Friday, September 2, 2011

Blackberry and Mint Cordial – Essence of Summer

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My little niece, The Imp, started school yesterday – heaven help them – and with typical back-to-school timing, the weather has changed for the better. It is a perfect day for blackberry-picking.
Little time-capsules of summer...

I like to imagine blackberries as little time-capsules of summer, storing the tiniest rays of sunshine as sweet little jewels, ready to release the most incredible spiced-berry aroma as you turn them into pies, or jams or jellies.
Kids love blackberry picking (for about an hour or so) and it is a great way to spend time with them, to get in some fresh air and exercise, and help them connect food with nature.
Blackberry and Mint Cordial - as it appeared in my imagination...

This time last year, I made bramble jelly after some competitive blackberry-picking. Check it out for some tips on collecting the best berries.
Today, the warm weather has left me thirsting for a cool drink. How about some of my blackberry and mint cordial... (previewed on the Morning Show today on East Coast FM).

From berry to berry-delicious beverage in about 30 minutes

For about 750mls of cordial you will need...
1kg fresh or frozen blackberries (wild, organic if possible)
250mls water
5g fresh mint sprigs (including the stems)
500g sugar (approximately)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

1          Place the blackberries in a saucepan along with the water and fresh mint. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a potato masher or similar to mash the fruit. Don't be tempted to use a blender as crushing the pips can make the juice bitter.
2          Strain the juice through a sieve to remove the pips, extracting as much juice as possible. Measure the juice and add 500g sugar per 500mls of juice.
3          Rinse the saucepan before adding the blackberry juice, sugar, lime juice and vanilla extract. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
4          Carefully pour the hot cordial into warmed sterilised screw-top bottles (I use my dishwasher to sterilise the bottles and transfer the cordial while the bottles are still hot). A funnel is very useful for this job.
5          Leave the bottles to cool fully before replacing the lids. Store in the fridge and use within a week or two.
This can be used undiluted over ice cream or substituted for the rosehip syrup in my yoghurt pannacotta recipe. As a drink, I dilute this slightly spicy Autumnal syrup with 4 parts sparkling water, or better still, 4 parts sparkling dry wine and lots of ice. Cheers!
Hedgerow heaven... cheers!

Having collected your blackberries, head for the Mountains to Sea literary festival in Dun Laoghaire.  It runs until 11th September and has a wide range of events suitable for all ages and tastes.
Older kids and teens will love Eoin Colfer, Darren Shan, and Cathy Cassidy while the little ones will enjoy the Picture Book Picnic. Sunday Miscellany will be broadcast live from the festival and is available online for overseas listeners on the RTE Radio 1 website. If you like great writing you’ll love this programme. Guests are always a surprise and have included Man Booker Prize winners and short-listees and I’m very honoured to have been on the show a couple of times myself. Click here for the full festival programme.
The Art of Eating GIVEAWAY is now closed - thanks to all who entered (and those from overseas who would have hopped on the bus to Dun Laoghaire if they could.)
There are still a small number of tickets available. Don't miss this rare chance to hear three fabulous food writers talk about their passion, over lunch.
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