Blackberry Dreams

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The hot weather we had at the beginning of June this year seems to have had an almost magical effect on fruit and vegetables. The British produce in my local fruit and vegetable shop has been fantastic and in abundance. Bags and bags of ruby red tomatoes, slender, crisp asparagus and the juiciest raspberries I’ve ever tasted.

One half of Sage Joan is the proud owner of an allotment, and when I went to visit it for the first time, I was amazed at the number of beautiful crops growing there. I don’t have a lot of growing space in my garden but I’ve been able to make the most of local, wild produce near me.

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The hedgerows near our house are peppered with glossy, plump blackberries at the moment. I have always loved picking wild blackberries, filling empty ice cream containers and lunchboxes with this beautiful, quintessentially British berry. They are normally ready for harvest towards the end of August but the hot weather seems to have sped them up this year so I’ve begun collecting early.

After I have collected my blackberries, I wash them, dry them, spread them over a baking sheet and pop them in the freezer for 15 minutes. This freezes the berries individually so that they don’t freeze in one big lump. After 15 minutes, tip the berries into a big box in your freezer and keep adding to it via the same process every time you pick more. By freezing them individually, you can take out handfuls of the black gems whenever you want some without having to defrost the whole lot.

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I normally use my blackberries in pies and crumbles but because they are so early this year, I have been making some summery dishes with them. So far, I have tried a juicy, dark fruit compote to have with yoghurt and a sprinkle of granola and fresh berries for breakfast. The same luxurious compote can be swirled into whipped cream and crumbled meringue for a stunning wild berry Eton mess.

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Another way to use the frozen blackberries is to pulse them up with a dash of water, sieve to remove the pips, then put a centimetre in the bottom of a champagne flute. Top this up with your favourite fizz, or even a measure of gin and sparkling elderflower.

My favourite is a crisp dry prosecco with this sultry blackberry presse. It is beautiful on a sunny evening in the garden – try popping a mint leaf on top for added freshness.

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