7 July 2014 by Elaine Lemm

Blackberries, gooseberries and other seasonal foods for July

We're in full summer mode now, which means it's prime berry season. Get out there and discover the joys of blackberry and gooseberry picking, says Elaine Lemm. Plus: other seasonal foods

Blackberries_July seasonal food_Corbis_620The floodgates of summer foods are well and truly open (thankfully without actual downpours, so far) and produce is pouring in daily. These foods are bursting with freshness and only restricted in their use by the imagination of the cook.

There are courgettes, aubergines, artichokes and fennel. Young, brightly coloured beetroots, perfect for roasting, can be found in abundance, as can fresh herbs, salads and whisper-thin French beans. Tomatoes have put in an appearance but, for me, are not yet at their best. They need a little more sun. (Don’t we all?)

An afternoon of fresh air and exercise, plus a basket of goodies to bring home, beckons

At their best right now, though, are soft fruits, berries and currants. Two of these beauties that I implore you to try are the blackcurrant and the gooseberry. In recent years, both have had a decline in popularity and are under serious threat.

Almost all British blackcurrants (90 per cent) disappear into Ribena, so little is left for the consumer. Unless they’re frozen, these fragile little jewels are difficult to transport, so they’re not exactly the darling of the supermarkets. However, if the currants can’t come to you…

Herefordshire: the home of the blackcurrant

Gather a group of friends together and head to the home of the blackcurrant, and a few days away, in Herefordshire. The Colloquy sits at the heart of the Whittern Estate, which is one of the UK’s largest blackcurrant growers.

Owner Jo Hilditch and her family have been farming here for three generations. They produce British Cassis – using currants not gobbled up by the aforementioned drink – and offer luxurious accommodation complete with swimming pool, squash, badminton and tennis courts.

If you want to make the most of the area, Jo can organise a foodie weekend that includes trips to local cider-making, cheese-making and other artisanal producers, as well as an evening trip to a restaurant of your choice in Ludlow (a foodie hotspot) or to a local Michelin-starred pub.

Failing that, since July is PYO (pick your own) time, there is no excuse for hanging out with the Sunday papers when an afternoon of fresh air and exercise, plus a basket of goodies to bring home, beckons.

Not sure what to do with this bounty once home? Most freeze well, with the exception of strawberries, apricots and cherries, which are best eaten or cooked soon after picking. So if there’s no time for the jam pan, get out the freezer bags instead.

If you need a little more inspiration and instruction, then Suffolk is the place to go. Food Safari has a Preserving Summer in a Day course – though be warned, it is popular and fills up quickly.

Book a B&B and make the course an excuse to hunt out samphire, another seasonal food, free for the picking and readily available in Suffolk and many other coastal estuaries around Britain and Ireland. The tiny asparagus-like, salty spears can be eaten raw or are equally delicious lightly steamed and served with butter. It’s a great accompaniment to fish and seafood.

The green and hairy gooseberry

But back to the gooseberry! Green, hairy and particularly tart they may be, but the British ‘Goose Gob’ should not be forgotten. The demise of our gooseberries may be attributed to the superfood-upstart blueberry, but a British summer could never be the same without them.

They neatly replace the rhubarb and cooking apple which, up to this point in the food calendar, have been adding a welcome tartness to our food.

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Elaine is a trained chef, has run her own restaurant in Yorkshire, is editor of NY Times’ About British Food, and has written widely on food and wine. Follow Elaine on Twitter.

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