I see photos on Social Media of beautiful women picking blackberries with long white dresses, an elegant straw hat and big smiles. They walk gracefully in back lanes, sometimes escorted by furry dogs. I’ve always had different experiences. This is not true for me, nor for my family. We go blackberry picking as we were ready for war, or for mushrooms in the deep of the wood.
Big heavy shoes, long trousers and large shirts, socks up to your knees to possibly protect you from snakes, twisted branches, thorns and nettle. Cover your neck, my mother would say, as it is dangerous when you dive yourself into the bushes. Wear gloves, bring a stick, a pair of gardening scissors and a basket or two.
We leave in the early morning, walk silently downhill to surprise deer still grazing in the fields. Sometimes you are startled by a pheasant suddenly flying away into the wood and the dull sound of its wings.
This year my sister and I walked downhill full of hope, followed by our cat Wolfi, black as the night, with blackberry shades on his fur. He jumped, and stretched, preceding us with feline strides to wait for us in his contemplative pose, a shadow with fiery yellow eyes, our tiny Tuscan panther.
There have been years when we have picked blackberries by the bucket, running light downhill in the early morning and dragging ourselves up the slope after a few hours. Mum would make a dozen blackberry jam jars, I would freeze a bag for the winter and some of the berries would end up directly into a crostata or in a cake.
This year we just collected enough blackberries for a focaccia and two meagre jam jars. You have to do with what Nature offers you, don’t you?
Blackberries taste like the last days of summer, when you still enjoy bits of freedom looking forward to the new September life. First it was back to school, then back to work, now September means back to a new season of classes, projects, long socks, warm teas in the morning, explorations, scarves, books to read, ingredients to welcome back in your kitchen (hello pumpkin, I missed you so much!) and daily routines to tweak to include all the novelties that the new season certainly will bring.
Don’t you find that blackberries hold all the magic of this rite of passage? Blackberry picking is the last summer adventure, a farewell to a season of carefree days, juicy peaches dripping from your chin, dinners al fresco and nights spent watching the stars from the garden.
The transition from a season to the next is a bittersweet symphony, both soul-stirring and melancholy. Blackberries have the taste of these mixed feelings that grip your heart up until you are well into autumn, set into your nourishing new rituals of soups and teas.
Blackberry focaccia – schiacciata alle more di rovo
When September comes and the grape harvest begins, you would usually find the schiacciata con l’uva, a sticky sweet and doughy focaccia studded with wine grapes, in every bakery around Tuscany, it is a ritual and one of my favourite treats, something which screams welcome back Autumn, you dear one!
As our blackberry harvest this year was not so satisfying, I decided to treat myself with a schiacciata con le more, a focaccia with blackberries instead of grapes. Same results, same sticky sweet chewy texture.
Enjoy a slice of blackberry focaccia with a cup of mint tea and you’ll recreate the same sensations of walking along a blackberry hedgerow stepping on mint bushes.
First pre-fermented dough (poolish)
- 1 g of fresh brewer's yeast
- 125 g of bread flour
- 125 g of cold water
- 250 g of poolish
- 250 g of tender wheat flour
- 2 g of salt
- 50 g of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil + more to grease the pan and to drizzle on the surface
- 125 g of lukewarm water
To fil and top the schiacciata
- 400 g of blackberries
- 200 g of sugar
- The previous day, around dinner time, make the poolish, which will need at least 12 hours of fermentation. Dissolve the fresh brewer's yeast in cold water in a large bowl, then add the flour and stir with a whisk to remove any lump. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until the next day.
- After 12 hours the poolish is ready: it will be full of bubbles, alive.
- Scrape the poolish in a large bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar, extra virgin olive oil and start stirring, adding slowly the warm water. Knead the dough on a board but also in the bowl itself, for about ten minutes, giving time to the dough to absorb the water. It will be sticky and very soft.
- Cover your hands with olive oil and form a ball of dough: place it in a bowl greased with olive oil.
- Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature until doubled, for at least 3 hours.
- After this time, always with oiled hands, gently deflate the dough and divide it into two equal parts.
- Grease with some olive oil a round baking pan. Flatten out slowly one of the balls directly into the pan, giving it time to relax as you spread it to cover the pan.
- Meanwhile, roll out the other half on a floured board: again use your hands and try to stretch it gradually.
- Sprinkle the dough into the pan with half the sugar and top with half the blackberries, then cover with the other stretched dough and press the edged together to seal them.
- Let rise at room temperature for about two hours, then sprinkle with the remaining sugar and drizzle with olive oil. Press the remaining blackberries on top and heat the oven to 190°C.
- When the oven is hot, bake the schiacciata for about 20-30 minutes, until puffed, golden and sticky with the blackberry juices. Let it cool down completely before slicing it.
- My favourite blackberry picking experience was a few years ago, I already blogged about it, and I still love those photos with mum. I am so happy I have finally photos with my sister Claudia in the same place now!
- Going back to apples and blackberry, check this Bramley apple and blackberry pie by Regula Ysewijn. This is still one of the prettiest pie I have ever seen.
- A no bake blackberry quark cake by Sarka Babicka, a gluten, egg and sugar free cake, absolutely delicious!
- Nigel Slater has a recipe for a blackberry focaccia on the Guardian. A dough speckled with fruit. It is difficult to know exactly when to eat such a treat – it is too substantial for dessert, so maybe we should file it under tea.
- A collection of blackberry recipes by Diana Henry: blackberry and pinot noir jam, blackberry and brown-sugar loaf and finally an apricot, peach and blackberry crumble.