soften, then spoon the blueberry mixture into the pie linings, taking care not to include too much juice. Brush round the edges of the pie tops with the sweetened egg white then turn over, laying the lids on to the filling, and sealing the sticky edges together with your fingers. Brush the tops with more egg white, make a small slit with the point of a knife in the centre then bake the pies on a tray for 20- 25 minutes until golden. Turn the oven down a little if they begin to colour too much or cover them with foil. Leave to rest for about 15 minutes before turning out of the moulds.

Serve dusted with icing sugar and sour cream or crème fraîche

Apple and blackberry jelly

Serves 4

Late-fruiting blackberries are normally concocted into a crumble or stewed and made into a compote or jam to go with a creamy rice pudding. But as you know I'm a jelly freak and the marriage of apples and blackberries make a perfect light autumnal dessert with some of that thick Jersey cream. If you can get your hands on some of the rare loganberries or tayberries then I would also recommend using them.

300ml water
300ml clear apple juice
2tbsp Calvados or Somerset Royal Cider Brandy or Scrumpy Jack
200g caster sugar
15g leaf gelatine (4 sheets)
150g sweet ripe blackberries
Thick Jersey cream to serve

Bring the water to the boil, add the sugar and stir until dissolved, then remove from the heat. Soak the gelatine leaves in a shallow bowl of cold water for a minute or so until soft. Squeeze out the water, add to the syrup and stir until dissolved. Add the apple juice and Calvados, then put the jelly somewhere cool but do not let it set.

Fill individual jelly moulds or one large one with half of the blackberries, then pour in half of the cooled, but not set, jelly. Put in the fridge for an hour or so to set then top up the moulds with the rest of the blackberries and the unset jelly. This allows the berries to stay suspended in the jelly and not float to the top. Return to the fridge.

To serve, turn out the jellies or jelly and offer thick Jersey or organic cream.

Drop scones with autumn fruit compote

Makes about 8-12 drop scones

These are good for a traditional tea, breakfast or brunch or to finish off a dinner party in autumn style. You can also use the berries uncooked and just drizzle them with a little clear honey or maple syrup.

225g plain flour
1¿2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1¿2tsp cream of tartar
50g granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
About 275ml milk
Vegetable oil, to grease

for the compote

250g fruits, like blueberries, blackcurrants, loganberries and blackberries
100g caster sugar
Cream, crème fraîche or yoghurt to serve

Put the fruit and the sugar into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes to soften the fruit slightly, then leave to cool a little. If you are using frozen fruit, you may need to drain off some of the liquid that forms as they defrost before adding to the sugar. Then simply bring them to the boil and turn off the heat immediately - frozen berries will not need simmering.

Blend about one-sixth of the fruit and its juice in a liquidiser until smooth and then strain back into the fruit compote.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar. Stir in the eggs and enough of the milk to form a smooth batter. Heat a griddle pan or non-stick frying pan and rub it with a little vegetable oil. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, well spaced to allow for expansion, and let them cook for 3 minutes until bubbles rise, then turn them over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Put them on kitchen paper while you cook the rest, wiping the pan and greasing with oil again for each batch.

Serve the drop scones warmed in the oven with the warm or cold fruit compote and thick cream, crème fraîche or yoghurt.

Late summer pudding

Serves 4

This is a good way of using up an abundance of late summer fruits like blackberries, blueberries, tayberries (if you're lucky), blackcurrants and elderberries. You may need to add a little more sugar as they tend to be a little more tart than red berries. You can also use frozen fruits.

900g fruits, like blueberries, blackcurrants, loganberries and blackberries
150g caster sugar
Enough white sliced bread about 5-8mm thick, with the crusts removed, to line a 1 litre pudding basin or 4 individual ones

Put the fruit and sugar into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes to soften the fruit slightly, then leave to cool. If using frozen fruit, you may need to drain off some of the liquid that forms as they defrost, then just add them to the sugar and bring them to the boil. They won't need simmering so turn off the heat.

Blend about one-sixth of the fruit and its juice in a liquidiser until smooth and put to one side to serve with the pudding.

Line a 1 litre pudding basin with clingfilm (this will ease the turning-out process). Make a circle from a slice of bread (or 4 small ones for individual moulds) to fit the base of the pudding bowl. Cut the rest of the bread into pieces to go around the sides, overlapping them slightly and pressing the joins together with your fingers. Take the bread lining up about 1¿2-1cm above the top of the basin.

Spoon the fruit and a little of the juice into the lined basin to halfway up. Put in a slice of bread, then top up with the rest of the fruit and juice. Shape a slice of bread to fit the top, then fold the sides over that a little and bring the clingfilm into the middle of the pudding. Put a plate on top and a couple of tins (or something else heavy) to weight it down and leave overnight in the fridge to set.

To serve, run a small knife around the pudding to loosen it and turn out by inverting on a serving plate. Spoon the sauce over and serve with some thick Jersey cream.

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