For a full week, the blackberries would ripen
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot
Seamus Heaney - Blackberry Picking
Love blackberries, the mix of sharp and sweet and the extraordinary depth of shiny blackness, the tiny bursts of liquid released from their myriad of tiny dimples, the juice stains face and fingers and clothes. Food to make you smile.
With absolute certainty I associate them with autumn. How wrong I can be? Turns out that cultivated varieties ripen mid July and they are abundant through August and much of September. Then comes Devil Spit Day - I kid you not - on September 29th, which is when Satan spits on all the unpicked fruit. Really no putting them in your mouth after that!
Last week I bought a pudding sleeve with which to make steamed puddings. It may still be lovely and warm in London but one of the myriad joys of a steam oven is the fact it doesn't heat the kitchen, only the food, so it's great to use any time. The pudding sleeve is a funny little metal contraption in two parts that slot together and clip shut which comes with a tiny booklet of suggested recipes. Very pleased with my purchase I asked the man to choose what he'd like as the inaugural delight. Being the cakey pig in our relationship, with a particular fondness for trad Brit, he is far more qualified than me to take such decisions - and I was certain he would choose spotted dick. No. He liked the sound of apple and blackberry duff.
No problem. Except it's not autumn and I was sure there would be no blackberries. At my local fruit shop on Brixton Road on Saturday I discovered tiny boxes of well past it berries, from Kent. They smelt like they'd been kept in the dark since last autumn so wasn't tempted. Talk about not making the connection! In Jellied Eel, a magazine from Sustain that I flick through but don't warm to, there was a list of what's in season this month. Top of the fruit list? Blackberries. You really can learn something every day.
The main display at the entrance of the local Waitrose when I went in Monday afternoon? Blackberries. So I grabbed a punnet, a big Bramley apple and a packet of suet. Duff it would be.
Apple & Blackberry Duff
6 servings - with lashings of cream!
150g self raising flour
1/2 level tspn baking powder
25g caster sugar
75g shredded suet - ask your butcher or buy Atori from a shop
5-6 tbspns (fridge) cold water
1 large Bramley apple - peeled, cored and diced
1/2 level tspn ground cinnamon
1 tbspn caster sugar
100-150g fresh blackberries
If you have a pudding sleeve grease it lightly but thoroughly. If not, dampen and then flour one side of a cloth or tea towel.
Combine the flour, baking powder, 25g caster sugar and the suet in a bowl. Add the cold water and mix to a soft, but not sticky, dough.
Lightly flour the bench top and roll the dough out to a rectangle roughly 18 x 30 cms.
Arrange the diced apple over the dough, leaving a clear 1-2 cm border all the way round. Sprinkle the apple with cinnamon and the tablespoon of caster sugar. Dot the blackberries over the top.
Turn the clear edges of the long sides in over the beginning of the fruit, so that the filling is secured. Then, from the short edge closest to you, swiftly roll the dough to encase the filling.
Place the duff in the base (the slotted part) of the greased pudding sleeve. Engage the top part of the sleeve in the slots and secure the clip.
If you are using a cloth, put the rolled duff onto the short edge of the cloth and roll tightly, then sucure the ends with string.
Either way, steam for 90 minutes.
Serve immediately with thick cream or a dollop of crème fraiche.