How to make blackberry brandy – and other boozy autumn foraging recipes
We have been questioned about our alcohol habits recently. This scurrilous snooping was the result of apparent over-enthusiasm re our autumn foraging plans, which mainly consist of picking sloes for sloe gin, bagging blackberries and plums for brandy (two lots), eyeing up rosehips to attempt wine and unashamedly liberating fallen crab apples from urban streets to produce cider. That we are using all our autumn foraging ingredients in booze making is an outrageous accusation – we’re also making crab apple jelly.
It be an autumn tradition to make boozy fruit in Britain – or so we’re telling ourselves. And it’s a bumper harvest this year for foragers! To join in, grab your baskets, forage in hedgerows (and the off-licence), and brew up these tasty treats:
Bramble brandy and plum brandy
Both blackberry and plum brandy are made the same way, as is sloe gin (see below). Exact measurements can vary, but these thirsty gardeners recommend 320g blackberries and 160g sugar to 700mls brandy.
- 1 litre brandy – as cheap/fancy as you like/dare
- Kilner jar/s – we used three, each around the size of a pickle jar. Any jar is fine but it must have a tight seal.
- 450g/1 lb blackberries/plums, washed and dried. If using plums, also remove the stones.
- 250g caster sugar (or thereabouts)
- Muslin cloth
Method: Simples. Divide the fruit equally into the jars, do the same with the caster sugar, top up with brandy, seal and shake. Put into a dark cupboard and tip daily for a week, then weekly for two months or as long as you can stand it – the longer the better.
Once you really really can’t wait any longer, strain the fruit and brandy mixture over a muslin cloth. Decant the brandy into a fancy bottle and set aside the fruit for boozy ice-cream or lunchtime bramble mousse: it’ll be Christmas.
Find blackberries from August until around the middle of October in most habitats including woods, hedgerows and waste ground; they’re best picked early in the season when it’s still sunny. Red, yellow and purplee plums should be easily spotted on cherry plum trees, singly or in bunches like grapes.
Also simples. Use the same method as with the bramble brandy, but prick the sloes first – traditionally with a blackthorn from the same bush. Find sloes in autumn on blackthorn bushes (right) in hedgerows or town parks; these foragers reckon there’ll be at least one blackthorn bush on most public footpaths.
Damsons can also be used to make tasty tasty gin, or damson vodka, with mostly the same method as brabmle brandy, but use a little less sugar as damsons are generally sweeter than sloes. Find the fruit on damson trees from late August to October (look out for the white flowers when the tree blooms around April, and stake the spot accordingly until autumn).
Rosehip is well known for its Vitamin C, so tell the boss a nip of rosehip wine with your morning coffee will prevent colds and increase productivity in cold weather. Rosehips (left) are normally found in hedgerows and ripen from late summer to autumn. They can be dried and made into tea, made into rosehip oil for the beauty-conscious, or boiled and made into a vitamin-filled wartime syrup. Natch, we’re going to attempt wine instead; here's how:
- Boil eight pints of water
- Wash 1kg/2lb of freshly picked rosehips and chop/crush
- Put 1.5kg/3lb sugar into a fermenting bucket and add the rosehips
- Pour in the boiled water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Leave to cool.
- When cool, add 1 tbsp of pectic enzyme (available on Amazon or eBay for £1—2). Leave for 24 hours.
- Add 1 tsp of citric acid and 1 tsp of yeast nutrient (also available online for around £1)
- Cover tightly and leave in a warm place for two weeks, stirring daily
- Strain and put the liquid into a tightly sealed Kilner jar. Leave for three months.
- Strain again and put into a clean sealed jar; leave for another three months
- Drink deeply
It can actually take up to Two! Whole! Years! to produce rosehip wine of a drinkable flavour – perhaps we’ll move on to…
…Crab apple cider
We’re getting this ready for wassailing around Christmas and New Year – see, we told you cold weather drinking was traditional. Find crab apples almost anywhere, including cities; go out with a carrier bag or five and scoop some up to make your own cider.
Most crab apple cider recipes use a press, but it’s possible to make it without by using a freeze/thaw method (or be hardcore and build your own press using timber and a car jack; look on YouTube for a how-to). This is the non-press recipe we’ve earmarked, which works with pears too to make perry:
- Gather apples – about 10kg to make five litres of cider. Wash and put in freezer.
- Thaw the next day, remove any rotten parts and cut into quarters
- Place in a brewing bucket and crush into a pulp (use the implement of your choice here or, if rich, invest in this)
- Add a crushed Campden tablet to kill bacteria
- After 24 hours, add a 5g sachet of white wine yeast – around £1 online
- Leave for two weeks, stirring occasionally
- Strain the resulting pulp and decant the liquid into a sealable bottle
- Leave for two months
As crab apples can be tart (chuckle), you might also want to check your brewing cider for acidity: there are good instructions and photos in this press recipe.
We also hear that as well as making tasty beer, wild hops can be used as pillow stuffing to aid sleep. Although if you’ve also made bramble brandy, sloe gin, crab apple cider and wine, this might not be needed…