Willie spent the evening with Tom, washing and bottling the blackberries and eating some of them for supper.
Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
I had another recipe planned this week. I've been struggling to get through books in the past month, as my time shifts from cooking to writing, but recently I read one that was perfect. A dream summer book. No matter - you can have that one in a fortnight. Because this week, I have been blackberry picking.
There's a walk we take when I visit my Gloucestershire family: around the lake, across the road, up the slope, under the old train lines, and then back through the village along the stream. If it's a nice day, we may venture further, to hills or fields, but this weekend just gone, the weather wasn't particularly nice. So we stuck to the well-trodden path, and were rewarded with a seasonal bonus: the blackberries are here. I have long associated blackberry picking with this walk; I first visited the village when I was 12, on a trip to Europe we won when I was in my final year of primary school. It was late August when we came, and I remember picking blackberries in the same place - it may have even been the same plants.
In addition to crumble (a given, when blackberries are in the fruit bowl and the September rain has arrived early), I wanted to make jam. Berry jams are wonderful, and blackberry jam in particular is one of my favourites. It is even more delicious when made with bay leaves too. It is a perfect jam for early autumn - the bay is warm and fragrant and the berries are still sweet, tart and earthy.
In Magorian's brilliant Goodnight Mister Tom William, a Second World War evacuee from London, moves in with Tom, a widower who lives in the English countryside. Life in the country is healing for William, who has suffered at home at the hand of his mother. Just before the end of William's first summer with Tom, he spends an afternoon with other children residing in the village - eating scones and chocolate cake (which are new to him) and picking handfuls of blackberries to be bottled up that evening. During rationing, when sugar was much more scarce, Tom and Willie wouldn't have been able to turn all the blackberries into jam. Luckily, you can pick some up without any hassle, and the sugar and lemon will keep the fruit in your cupboard for much longer.
Blackberry and Bay Leaf Jam
Fills a 500g jar
300g granulated sugar (you can use jam sugar - which has added pectin - here, but I find that granulated works really well, and it's much cheaper)
Juice of a lemon
3 large bay leaves
Pinch flaky salt
1. Put the blackberries, lemon juice, bay leaves, sugar and salt into the saucepan. Squash the berries with a potato masher, to release their juice. They don't need to be squashed to a pulp, just break them up a bit.
2. Place the pan over a medium heat and bring the mixture to the boil. While it is coming to the boil, stir it constantly, to dissolve the sugar. This should take around five minutes. Once at a boil, allow it to bubble away for eight or so minutes, until it reaches 105C. If you don't have a thermometer, then you should place a plate in the freezer. Once the jam is looking thick, spoon some onto the freezing cold plate, let it sit for ten seconds, and then push the side of it. If it wrinkles, rather than stays as a liquid, it is ready.
3. Once the jam is ready, remove the bay leaves and let it sit for five minutes to settle, before you transfer it into the sterilised jar. Seal the jar. It will keep for six months in a cool, dark place. Store it in the fridge once it is open.
Serve with toast and butter, scones, warmed and poured over ice-cream, or between the layers of a sandwich cake.