Blackberry and apple crumble

When I was younger, I used to create ‘to do’ lists, and actually do the things on them. They were achievable both in length and level of ambition: French vocabulary test – check. Write history essay – check. Letter to granny – check. Buy some more toothpaste – check.

Now my ‘to do’ lists have to be divided into three tiers:

Tier 1 – Urgent. Must do. (eg. pay electricity bill, pay council tax, buy more loo roll, chuck dead flowers)

Tier 2 – Life-improving/disaster-averting things I’ve been meaning to do for a while (eg. switch to an internet provider which actually provides the internet, buy a vacuum cleaner which actually vacuums, do dry-cleaning, get home insurance, replace my only pair of jeans which now have holes in the bottom, book doctor’s appointment about dodgy toe, write a blog post…)

Tier 3 – Things I want to do, but have resigned myself to never achieving (eg. lose one stone, read book for next book club, learn Farsi, start pottery evening classes)

Occasionally the things in Tier 2 whizz up into Tier 1 and eventually get done. But it’s rare that anything in Tier 3 moves up into Tier 2 and is in any danger of actually happening. One of the things, for example, which has been in Tier 3 for some time is ‘learning more poetry off by heart’.

I’d like to be the sort of person who could drop the odd quote or relevant rhyming prose into conversation. Sadly, it’s an activity mainly left to our grandparents’ generation. Our schooling was too focused on SATS/CE/GCSES/AS and A-levels to squeeze such soul-improving activities into the syllabus.

And it’s a problem – because I often worry that if I were in a Count of Monte Cristo situation, arrested for political crimes and imprisoned in Chateau d’If for a decade, then I should like to be able to call upon some poetry rattling round my mind as a way to stay occupied. As it is, I only have a repertoire of three poems. And I’m not sure how ‘improving’ or thought-provoking any of them are. I can do the first two verses of The Jabberwocky, the first three verses of Macavity – The Mystery Cat, and all of Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry Picking.

But I must count myself lucky, as three is more than many people. And poems are such lovely things to mumble to oneself while pottering about. Indeed, at the weeked I was picking fruit in my pyjamas, and called upon Mr Heany’s prose to fill the time. So I dedicate this crumble recipe to him – and (seeing as it’s the only one I know off-by-heart in full), my all-time favourite poem:

Blackberry picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full,
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Blackberry and apple crumble recipe

100g plain flour
50g butter, cut into cubes
50 caster sugar
250g blackberries
cooking apples (see photo below)
Optional: zest of 1 orange (for some zing) 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (for some spice), 1 teaspoon of cornflour (to thicken the juices).

There’s nothing more joyful than using ugly, little windfalls and cutting round the maggot holes and bruises. In fact, if an apple is being used for cooking, then it makes me a little sad to use a perfect, gleaming specimen when it’s getting chopped up into a pie or crumble anyway

Put the plain flour, butter and caster sugar into a bowl and rub it all between your fingertips until the mixture is an even, breadcrumb consistency.
Peel, core and chop the apples and put them in a pie dish.
Add the blackberries – and some orange zest/cinnamon/cornflour if desired.
Pour the crumble topping over the fruit filling, and put it in the oven at 190C for 20 minutes. Serve with cream, ice cream or custard…or (even better) all three.

I made the crumble in several little ramekins (ok, old Gu pudding pots) – that way I could have one for supper, and one sneaky little one for breakfast this morning


  1. says

    love the poem and your latest article. believe it or not I had never heard this very SH poem before. keep writing and don’t stop making lists!

    Edmund Blackadder

  2. says

    This recipe final product looks delicious. I have such great blackberry picking memories. And I hear you on the to-do lists. I need to get back on the list bandwagon AND make sure I make realistic lists that I can, in fact, achieve.

  3. says

    I love your individual crumbles. I remember going out blackberry picking with my gran when I was little. Now I always see the bramble bushes but have nothing to put the fruit in. I vow I’ll come back another day and pick some but I always forget.

    • says

      Oh no! What a terrible thing – you should always walk with a plastic bag in your pocket on the off change that you come across a blackberry bush or some other interesting fruit that could go in a pie!

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