A bit of late summer foraging always puts me in mind of the words of the wonderful Seamus Heaney:
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.
Luckily for me there’s a huge blackberry bush at the end of my front garden, providing handfuls of snatched berries for breakfast on route to work with further pickings gathered on the way home to be instantly frozen or eaten with yogurt or cream.
Other berries, particularly fragile raspberries and tayberries, are more troublesome. Each year I always vow only to pick enough to eat that day; not only are they so fragile but they also are the most expensive of the soft fruits at our local PYO, and its heart-breaking to have to throw away any fuzzy or hopelessly squashed ones.
Of course each year is the same and the allure of the little scarlet fruits, gently sun warmed, is too much to resist. We always end up carting home at least a couple of large punnets to gently taunt me every time I open the fridge door.
This year I was determined to be more organised, as well as some of Dan Lepard’s oat bran muffins, studded with both blueberries and raspberries - far less virtuous than they sound and very, very easy – I also picked out this Summer cake from Nigel Slater, for Stealth’s annual, seemingly never-ending, unbirthday bash.
I’m afraid I can’t take credit for the making of this cake, it was one of the wonderful Ewing’s creations, but I can take full credit for demolishing several large slices. The ground almonds and soft fruit keep it particularly moist, but a little dollop of cream or ice cream alongside wouldn't go amiss either…
Summer Cake with Raspberries and Apricots
Adapted from Nigel Slater's Tender volume II
175g golden caster sugar
200g ripe apricots (or peaches or plums)
2 large eggs
175g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
1 tsp grated orange zest
a few drops of vanilla extract
150g raspberries (or any other soft berries)
Line the base of a 20cm, loose-bottomed cake tin with baking paper. Set the oven at 170C
Cream the butter and sugar together in a food mixer until pale and fluffy.
Halve, stone and roughly chop the apricots.
Beat the eggs lightly then add, a little at a time, to the creamed butter and sugar. If there is any sign of curdling, stir in a tablespoon of the flour.
Mix the flour and almonds together and fold in slowly to the creamed buter/sugar/eggs.
Add the orange zest and vanilla, and once they are incorporated gently stir in the chopped apricots and raspberries.
Scrape the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Test with a skewer – if it comes out relatively clean, then the cake is done.
Leave the cake to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, run a palette knife around the edge, then slide out on to a plate.
Decorate with a sprinkling of icing sugar or granulated sugar and serve with cream or ice cream and more berries.