I DO a lot of walking these days and my rambles often take me into the countryside or to more rural areas of Bolton.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve invariably stumbled upon a few wild blackberry bushes, their fruit ripe for the picking. I love blackberries and have good memories of foraging for fruit when I was young and taking it back home to be turned into a crumble or pie.

Blackberries are popular all over Europe but Britain has a particular liking for them. In fact the act of ‘blackberrying’ is apparently considered a unique and seasonal leisure activity in this country!

Traditional folklore says that you shouldn’t pick blackberries after Michaelmas (September 29), after which time the Devil apparently leaves his stamp on them they become unfit to eat!

If you do fancy a bit of blackberry picking head for unpolluted, quiet areas away from the roadside and passing foot traffic. Be sure to give them a good rinse before eating too.

Of course, you could just go to the market and buy some – there are plenty around at this time of year. However, wild blackberries, eaten straight from the bush taste so much better than anything you’ll ever buy in a supermarket. Blackberries freeze well so if you have a glut of them just bag them up in portions for a later date.

Classic blackberries dishes include good old British crumbles and pies as well as homemade blackberry jam, summer pudding and trifle. Blackberry sauce is also a really nice accompaniment for rich meats like duck and game, adding a certain freshness and zingy contrast to the dish.

Blackberries are also great in smoothies or added to cocktails and fizzy wine. You could even make your own blackberry gin by infusing a good quality spirit with the fruit.

This week’s recipe makes the most of the vibrant fruits and berries of the season.

Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert that I learnt how to make in the early days of my chef career and it’s still one of my favourites now.

The silky sweetness of this pudding combines perfectly with the tartness of the blackberries and is the perfect dish to serve after Sunday lunch or if you have guests for dinner.


(serves 4)

2 sheets of gelatine

100ml milk

400ml double cream

1 vanilla pod

50g sugar

100g mixed berries (blackberries and blackcurrants)

2 tbsp good quality blackberry jam

Soften the sheets of gelatine in a bowl of cold water for five minutes then squeeze out the excess liquid.

Slice the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds out. Add to a saucepan with the milk, cream and sugar and gently heat until it starts to simmer. Remove from the heat and add the gelatine. Stir until completely dissolved.

Divide the panna cotta mixture between four individual ramekins or serving dishes. Allow to cool before refrigerating for at least two hours until completely set.

Meanwhile, heat the jam in a saucepan until warm then add the mixed berries.

Gently stir to combine and cook for a minute or two so the fruit softens slightly then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

To serve, carefully turn the panna cotta out onto a plate. If it sticks and won’t come out, dip the base of the ramekin in some hot water to loosen it. Finish with a spoonful of the sticky berries on the side.