Do you ever get that thing when you notice something once and then can’t help but see it everywhere? At the moment, everywhere I look, I see brambles laden with very ripe blackberries, and I’m not at all sure if my mind is deluding me or if there really is a bumper crop this year, but every hedgerow, nook and cranny seems to be intertwined with thorny vines and clusters of aromatic juicy, bulbous fruit that’s free to the fearless forager. Remember, though, that when harvesting wild foods, stick to areas that haven’t been sprayed with farm chemicals, so aim for woodlands and pathways away from the roadside.
And don’t pick only the fruit; the leaves are also edible, and can be infused into cream or fermented to make tea. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, blackberries are traditionally used to help cure sore throats, inflammation and other such ailments.
Preserve bumper harvests of blackberries in the freezer, make jam (it’s especially delicious flavoured with rosemary, as a French guest once made for us) or eat them fresh in any number of desserts, including this late-summer Eton mess. Whatever you do, however, forage your fill before the first frost, when they can become squishy and even maggoty – or so I was warned as a child.
A late-summer Eton mess with blackberry and thyme
Later in the summer, when strawberries are no longer in season, rather than buy imported fruit, it is well worth twisting the classic Eton mess recipe with other seasonal treats. In this case, blackberries are my fruit of choice, but use whatever is plentiful, from stewed apples and macerated plums to crushed blackcurrants.
Good double cream will turn fatty very quickly, so keep a close watch while you’re whipping it and stop the moment it forms soft peaks. Just a few turns too many can begin to turn it into butter. If you’ve made a batch of meringues, this recipe is a good way to use up any damaged ones.
For the meringues (or buy them in)
3 egg whites (see here for ideas about using up the yolks)
150g unrefined sugar
For the mess
400ml double cream
1 tsp thyme leaves, bruised with the flat of a knife, plus 4 small sprigs extra, to serve
1 tbsp cassis (or blackcurrant cordial)
2 meringues, gently crushed (see above and method)
If you’re making your own meringues, heat the oven to 110C (90C fan)/225F/gas ¼. In a clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks – an electric whisk is easiest here. Gently add a third of the sugar, and whisk until combined. Add another third, whisk again, then add the last of the sugar and whisk to stiff peaks. Line a flat baking tray with unbleached baking paper, then cover with heaped tablespoons of the meringue mix in rows 5cm apart.
Bake for two hours without being tempted to open the oven door. Check the meringues are firm, then turn off the oven, and leave the meringues to cool. Consume the same day or store in an airtight container, where they’ll keep for up to two weeks. To make the mess, roughly chop all but 20 of the blackberries. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, then gently fold in the chopped fruit, thyme leaves, cassis and meringues. Spoon into four glasses, top with the reserved whole blackberries and thyme sprigs, and serve.