GARDENING: A bramble’s bounty

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BLACKBERRY week, or October half-term as we know it now, wasn’t called that for nothing when I was a kid.

It was traditionally the time families went out into the hedgerows, ruined woolly gloves and picked blackberries for bramble jelly, wine or fruit crumbles.

It’s not quite the same these days. For a start, blackberries ripen much earlier than they did in the 1970s.

Wait until the end of October and what people have missed, the birds will have eaten.

That’s why growing your own ‘bramble’ fruits makes perfect sense. They’re dead easy, cheap, productive and are even attractive, if you pick the right varieties.

I’ve grown sunberries for years. Well, it was sold as that 20 years ago, but you won’t find one called that now – it’s one of the many loganberry/tayberry crosses that are knocking around.

The canes are spiny and form an effective deterrent trained along a study trellis at the end of the garden. The main plant’s in semi-shade but that doesn’t bother it.

All it requires is cutting out the fruited canes at ground level in autumn – easy.

They also spread themselves around, by seed via the birds, or by forming a new plantlet if a cane touches the ground and producing roots – keep an eye on them. You do need to pick the very dark red/purple on a daily basis, as they ripen continuously – and if you don’t get them, the birds will (you’ll know by the purple muck which will stain your decking).

I freeze them as I go and make a conserve with them, like a looser and not-as-sweet jam. It goes very well with yoghurt or rice pudding.

They’re fruits that are better cooked than eaten raw and a few raspberries really improves their flavour.

My other bramble is a blackberry, variety Loch Maree. It’s one of the newer, more garden-friendly types, being spineless, with pink double flowers and sweet, juicy berries.

Make your own jam:

l Proportions: 2lb of bramble fruit (blackberries, tayberries, loganberries, etc) to 2lb of sugar, plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice per lb

l 1 packet of pectin powder

Put the sugar and lemon juice in a preserving pan and stir over a very low heat until it becomes a syrup, then slowly bring to the boil.

Pour the hot syrup over the fruit and leave to stand for a few hours.

Put the fruit and sugar mixture back in the preserving pan, add the pectin and heat very slowly until boiling (don’t worry if you have “toffee-like” bits – they will dissolve).

Bring to a rolling boil for 4-5 minutes, then test for a set (put a drop on a cold saucer, push it with your finger – if it wrinkles, it’s done, if not, give it another minute).

Leave to cool for 15 minutes, then skim off any scum.

Pour into clean jars which have been sterilised on a very low heat in the oven for 10 minutes.

Add a disc of waxed paper to the top of each jar, seal and allow to cool thoroughly.

Store in a cool, dark place unopened, then in the fridge once opened.

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