Recipe: Time to go wild for brambles

It is a year or two since I wrote about brambles.

They are one of many culinary seasonal treats, utterly weather dependent, and this year’s crop promises to be a bumper one…providing that the next week or so isn’t too wet.

Lady Claire MacDonald

The brambles have had sufficient rain and heat so far in their growth to give us plump, sweet berries. My fingers are tightly crossed for the next 7 to 10 days, then we can be picking and freezing any surplus for delicious winter eating.

Brambles freeze exceptionally well, just packed into poly-bags. Wild brambles are a world apart from the cultivated blackberries. Cultivated, the berries are much bigger than those picked wild. Cultivated blackberries have no thorns, so they are painless to pick. But no gain without pain, as the saying goes, and regarding brambles, where you may not suffer prickled and sometimes slightly torn fingers, you forgo so much in the taste of the berries.

Wild brambles have a flavour that cultivated just do not. They look so promising, yet in flavour, they always disappoint me. Brambles are uniquely useful, in both sweet as well as savoury recipes. They can form a delicious accompaniment to all game and venison dishes, either as an accompanying sauce or as a flavour contributing garnish – see one of my recipes today.

The combination of apples with brambles is a long time favourite. But this, too, crosses the savoury/sweet barrier very successfully, as in my other recipe today.

So the message really is this… to get out for a good walk, container in hand, and pick as many brambles as you can, always avoiding those growing lowdown where dogs might have been, and those growing along busy roads, where they will have been blasted by exhaust fumes. Fields and lanes are thick with brambles affected neither by dog nor by cars. Enjoy.

Pickled Brambles

SERVES 6

These are excellent, a spoonful served beside any grilled or roast venison, or with any game bird, but especially roast grouse. They will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, in a covered container.

The ingredients

  • 1lb/450g brambles
  • 1 pint/600mls white wine vinegar
  • 1 rounded tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

The method

  • Put the vinegar, sugar and salt into a saucepan over moderate heat. Stir, till all the sugar has dissolved.
  • Then boil fast for 1 minute. Add the brambles to the contents of the pan, cover the pan with its lid and cook gently for 10 minutes.
  • Take the pan off the heat and cool the contents.
  • Tip into a container, cover, and store in the fridge till you are ready to serve, draining the berries from their liquid.

Bramble and Apple Sauce

SERVES 6

This is delicious with all roast game, and with baked or roast ham or pork.

The ingredients

  • 3 Bramley cooking apples, each quartered, peeled and cored and chopped
  • 1 onion, skinned, halved and neatly and finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive or rapeseed oil
  • A sprig of fresh thyme or half a teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1lb/450g brambles
  • 1 rounded tablespoon granulated sugar
  • Quarter pint/150 mls wine vinegar – either red or white wine, or cider vinegar
  • Half teaspoon salt
  • 1 tub of full fat creme fraiche

The method

  • Heat the oil and fry the diced onion over moderate heat for 4-5 mins till soft and transparent.
  • Add the chopped apples and thyme, and cook gently till the apples fall to a soft mush.
  • Add the brambles to the contents of the pan and cook, with lid on, for 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile put the sugar and vinegar into a small pan over heat. Shake the pan as the vinegar heats, to make sure the sugar dissolves. When the sugar has dissolved completely, boil the vinegar syrup hard for 1-2 minutes. Pour the vinegar syrup into the apples and brambles mixture, stir well, and add the salt. Lastly, stir in the creme fraiche.
  • This sauce can be made in advance and reheated before serving.

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