The allotment is edged on one side by a long unruly thicket of bramble plants. Looked at dispassionately, they take up far too much space and produce far too much fruit even for me, family, friends and the birds to eat. Every summer, as they send out long thorny stems across the plot and snag my clothes and scratch my skin, I say that this year I will clear them properly and get them trained on to wires. Then at the end of July, the first fruits ripen to shiny black, and after a week or so in the sun will develop that warm clove-y sweetness that makes blackberry picking such a joy.
Last weekend we gathered up friends, neighbours, their children and dogs, and took punnets, tupperware and trugs up to the allotment for a morning's blackberry picking. Two hours later, we left, containers full to the brim, purple blotches on our clothes, the children's mouths and teeth stained black. The bushes looked much as they had before we arrived: still groaning with ripe fruit.
Once you get the blackberry bounty home, it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible; the fruit don't keep all that well. If the fruits are in good condition and reliably sweet, I'll happily pile them into a bowl with a dusting of brown sugar and a dollop of creme fraiche.
This weekend's pickings were a bit knobbly and globulous after a spell of wet weather. This blackberry meringue pie is warm and mellow where a lemon meringue pie has that sweet-sharp tang, and the blackberry curd is a gorgeous rich musty pink colour.
Blackberry meringue pie
1 sweet pastry case, eg, from Waitrose
100g unrefined caster sugar
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
Put the blackberries in a pan with the water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so, pressing down on the fruit with a potato masher from time to time to ensure all the juice is released. Line a colander or sieve with a muslin square and place over a bowl – tip the blackberry and water pulp into the muslin and strain off the juice. Measure the juice in the bowl and make it back up to 225ml with water.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
Sprinkle the cornflour into the blackberry juice and whisk in well. Pour into a pan and set over a low heat. Add the butter and unrefined caster sugar and stir until melted and dissolved, and the mixture has thickened. Beat in the egg yolks and cook over a very gentle heat for 2-3 minutes. Don’t let it boil.
Pour the blackberry mixture into the pastry case.
Now attend to the meringue. Place the egg whites in a bowl and whisk until stiff. Add the sugar and whisk in. Spoon the meringue over the blackberry filling, making sure it’s covered lavishly.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes – the meringue should be lightly browned on top.