Our publication, Mrs Beeton’s Jam-making and Preserves, includes recipes for apple and blackberry jam, blackberry jam, blackberry syrup (which I think might make a lovely Kir Royale with champagne) and the following recipe for blackberry jelly (which is really blackberry and apple jelly):
Take 6lb. of blackberries, 6 medium-sized sour apples, the juice of 1 lemon and ¾ of a pint of water.
Stalk the blackberries, wipe, peel, core and slice the apples. Place the apples, water and lemon-juice into a preserving pan. Cook until the apples are soft, then add the blackberries and continue to boil until they are soft. Strain off the liquid through a fine hair sieve or cloth. Do not rub the fruit, only press it lightly to extract the juice.
Wash out the pan, allow 1 lb. of sugar to each pint of juice and boil in the pan until it will jelly if a little is cooled on a plate. Pour it into dry, warm jars, cover, tie down, and store in a cool place.
This beautiful weather is perfect for donning wellies, stuffing plastic bags into coat pockets and grabbing a walking stick in order to scour the fields for blackberries. The walking stick is not for weary legs (although it can come in handy for that purpose too!). Instead, a ‘proper’ stick with a curved handle is ideal for pulling down brambles that are too high to reach. The stick is also useful for bashing nettles that are in the way and for fending off prickly brambles that are determined to leave you with battle scars as you rob them of their berries.
A bumper blackberry harvest is good for people but also vital for animals trying to fatten up before winter. Domestic animals love blackberries too. Our dog used to enjoy delicately picking and eating low-hanging blackberries when we were out foraging. Also, Mum’s pony enjoyed eating bramble leaves when we took her out for a walk. She was old and arthriticky so we walked her down the Dorset green lanes for exercise and fresh air. They say that there are only a few animals (those that are particularly close to humans) that understand and will follow a human’s pointing finger and I can confirm that horses are one of these animals. I would point out good brambles to the pony and she would follow my finger and move to eat the leaves that she enjoyed so much.
They heale the eies that hang out.
The ripe fruit is sweet, and containeth in it much juyce of a temperate heate, therefore it is not unpleasant to be eaten
The leaves of the Bramble boyled in water, with honey, allum, and a little white wine added thereto, make a most excellent lotion or washing water, and the same decoction fastneth the teeth.
Nicholas Culpeper (1616 – 1654) also has a lot to say on the ‘virtues’ of blackberries:
It is a plant of Venus in Aries. If any ask the reason why Venus is so prickly? Tell them it is because she is in the house of Mars. The buds, leaves, and branches, while they are green, are of good use in the ulcers and putrid sores of the mouth and throat, and of the quinsy [a complication of tonsillitis], and likewise to heal other fresh wounds and sores; but the flowers and fruit unripe are very binding, and so are profitable for the bloody flux, lasks, [diarrhoea] and are a fit remedy for spitting of blood.
Culpeper goes on to say that the bramble is good for kidney stones, the berries are a remedy against snake venom and the juice of the berries helps with sores and ulcers.
I am particularly struck by the connection between brambles and eyes. Gerard proposes that blackberries can help with ‘eies that hang out’ – really? Does he mean ‘eyes’ here? I would have thought that brambles are more likely the cause of eyes hanging out than the remedy. After all, I have been scratched across the face by brambles several times while out riding down green lanes. There are also three instances of brambles causing blindness in fairytales and legend. Rapunzel’s prince is blinded when he falls from her tower into a bramble patch. In some versions of Sleeping Beauty the prince is blinded by the brambles that spring up around the castle in which the princess and her court are sleeping. Also, in Greek myth, the mortal Bellerophon is blinded by brambles when he falls from Pegasus after trying to ride him to Olympus, home of the Gods – an instance of the association of blackberries with arrogance. Perhaps Gerard is proponent of the ancient belief in ‘the hair of the dog that bit you’ – i.e. a small amount of what caused your suffering can also be part of the cure.
On the other hand, it is said that brambles have many healing properties and blackberry remedies are found in many cultures from the Ancient Greeks and Native Americans to the Chinese. In magic the thorny branches are used for protection and healing spells. Apparently, blackberries can protect you against vampires. If you plant a bramble outside your house a vampire won’t enter because it obsessively counts the berries and forgets to come in and bite you. The berries are often associated with the feminine and earthy elements – they represent abundant harvests and prosperity. Thus, the bramble with its white flowers and black fruit, its sweet berries and ferocious thorns, is a perfect representation of the tension between light and dark, good and evil, the ambiguity of male attitudes to women throughout history and general feelings of ambiguity towards nature – provider of abundance and healing and also savage scratcher of skin and remover of eyes. It’s a thin line between love and hate with the blackberry.
This ambiguity and tension is beautifully captured in Seamus Heaney’s poem Blackberry Picking – read here by the man himself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhBK5_zLwJY