Summer Walks & Blackberry Pie

August has been such a wonderful month. Days have slowed down almost to a stop. No rushed school run, no plans other than to take one day at a time, a setting in which Neiva thrives.

August is also the season for blackberries and at the later end of the month, apples. We have a huge blackberries bush in our garden that spills over the fence. Every morning, it has become a routine for Neiva (still in pajamas) to take her basket and collect them, though few make it as far as the basket.

She is so incredibly careful of the thorns and manages even to find and successfully pick the most heavily guarded ones with very little effort (unlike me).

As well as the garden, we have very beautiful woodland walks close to home. Weather permitting, we have spent many hours, basket in hand foraging. Its such a quiet and peaceful way to spend an afternoon.

Blackberry picking should be on every child’s to do list. Whilst some shy away from encouraging their children to pick berries, it is safer to teach children which berries they can eat than it is to tell them not to eat any, leaving them open to experimenting at a later date without your supervision.

For a successful forage with small children here are some valuable lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Lesson #1: Where there are blackberries there are nettles. Always wear a good pair of boots to keep little legs covered. A cane is also very useful to get to the big juicy ones higher up.

Lesson #2: Always pick from knee level up. There will be a small chance the lower level berries may have been watered by a passing urinating dog and also it’s hedgerow law to leave some for the mice, at least that’s what we tell Neiva.

Lesson #3: The sweetest berries are the blackest berries. Blackberries get sweeter the darker they get. Obvious to us but the red unripe berries look equally delicious through the eyes of a child.

This week, we managed to pick enough blackberries and apples to make a huge pie. We even had it for breakfast (another summer holiday tradition). It is so wonderful for Neiva to learn (like our earlier elderflower adventure) the process from picking to washing then baking to eating.

Apple & Blackberry Pie…

  • 250g flour
  • 125g cold cubed butter
  • 1 egg yolk beaten
  • pinch of salt
  • a tablespoon of sugar (optional)
  • splash of milk to combine
  • enough (chopped) apples and blackberries to fill a pie dish

Method…

  1. On a low heat add the blackberries and chopped apples to a pan with a splash of water and a tablespoon of sugar. Simmer until the apples have softened and the liquid has thickened slightly. Leave to cool. Meanwhile, make the pastry.
  2. In a food processor, add the flour, butter and salt and blitz to combine. Add the beaten egg yolk and milk and blitz until a dough forms (about 20 seconds) and the bowl is clean. Wrap in cling film and place in fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Cut a third of the dough to use for the top of the pie and roll out the rest and place in the bottom of the pie dish. Add the cooled filling. For the top of the pie I like to lattice, you can find a tutorial here.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven on the middle shelf for 20-25 minutes until golden.

Despite the rain that’s sporadically showered its way through August, we have really enjoyed our slow days and although we are so ready for Autumn, this month will be remembered fondly for long walks and our harvest from the hedgerows.

 

I knew when I met you… a grand adventure was going to happen – AA Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

Neiva & Elderflowers

It’s hard to believe whilst I sit here typing, listening to the summer rain pattering against the window, just how gloriously beautiful the afternoon was picking elderflowers only a few days before.

If there is one scent that smells of an English summer its elderflowers. Tiny beautiful frothy fragrant white flowers made from tiny blossoms appear from May onwards, with the black purply berries taking over from August.

Whilst we love some of the organic shop varieties, I really wanted to have a go at making it myself. I also wanted Neiva to have the whole experience. From picking to steeping, straining then decanting to drinking the final product. 

Tips for picking Elderflower:

  • Pick the flowers preferably around midday when the suns heat is on them. The warmth of the sun enhances the beautiful perfume.
  • Make sure the flowers have plenty of blossom on them
  • Do not gather after a rainfall. It’s the pollen that gives the flower flavour and the rain will wash that away.
  • For the same reason as above, do not wash the flowers. Any insects or debris hiding amongst the tiny petals will be strained out later.

So after consulting my Hedgerow Handbook and with a beautiful sunny afternoon ahead of us, off we went to find our bounty. There were so many elderflowers to choose from we lost track of time and only when our basket was full to bursting did we venture back. 

Elderflower Cordial

For this recipe you will need: 

  • 1.5 sugar
  • 1.7 litres water
  • 2 unwaxed lemons (sliced)
  • Muslim cloth or jelly bag strainer

Method 

    1. Add the sugar and water to a pan and simmer gently until the sugar has dissolved. 
    2. Turn off the heat and add the elderflowers (flower heads down to submerge them completely) and the lemon slices, cover and leave to sit for 24 hours to infuse.
    3. Strain the liquid with a muslin cloth.
    4. Decant into a glass bottle and top with either water, soda water (for elderflower presse) or champagne/prosecco (for a grown up version!)

    This should keep for up to 6 weeks in the fridge although I doubt it will be there that long. I found the flavour is enhanced, very intense and extremely delicious in comparison to shop bought cordial. So sweet and so very fragrant.

    Making elderflower cordial certainly isn’t a quick process, however as well as being a fantastic sensory and learning experience, it also taught Neiva to learn patience in a beautiful and fun way. 

    Good things do come to those who wait…..

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