One of the great joys of the autumn season are blackberries, or brambles as they are known in Scotland and north England.
Searching for and picking blackberries is a happy pastime, especially for city dwellers like me normally too ignorant and afraid to go anywhere near any other edible wild berries, flowers or mushrooms. So every autumn I am found foraging in hedgerows, neglected park corners and canal paths while carefully avoiding the al fresco drinking spots of wild drinking (always assume that the contents of a pile of empty drinking cans will have found their way into the nearby blackberry bushes in one way or another).It’s a satisfying and content moment heading home through an autumnal red and gold sunset, hands smarting with briar scratches and stained with purple-red bramble juice, with a bag full of dark fruit ready to be turned into puddings, jams and sauces.
One of the best and easiest things to do with blackberries is make blackberry whisky. This recipe came from my old friend Ed Cannon who runs the excellent and long-established Langthorns Plantery and garden centre in Essex, and is frequently producing all kinds of fruit-steeped alcohol such as strawberry vodka or damson gin.
The result is bottles of beautifully coloured deep black purple-red liquid in a variety of old bottles slowly drank through the rest of the year with often a bottle reserved for the Christmas table. Even my wife, who like many a proud Scot hates whisky and the sound of bagpipes, is mystified by the concept of munro bagging and avoids the Highlands at all costs, loves her seasonal blackberry whisky.
800g of blackberries (wild are best for depth of flavour but supermarket will do the trick, as will any frozen blackberries)
600g of sugar
1 litre whisky (decent blended whisky like Famous Grouse is good enough. Don’t use gut rot cheap stuff or expensive malts.)
Since using the original recipe I have refined it by using less sugar as I prefer it less sweet. I now use 400g of sugar per 1 litre whisky and you could possibly use even less depending on the sweetness of the berries; wild berries tend to be more tart than supermarket.
Put all into a jar or a bottle and shake daily (or every now and then) for at least a month. Some keep it for a year but if you shake it every few days for a month or two it will still produce that deep, rich, luscious taste.
Bottle and drink neat or mixed with apple juice! That’s seriously it for the nectar of autumn.
Once you have finished with the remains of the steeped fruit you can use it to make Christmas chutney.
Steeping other fruits
Since making blackberry whisky I have also made raspberry gin (same recipe as above but use 200g as raspberries are so sweet), damson gin, fig vodka and vodka with vanilla essence and cinnamon sticks. You can also try mixing vodka with the sugar and zest of fruit like oranges and grapefruit.
Half the fun is having strange potions and bottles brewing and steeping in the cupboard. The other half is of course drinking it and using it for cocktails. Friends and I have occasionally toyed with the idea of forming a seasonal quarterly evening club to imbibe and toast the fruits of our steeping labours. One day…
Never doubt the genius of the British for inventing a social occasion for a drink or a drink for a social occasion.