Gather Ye Blackberries While Ye May Because After Michaelmas Ye Will Have To Stop
“My fingers linger on the blackberries. I buy a handful to taste. I am stunned by their gutsiness, their sheer, sour voltage, a ferocity that tastes of somewhere remote and otherworldly. They stain my mouth and the cuff of my trench coat.”Ravinder Bhogal, The Financial Times, 1 October 2021
Why? Michaelmas is the feast day of saints Michael, Gabriel, Urial, and Raphael, the feast of the archangels, celebrated on 29 September. It marks the end of the harvest and is close to the 23 September autumn equinox. In Medieval England Michaelmas fell in October and was the date the Reeve of the manor would be finalising the accounts – even today many companies have their year-end on 30 September.
Anyway, to answer the question, why stop picking blackberries on 29 September? Michaelmas is the feast of the archangels because it was on that day that they, with flaming swords, banished the forces of evil from heaven. The archangel Michael kicked the devil out and he fell, cursing and swearing, into a blackberry bush. Not being a generous-hearted, forgiving type of soul he covered the offending bush with his fiery, brimstone-smelling breath, and in a further fit of pique he stamped and spat on the fruit, thus making it unfit to eat.
But in fact, you don’t need to worry too much. You can defy the devil because blackberries freeze excellently.
A very good thing to do with blackberries, especially frozen ones, is to make a mousse. Here is the recipe:
Recipe for blackberry mousse
- 450g/1 lb blackberries
- 50g/2 oz extra fruit – blackberries, raspberries, blueberries to garnish
- 110g/½ cup golden caster sugar
- 3 tbsp lemon juice – or juice of one lemon – save the zest for garnish or crème de cassis (or British crème de cassis)
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 12g/½ oz gelatine (about 3 leaves)
- 120ml/½ cup double cream
- 3 egg whites
- Put the blackberries in a saucepan together with the sugar and the lemon juice.
- Cover and simmer gently for about five minutes until fruit is soft (you might want to blend or push it through a sieve to make a puree – I don’t usually bother).
- Dissolve the gelatine in the cold water.
- Take the pan off the heat.
- Add the gelatine and stir until it has dissolved and set aside until cold and just starting to set. If you are short of time you can put it in a bowl over another bowl with water and ice cubes.
- Whisk the cream until it just begins to form soft peaks.
- Whisk the egg whites stiffly.
- Fold both into the fruit until evenly blended – do this with a metal spoon and as quickly and lightly as possible to retain the air in the mousse.
This post is dedicated to Pamela Elletson who gave me this recipe some decades ago.
Music to cook to
Play Katie Melua’s Dirty Dice as you froth up your egg white, or savour this smooth, fruity mousse and she sings “Got an angel on one shoulder, and the devil on the other….”; or for the more classically inclined listen to Jonathan Cohen conducting the ensemble, Arcangelo.