August 23 2015
Of all the weeds on the farm the blackberries at least have the redeeming feature of providing useful, delicious fruit. But for the last three years we’ve had such dry springs that they have barely flowered, so there has been very little fruit. This means that my eyes were alert to the clusters of beautifully black blackberries that we saw yesterday as we walked along the canal, here in Brittany. The Nantes-Brest canal, a massive engineering feat of the early 19th century, traversing north-west France with its succession of locks, provides a perfect walking track. The towpath is flat and wide, running between fields and the water, edged with overhanging trees, with the occasional picturesque lock-keeper’s cottage – stone walls, lace at the windows, apple trees in the garden. We walked beside the water, sheltering under our umbrellas against sudden bursts of rain, and picked a few blackberries on the way. They were ripe, plump and sweet, so when we got back to the cottage we went on the hunt for more. We didn’t have far to go. There were enough growing in the hedgerow fence to fill our containers. Martin was volunteered to make a cake, his previous upside-down cake prowess making him the right person for the job. We had a recipe from last weekend’s (British) paper that looked perfect – Truro pudding, essentially a batter poured over fruit – and Nick offered to go and buy some self- raising flour. Nick’s knowledge of French, limited to saying thank you and asking for more ice-cream, did not make him the right person for the job, but he was game and returned triumphantly with a packet of flour that proclaimed ‘Pour toutes usages’. I pieced together the instructions on the packet to see if its ‘all uses’ included cakes, but it was the advertisement on the side for a different packet of flour labelled ‘Gateaux’ that finally persuaded me that I was holding a packet of plain flour.
Happily, on this packet of flour was a most unusual recipe for pastry, so the cake idea was shelved in favour of a tart. Martin followed the recipe (in a saucepan heat 1 cup of water, 100 g butter and a pinch of salt; add 2 cups of flour and mix to form a paste) then let it cool slightly and lined a pie dish with it. He blind baked it for about 10 minutes then put the fruit in (the blackberries plus some apples we had also found growing wild, finely sliced) and sprinkled it with sugar. He made a small custard with egg and milk and poured it over, then cooked the pie for about half an hour. This pie was a masterpiece. The pastry was crumbly, the filling was bursting with the flavour of the blackberries, the tartness of the apple still showing through. But that pastry! So simple, so good. Sometimes the best things really are the ones you find by chance.