Blackberries in summer—what could be better? The blackberries on the canes edging the woods near my house are starting to ripen and I am starting to harvest them. I will of course be popping them straight into my mouth, but I will also save some for my morning oatmeal, find room in the freezer for a few, and make my favorites: blackberry vinegar and blackberry syrup.
Blackberry vinegar is the first step to making blackberry syrup, and they are both really easy to do. I used them both to make a delicious drink last winter, until I ran out of the vinegar. Needless to say, I will make and have on hand more vinegar this year!
Before I give you the directions for making these delightful products, let’s take a quick look at blackberry.
It is a plant in the Rose family, and as with other members of this family, its white flowers have five petals. There are a number of species of blackberries, and they are native to many parts of the world, including Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia. There are blackberries that grow in great bushy piles, with canes many feet long and wicked thorns, and there are blackberries that trail along the ground, called dewberries.
I don’t worry too much about what species I am picking from, for I know that whatever it is, it’s edible and that’s what counts!
It is a perennial, meaning the plant lives for a number of years. It spreads readily by root extension, and can be very invasive, with very strong, persistent roots. This is great if you want lots of berries, not so great when you have to keep pulling prickly shoots out of your garden.
According to A Modern Herbal, blackberry flowers, leaves, and fruit were used for various health issues from ancient times. However, in the present the parts of the plant that are used medicinally are the leaves and the roots, both of which contain a good proportion of tannins, though the root more so. The astringency of the tannins contributes to their medicinal actions. The berries may also be used medicinally.
In years past I have dried the leaves, sometimes mixing them with raspberry leaves, and used them for a pleasant tasting tea which is slightly reminiscent of black tea, or mixed them with other herbs in herbal teas.
Blackberries are ripe when they easily pull away from the vine. They don’t ripen off the vine, so don’t try harvesting any before they are actually ripe. The nice thing about blackberries is that they ripen over a period of several weeks, so you can go back a few times to get more.
Here are the instructions for making, first, Blackberry Vinegar, and then Blackberry Syrup (the recipe is from A Modern Herbal). I suggest you make some of each as they are both delightful. Remember that you can also use the vinegar for salads and desserts, and the syrup is lovely on ice cream, too.
1 quart of ripe blackberries, destemmed
Vinegar—apple cider, red wine, or malt
Fill a quart jar with blackberries to just below the threads where the lid fits. Fill the jar with vinegar until the berries are just covered. Put on the lid and let sit for three days to draw the juice out.
After 3 days strain through a sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.
Let your berries sit and drip for a few hours until the vinegar-juice has finished straining.
At this point you can bottle it up with a pretty label and use the vinegar, or you can make Blackberry Syrup.
Note: If you are using raw apple cider vinegar, as I do, your vinegar may get a white bloom on top. I am not sure what that is, whether it is the growth of a vinegar mother or something else. If this concerns you, simply put your vinegar in a pan and boil gently for few minutes to pasteurize it.
1 pint blackberry vinegar
1 pound sugar—can be raw, sugar cane crystals, etc.
Place vinegar and sugar in a pan. Heat to boiling and gently boil for 5 minutes, removing any scum that arises. Let cool and bottle with a pretty label.
Note: I used slightly less sugar than this recipe calls for and my syrup came out fine. You can experiment and see how much sugar you want to use.
According to A Modern Herbal, 1 teaspoon of the syrup, mixed with a glass of water, “will often quench thirst when other beverages fail and makes a delicious drink in fever.” It makes “a fine cordial for a feverish cold.”
I find that putting the vinegar and syrup together makes a drink that is tasty and very thirst-quenching. Here are proportions to start with, and then you can adjust to your own taste.
1 qt. water or carbonated water
1/3 to 1/2 cup blackberry syrup
1/4 cup blackberry vinegar
Mix and enjoy! You can pour it over ice for a refreshing drink on a hot day.
A Modern Herbal by Mrs. Maude Grieve, originally published in 1931, reprint available from Dover. Online version: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html
The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler, 2004, William Morrow