The next in the series of Autumn Foraging posts from Scrubland Scavenger. This time we are out Foraging For Brambles (Blackberries).
In the previous post we learned some Foraging Basics such as the kind of kit you need and how to forage responsibly and safely. Now we are going Foraging for Brambles (Blackberries), the first of four autumn berries (Brambles, Sloes, Rowans, Haws) in this ‘Jewels of Autumn’ blog series.
As a sustainable forager, I do my best to gather my harvest from as close to home as possible. Avoiding long car journeys so as to minimise the carbon footprint of my foraging expeditions and keeping costs down of course! Living in the middle of the countryside, it is generally a relatively easy rule to stick to.
Foraging for Brambles
The illustrious Bramble is pretty prevalent in the Scottish Borders, and throughout the UK. So you would think it would be easy for me to find them close to home… sadly not. Despite much searching over the years of the 4 mile radius I normally stick to, I cannot find a single wild Bramble bush.
However, I do allow myself to forage in places further away from home if I am already traveling to them for another reason, like for work or (when permitted) to visit family or friends. For example, when I go to visit my friend who lives in Berwick Upon Tweed, I allow myself the indulgence of a wee bit of seaside foraging. Imagine my delight when I discovered that somewhere I regularly travel to is a great place for Foraging for Brambles with copious amount of bushes!
Once a week I travel to the central Borders and volunteer for an amazing organisation called Nature Unlimited. As their website states, they “run sessions in woodlands across the Scottish Borders, ranging from employability programmes, community projects, mental health sessions to events such as team building & birthday parties”.
As volunteers we are currently working on a small patch of woodland in the middle of one of the Border’s larger towns. Making it a safer and more accessible place for the local community. As well the actual volunteering being a really rewarding experience, there is the additional benefit that the woodland is overflowing with Bramble bushes. Upon which in recent weeks the berries have grown large and ripened. Yay! Another great spot for Foraging for Brambles!!
Most people will be well aware what a Brambleberry looks like and many of you will have been out Foraging for Brambles. No doubt many will have snacked on a few when wandering past a bush overflowing with these juicy delights. So I won’t go into massive detail regarding identification.
The Illustrious Bramble
That’s why I chose to refer to the Illustrious Bramble. They are well known and generally well respected as a tasty berry and if using the archaic definition, they are generally clearly evident in a variety of habitats across the UK at this time of year. The fruits are about 1-2cm long & black when ripe and are made up of drupelets (small individual drupes together form the berry).
It is worth remembering that bramble bushes have thorns; even the back of the leaves have little spikes. So do be careful when picking the berries. The other thing that one should bear in mind is that Bramble berries are juicy & therefore messy. Learn from my mistake and avoid light coloured clothing when Foraging for Brambles! One other wee tip… it’s always best to pick the berries which are higher than dog leg-cocking height.
Referring back to my ‘Foraging Kit’ discussed in my previous post, here is where the Spring Scales come in handy when Foraging for Brambles. The Bramble Jelly recipe I use requires 900g of Brambles. Pausing regularly to weigh the berries when I am collecting means that I get exactly the amount I need. I actually collected 1050g on this occasion because I wanted to try out a non-preserve recipe using Brambles for those of you not up for a bit of jam making (more on that later).
Making Bramble Jelly
Another tip regarding Bramble berries is to either make sure the bag you use has no holes in it. Or take a Tupperware container or plastic bowl to place your filled bag in; this ensures that you don’t lose any of the valuable juice…. you’re going to need it all to make some Bramble Jelly!
I’m not a fan of pips in my Jam. I can cope with strawberry pips, however Raspberry and Bramble berry pips get stuck in my teeth. To avoid this I like to make seedless Bramble Jelly.
Recipe for Bramble Jelly
- 900g foraged Bramble berries
- Granulated Sugar (how much you use will depend on how much juice is extracted from the fruit, but if you have at about 500g to hand that should be enough)
- 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (I use the type that comes in bottles but if you want to juice some fresh lemons, then use the juice of 2).
- 150ml of water
- Jam jars (again, how many and what size will depend on the amount of juice extracted) I generally have 4 ready, varying in size from 150ml to 350ml. I like to use smaller jars because once opened the jelly only lasts about a month or so in the fridge & I try to avoid food waste. A smaller jar is more easily used up quickly. If I fill a couple of jars and then find I don’t have enough Jelly left to completely fill another, I put the remaining Jelly into a jar and use this Jelly as soon as it has cooled & set – I call it my taster jar!
- A large, solid based pan
- I use a Jam Thermometer, but other ways of checking the setting point of your jelly are available here on the BBC Good Food website.
- A Jelly Bag (or muslin/cheesecloth) to strain out the seeds.
- A wooden spoon
- A Ladle
How I go about it:
First off, when returning from Foraging Brambles with my delicious haul of juicy berries, is to put them all (900g) in the pan with the lemon juice and water.
I gently heat the mixture until the berries start to break down. I then, carefully, using a wooden spoon push the berries against the edge of the ban to squash them and release more juice. Recently I came up with the idea of using a potato masher to crush the fruit for another jelly recipe. I have since tried it with Brambles. It works well but the potential for mess with such a juicy berry does increase exponentially!
Having crushed all the berries, I move on to the part in the process which requires patience, extracting as much of the juice as possible.
