I have a theory and it’s this. Blackberries grow best on tin. Now my proof for this is sketchy and my explanation is even poorer but bear with me. I walk a lot, all over the place, and the best blackberries each year are in the Polgooth area. They are great big, fat, sweet berries. Even better they seem not suffer from grub infections. What does the Polgooth area sit on? A great lode of tin. It’s in the soil I tell you! That said, plants riddled with heavy metals aren’t normally a selling point. Maybe you need to give it a hundred years before it becomes a feature worth bragging about?
Now, did you know that there is a cut of point to the picking of blackberries? Ask anyone in Summercourt, they’ll tell you. You never pick a blackberry after the Summercourt Fair as that’s when the Devil pizzles on them. The Summercourt Fair is always around the 29th of September and I think this year you’ll be lucky to find any blackberries in Cornwall still pickable then. The weather this year has been a pickle for the harvest. That said, it is still a very late date for blackberries in Cornwall but I have another theory about that.
The Summercourt Fair is one of the oldest in the country running for the last 800 years, and certainly the oldest in Cornwall. Originally it was held around 14 September until 1752 when Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar and the extra eleven days pushed it back to the 25th of September. Now the 14th of September makes much more sense for Blackberries to be almost finished in Cornwall.
In his book “Cornish Saints and Sinners” J. Henry Harris also told of how the Devil gorged himself on blackberries on the thirteenth of September and they made him so ill that he cursed them as unfit to eat. Fits in with the change of the calendar. Henry Harris also refers to an ancient tradition whereby on one day of the year the Cornish cover themselves in blackberry juice!
A traditional dish that turns up again and again in the old writing is blackberry pie of blackberry and apple pie, either must be served with clouted cream.
Blackberry and Apple Pie
300 grams short crust pastry
300 grams wild blackberries
500 grams cooking apples (Bramley’s)
100 grams sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
How to Make Blackberry and Apple Pie
Heat the oven to 190 °C (Gas 6).
Peel and slice the apples into a deep pie dish and add the blackberries. Sprinkle on sugar and cinnamon.
Roll out the pastry slightly larger than the shape of the pie dish. Seal the pastry onto the dish, crimp edges with a fork and trim off any overlaps.
Use the pastry off cuts to decorate the pastry with leaf-shaped pieces. Make a small hole in the centre.
Brush over the top with a little milk.
Place on a sheaf and bake for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown.
Alternatively make it as a pasty, as suggested here by Rick Stein.
Blackberry and apple pasties.
Mary Taylor, one of the best pasty makers in Padstow, gave me this recipe. We ate the pasties cold, the top having been sliced off and the filling spread with plenty of clotted cream. There’s another old saying that the Devil never visited Cornwall because he was too afraid of the Cornish women’s’ habit of putting everything into a pasty. This might prove his point!
Ingredients: 2lb (1 kg) shortcrust or flaky pastry
2lb (1 kg) bramley apples peeled, cored and chopped into 1/2 in pieces
8oz (225g) blackberries
4oz (113g) brown sugar
pinch of powdered clove
pinch of powdered cinnamon
2oz (56g) butter, chopped
Preparation: Mix ingredients in a bowl and fill pastry circles. Cook in oven for 35 mins at 200C/400F/gas 6.
Clouted Cream – Take Milk that was milked in the morning, and scald it at noon; it must have a reasonable fire under it, but not too rash, and when it is scalding hot, that you see little Pimples begin to rise, take away the greatest part of the Fire, then let it stand and harden a little while, then take it off, and let it stand until the next day, covered, then take it off with a Skimmer
This appears in Elizabethan recipe books and is pretty much identical to how clotted cream is made today. The name only seemed to change to “clotted” in the early twentieth century. A clout was with a scrap of cloth (cloutie trees are often found by holy wells with scraps of cloth tied to them) or the other definition of clout, is to be hit. Neither seem relevant in the making of cream. Maybe a third unmentioned definition of clout, is to clot, which does make more sense with what happens to the cream.
OED to the rescue. “Clout” = archaic and dialectal, meaning clod or lump from the old Dutch / German. A much better explanation of clouted/clotted cream.
So, there we are the Devil, clotted cream, blackberries and some strange ritual where the Cornish stain themselves in blackberry juice.
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