Monday, 6 September 2010

Ways with Blackberries and Elderberries: Liqueurs

Blackberries.  We all know and love eating them, especially in crumbles, pies and jam - which I made later, as you'll see.  But this year's harvest was motivated by that finest of things: strongly flavoured, sweet, ladylike ALCOHOL.

At a party many weeks ago now I ordered a Bramble from the bar, a combination of Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon juice and blackberry liqueur - Creme de Mures.  Don't ask me the proportions, all I know is that they're delicious and I shared my love of them with some friends.  One said that it was tasty, but that she'd prefer a vodka-based drink to gin, not being a gin fan.  From then on my quest was sealed - I must make Sue some blackberry vodka, and some thicker, more traditional creme for making my own Brambles at home!

To the interwebs I went, and scoured many websites (most of them, to my despair, American, and obsessed with 'cups') to find the best recipes.  With these in mind I scoured many bushes on Wimbledon Common, looking for the blackest and least spider-covered fruit.

TOP TIP:  When you are going blackberrying, take with you a very large container - even if you don't fill it it's easier to chuck berries into from a small distance without missing - and the kitchen scissors.  With these you can manipulate thorny branches and cut away large leaves to reveal hidden berries, and reach your hand through to gather in safety.  If possible, don't wear a Gore-Tex raincoat as I did, they catch thorns worse than anything on the planet.

Along the way I also managed to chop down many bunches of elderberries from nearby carparks.  Pluck these in entire bunches and de-stem in the kitchen, or if you need more room in your containers take a break from harvesting to bibble the berries off at leisure on a grassy knoll.  Don't eat the red or green ones - they're a bit cyanidey, but the ripe black ones are fine!

Haha!  Bounty collected, I applied conversion charts to the wretched 'cups' of my recipes and acquired the requisite amount of alcohol and sugar.  I now present the two recipes I used, each delicious in its own way, each suitable for scaling up or down to suit your own harvest.

Creme de Mures with red wine

1.5 kg blackberries
2 litres of good red wine
large amounts of sugar

large tub
large bowl
large saucepan

Soak any labels off the bottles.  Wash and crush the fruit, add the wine and 'macerate' (basically soak) for 48 hours.  You should be able to do this in the tub you used to gather the berries.  Weigh a large bowl; filter the juice into it and calculate the weight of the juice.  Add the same weight of sugar to the liquid.  Bring to the boil and boil for five minutes; allow to cool, and bottle.  A funnel is essential; place the bottle on a wad of kitchen paper to make clearing up spills easy, or bottle over the sink.

Creme de Mures with Vodka

1kg blackberries
1 litre vodka
1/4 litres water
350g sugar

Wash and crush the fruit, add the vodka, and macerate 24 hours.  Strain, reserve the vodka, and put the strained fruit into the water for another 24 hours.  Strain this mixture and add the sugar to the water.  Mix with the vodka, and bottle.

Elderberry Cassis

Remember those elderberries?  Well, I was also looking at cassis recipes, figuring that if anything was a kindred spirit of these tiny black fragrant fruits it was blackcurrants.  Unfortunately I shan't know until November, following the recipe, whether my experiment with elderberry cassis was successful, so I shall save that post for later.  At the moment I have two bottles of vodka filled with slowly paling berries, the liquid getting purpler and purpler every day.  It looks promising....!

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