I use a jelly bag and stand which I place over a large measuring jug. You can use muslin or cheesecloth to strain out the pips although I haven’t tried this myself. I carefully ladle the crushed berry mixture into the bag and leave it overnight. The juice slowly drips through, giving you a dark rich liquid with which to make the Jelly.
To squeeze or not to squeeze
It is, without a doubt, very tempting to squeeze or push down on the mixture to speed up the dripping process. So far I have managed to restrain myself knowing that if I do force the mixture through, the jelly I end up with will end up cloudy. I like a clear jelly, so no squeezing for me! Apparently although making the end jelly cloudy, forcing the juice through the bag doesn’t affect the taste. So squeeze or not, is entirely up to you!
After patiently waiting for the juice to drip through overnight, I am rewarded in the morning by about 500ml of beautiful, rich Bramble Juice.
I never get the exact same amount of juice from the 900g of Bramble berries I use for this recipe. I have made 3 batches of Bramble Jelly this year. The first time I got about 550ml of juice, the second I got over 600ml and this time I have extracted only 500ml. Don’t worry how much juice you manage to extract, I use a simple calculation to work out how much sugar I need to add.
How much sugar?
My rule of thumb when making most jellies is to use 75g of sugar for every 100ml of juice. So, by multiplying the amount of juice you have extracted by 0.75 you will get the number of grams of sugar you should add. For example, I extracted 500ml of juice this time, so 500 x 0.75 = 375, so I added 375g of sugar to my juice.
Before adding the sugar I transfer the juice back into my (clean) solid based pan.
Sterilising jam jars
Once the sugar is in the pan, but before I turn the hob on, I sterilise my jam jars. To do this I heat my oven to 160-180c, wash my jars & lids in normal dishwashing liquid, then rinse them in hot water before placing the jars on a tray and putting in the oven… that’s the brief version! For more details follow this link to the BBC Good Food website.
Dissolving the sugar
With my jars in the oven, I then turn my hob on and begin to gently heat the mixture over a low to-medium heat, stirring the mixture all the time. The aim is to get the sugar to dissolve into the juice. When you stop feeling the grittiness of the sugar when you are stirring with your wooden spoon, then you should be pretty much there.
Once the sugar has dissolved it’s time to turn up the heat and get that liquid to the setting point. I’m not going to say how long this will take, many a time I have followed a jam or jelly recipe which has quoted an approximate time it will take to get to setting point and I have started to panic when I am well over the quoted time but nowhere near the correct temperature. My advice from these experiences is – don’t panic regarding how long it takes, focus on the temperature instead.
So, bring the liquid in your pan up to a rolling boil, then lower a jam thermometer into the liquid to test the temperature. You are aiming to get the thermometer to read 105c (220F). My thermometer very helpfully has the word ‘JAM’ next to the correct temperature
A bit of tip when using a jam thermometer, have a jug or bowl filled up with water fresh from a boiled kettle when you begin bringing your Jelly liquid up to a boil. Keep your jam thermometer in the hot water in between doing your temperature tests. I find this helps to prevent the liquid sticking to the thermometer and affecting your temperature reading.
Once your liquid gets to 105c, take the pan off the heat and carefully (they’ll be hot) take your jars out of the oven. Very carefully use a ladle to transfer the hot liquid from the pan into the jars and secure with the lids. Ta dah! Once it’s properly cooled, you have seedless Bramble Jelly to enjoy this winter!
Now I’m going to be honest with you; above I make it sound easy… but I’ve made a fair few mistakes when making Jam and Jelly. These include rock solid jelly that required a pneumatic drill to remove from the jar, jelly that didn’t set and even one incident where I blew my hob up. Don’t ask – the error I made could have happened when I was cooking anything, it just happened to be jam. So jam & jelly making isn’t inherently prone to blowing things up.
Practice makes perfect
Why am I sharing these failures with you rather than passing myself off as a faultless jelly maker? To encourage you to give it a go if you haven’t already, or to try again if last time it didn’t work out as planned. You may not get it right the first time, but you will learn from your mistakes and if you persist you too can be enjoying your own homemade foraged jams & jellies. It’s worth it I swear.
If however I haven’t convinced you that it’s worth giving seedless Bramble Jelly a go, then I do have another fabulous recipe which you can use your foraged brambles to create. The recipe does require apples as well and I was fortunate enough to spy an apple tree when traveling back from my volunteering session.
Another top recipe
Apple & Blackberry Crumble Muffins were therefore a must on my return home, as you can see, it’s not my recipe but I do recommend it. The crumble topping really elevates these muffins to the next level, I have tested them out on a few willing guinea pigs (also known as friends & family) and have had nothing but positive feedback, so hopefully you’ll like them too.
What about you?
Have you got any bramble recipes you would recommend to me & other readers? Any interesting anecdotes of your own when Foraging for Brambles? If so, please leave your comments… I’d love to hear from you and I’m always up for trying something new!
Next time… Sloes
Have a good week & good luck with your Foraging for Brambles. That’s me off to find some blackthorn bushes & gather some sloes for my next post: Jewels of Autumn: The Sought After Sloe.
Scrubland Scavenger is based in the south of the Scottish Borders. With a real commitment to becoming fully self-sufficient, Scrubland Scavenger started foraging locally when still a child and, although never claiming to be an expert, has built up a good knowledge of many of the wild edible delights. Scrubland Scavenger promotes sustainable foraging, not only to collect culinary delights but also as a great way of discovering more about your local environment & as an exciting way to reconnect with the abundance of nature all around us.