It was my birthday the other weekend, and I celebrated it in the best way – blackberry picking on a long walk with the dogs, exploring a local landmark, and then making some yummy blackberry jam. Ste was recovering from being ill and I was exhausted from being constantly up and down to London so it was exactly the kind of cosy day I needed to celebrate turning 34.
We started off the day with a trip to Castle Hill, an iron-age hillfort and a local landmark you can spot from miles away, topped with the impressive Victoria Tower which was built to celebrate the last Victoria’s Silver Jubilee. Ste had found out that the tower was open to visitors that day, and I’d never been, despite lots of dog walks coming close, so we thought it was a great chance to go and have a look, despite the dodgy weather which looked like we might get very wet.
We left the dogs in the car whilst we explored the Tower (Toto is lazy and doesn’t like stairs), which was quite a climb, but the view from the top was absolutely worth it. On the one side the sky was grey with hazy rainclouds obscuring the view, which gave way to blue skies with fluffy white clouds on the other side.
You could see the whole of Huddersfield from the top, and to the Pennines in the distance. You could even see where we live, in a wooded valley between villages on the west of the town. It was obviously raining at home though!
We then got the dogs from the car and had a walk around the hilltop, through the pretty purple heather and all the brambles heaving with fruit. This photo makes me happy – the imposing clouds in the background, and the fact that Ste’s hoodie matches the heather. It’s the small things!
I had been meaning to go blackberrying for ages, and this seemed like a great chance, but we had nothing to carry them in, except for a dog poo bag. So, er, yes, we used a couple of those. Not a scented one, I hasten to add! Quite handy really.
Billy and Toto got kind of bored hanging around waiting for us to search out all the good berries, but suddenly things took on a very interesting turn for Billy – he spotted hundreds of bunnies in the heather below us! Now, he probably has the most expressive ears of any dog I’ve ever known, and can lift them up quite awesomely doing a fine Yoda impression, but I have never seen them look quite this ridiculous – a combination of serious excitement and blustery winds I think! Isn’t he a handsome devil?
The golden rule of foraging is that you should never take it all – always leave something for others to take, and for the birds to eat. Even if we’d kept picking for hours, there would still have been plenty – the hill was absolutely teeming with fat juicy berries, and best of all, no roads in sight so no horrible fumes covering them. I ate quite a few whilst picking – I know lots of people will be horrified at this, because, yes, sometimes there are creepy crawlies inside, but I grew up in the countryside eating all manner of stuff straight from the bushes, and when I was a child we would go out riding on our horses and spend the entire ride stuffing our faces with them. Our ponies’ necks would be stained with purple, as would our jodhpurs, but blackberry season definitely made for some entertaining (some of us may have fallen off reaching a little too far in pursuit of the perfect berry) and yummy rides!
When we got home, I grabbed a few apples from the tree in our garden (which is proving to be too abundant for me to keep up with at the moment), diced them up and added them to a large saucepan with the rinsed berries, some water and some lemon juice. I boiled it for about half an hour until the apples had broken down enough, then added the sugar and boiled it some more. I ended up with five jars of it. You can find my easy jam recipe here (just use berries/apples instead of figs) if you want precise measurements, but really, I rarely bother and it always turns out pretty well!
Later we ate it for tea in front of the fire (it has got really quite chilly round here of late), on my freshly baked sourdough bread. Heaven.
I saved a few berries as well for our Sunday breakfast – French Toast with berries and honey Skyr – soooo delicious, the kind of breakfast weekends were made for.
There are still plenty of blackberries around us- it is not too late if you haven’t been and picked any yet. One of my favourite bloggers (and fellow north of England dweller) A Thrifty Mrs has some great picking tips, as well as advice on how to freeze them here. Oh, and El also has an awesome recipe for blackberry vodka which may well happen this weekend. And if you’re in the South and they are already over (I was at home in Somerset recently and they were already ripe there, whereas I had to wait another few weeks for them in Yorkshire) just Pin this recipe for next year!