Blackberries and Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia


Lots of rain- good for cabbages. Bad for strawberries.
In between running in and out of the house to hang and re-hang laundry (unpredictable but short cloudbursts) and admiring the apple varieties as described by Hampshire grower Stephen Hayes (covetcovetcovet)I have been baking. Finally, I can get out Tender II and start trying out all those tempting fruit recipes in earnest.

It's still early days and this years terrible awfulness has had a huge impact on most fruit; my strawberries have been pathetic, enjoyed more by the slugs than by me, lots of plums have split and between three trees, I can count the total number of pears growing there on one hand. Not all has been lost. Despite already attracting everything from aphids to wasps, at least two plum trees are producing reasonable amounts of fruit and there were enough of the small, unripe little jobbies on the runaway rootstock plum to pick whilst green and sour to make my first attempt at verjuice (more on that later).

Looking dramatic, my first verjuice attempt. We shall see.
  One thing which has seemed to have done very well (and when doesn't it?) are the monster blackberry vines growing here, there and everywhere around our garden. I normally have very little time for blackberries. They get everywhere, they fight back and while the odd bush does throw up some really good berries, they're few and far between -unlike the vicious spines. However, what with the disappointing-for-fruit-year and my secret BFF's whole chapter on blackberries ringing in my ears, I buried my prejudice and dived into the deep end of the overgrown poly tunnel carcass to see what I could find.

I came out the other end of the thing, covered in bits of bramble, goose grass and with a few more tears in my jeans than when I went in, but also with these!

Mwa-hahahaha. Lots of blackberries. Brought on a bit by the reasonably intact plastic cover of the poly tunnel but still with a little zingy sharpness.
Lovely lovely Nigel has an excellent recipe for blackberry focaccia bread. So good in fact (more importantly, it works. Even for me, ritualistic sacrificer to the oven and creator of rock hard, un-risen and burnt loaves) I’ve been adapting and tweaking it, adding little extras like walnuts, rosemary, sage and olives. A chocolate version is in the works. While the first time I stayed true to the instructions, putting the blackberries into the bread, they're still a little sharp to really do the recipe justice. Instead I've been making a rosemary and seasalt version of the focaccia bread and made this delicious and very blackberry-ey syrup to dip the bread into:

Runny blackberry syrup:

500g blackberries picked over and cleaned
100g sugar (plus a little extra on hand)

Whizz the blackberries in a blender and strain through a sieve to remove the seeds and the majority of the pulp. Add the resulting juice and the sugar to a pot and simmer over a low heat for 20 min or reduced to the consistency you prefer, stirring regularly. Before taking off the heat, taste it and add a little more sugar if you like. Black berries can vary hugely in taste and sweetness, so adding a little sugar at a time is the best way to avoid overdoing it. Allow the juice to cool and bottle. Store in the fridge and use to pour into drinks, over muffins, ice cream, porridge or yogurt.

For a rosemary and sea salt focaccia -like loaf, as adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender II:

2 tbsp rosemary leaves, chopped finely (room to use a little more if you really like rosemary
425g very strong white bread flour
10g yeast (I use those little Allison's sachets)
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp sea salt (finely ground)
350 ml warm water
2 tsp butter
olive oil
1 tsp sea salt flakes

Optional: chopped hazelnuts or walnuts

Mix the honey into the warm water and stir till dissolved.Combine the rosemary, bread flour, yeast, any optional ingredients and the butter, and all in one go pour in the warm water. Focaccia dough is a wet dough, and I haven't yet dealt with anything stickier so this next bit is not for the fainthearted. Kneed the dough as best you can. I cheat and try to contain everything in the bowl by using one hand to very firmly hold the bowl down, the other to smush and kneed and roll, trying to stretch those gluten fibres as much as possible. Grunting is allowed.
After about five minutes (no more than ten), or when the dough has come together and feels more elastic, you can stop. Roll the dough into a rough ball shape, and put it to rest -covered- in a warm place for an hour or more. 

After an hour or when it's doubled in volume (it might have done more, thats fine), punch the dough down, deflating all those lovely little air pockets. Oil a shallow pan or wide tin and press the dough into it. Drizzle the top with a few glugs (about 2-3 table spoons) and sprinkle or grind over with some sea salt flakes. Allow to rise again for another hour or two, to let the air pockets inside the bread to get as big as possible.

Preheat the oven to 220*C, and place a shallow pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven. When the oven is hot, carefully transfer the loaf inside, trying not to wobble or knock it around too much which will deflate those all important air pockets and risk the solid, flat loaves of bread I've come to know so well. Bake for thirty to forty minutes, or when the top is golden and brown. I like to take the loaves out a few minutes early and flip them out of their tins, so the bottoms get nicely brown and crunchy too. 

This loaf is really best on the day, when the oil-soaked tops and sides are wonderfully crisp and crackly. The next day the texture changes, making it delightfully chewy, but without that particular more-ish quality had only when it's straight from the oven. Dip it in the black berry syrup, or have it warm with lamb and roast peppers.

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  1. Those cabbages look positively luminous! And I want to eat those blackberries. Blackberries are declared weeds in Australia. You practically get your head cut off growing them becasue they have become a pest in parts of Australia... it's such a shame that we cant have such luscious monsters growing. Enjoy your syrup!

  2. I echo garden gluts comments - my father is an over zealous black berry sprayer (with poison that is). Teams of Landcare sprayers go around with tanks of herbicide on the back of utes and wearing gloves, masks and googles they spray the plants. That is now, but when I was growing up it was still safe to pick them form the roadside and although I loved them I do still remember the scratches.


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