Until last Sunday, I had never been blackberry picking. It was inevitable, then, perhaps that I managed to get caught on brambles no fewer than four times during our excursion. But I emerged physically and figuratively victorious, with stained fingers, and overflowing tupperware. After two large boxes, crammed tight with blackberries were wedged into the freezer, for dark crumble-filled days, there was still a surplus of berries. So I made this vinegar.
This recipe is one of those that makes me take a step back and look at myself. What would four-year-ago-Livvy have thought of me spending my Sundays making fruit vinegars with foraged berries? Not a lot, probably, four-years-ago-Livvy was a bit of a pain, to be honest; she took herself very seriously, and wouldn’t have held much truck with preserving. Things change, happily. Happily being the operative word: I am, I think, inestimably happier now than I was back then. And not just because of this vinegar, but it does help.
I was long on blackberries but short on time and fridge space thanks to a 16 inch chocolate cake that had taken up residence. Most recipes recommend a protracted period of time for the blackberries to macerate in sugar in the fridge; anywhere from 3 to 10 days. But I was too impatient, and I’m so glad I was: gently bubbling the three ingredients together means that some of the vinegar cooks out, it thickens ever so slightly, and becomes rounder, less astringent, without losing any of the blackberry flavour.
This is a terribly quick condiment to make, and a gorgeous way of using up some of a glut of foraged berries. Blackberries come earlier each year now, but they’ll still be good for foraging for the next couple of weeks. I prefer it with balsamic vinegar to the more common white wine or cider vinegar (nowadays it isn’t even more expensive to buy the former than the latter), which gives it more depth.
Initially, when you heat the mixture, the small is overwhelmingly, astringently vinegar, no room for anything else to come through. But slowly it gives way to the smell of crumbles and pies, and then, peculiarly, the perfume of those little sweetshop jellied blackberries with the tiny, hard sugar beads . When it cools, it smells just like blackberries taste when you eat them straight from the bush.
It is, as you would expect, sweetsour: sharp and bright, as good balsamic vinegar should be. But it’s so much more than that: it’s complex and fragrant, rich and sweet, without feeling like you’re pouring syrup over your salad. In the bottle, it is the darkest indigo, almost black; but when splashed on a plate, it becomes the colour of merlot. It’s thicker than normal balsamic, lying somewhere between that and a balsamic glaze. I strain the mixture through a sieve rather than muslin, which allows just the smallest proportion of the fruit to come through into the finished product; if you want it to be really smooth, use muslin instead.
It goes like this:
Makes: 350ml of vinegar
Takes: No time at all
Bakes: 15 minutes
200ml Balsamic vinegar
60g Caster sugar
1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan over a low heat. When the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to medium high. Allow to cook at this temperature, bubbling gently, for fifteen minutes.
2. Remove from the heat, and strain through a fine sieve or through muslin. Decant the strained liquid into a sterilised bottle or jar.
3. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
We ate this drizzled over a duck salad. But it’s great anywhere you would normally use balsamic vinegar: with really strong, hard cheeses, like pecorino, or softer, ripe goat’s cheeses, especially when cooked, and served with soft figs, or poached plums.