No culinary marriage rolls off the tongue quite so comfortably as blackberry ’n’ apple. The pairing of new season’s Pippins with the last of the year’s indigenous berries is one as old as time. It is hard to imagine a point when the two fruits didn’t share a dish – though it must be said that the arrival of the glossy black drupelets does seem to come around earlier than when I was a kid.
A deep bowl of steaming stewed cooked apples stained with bramble juice is something I hold off from making until early autumn. Nothing quite confirms the change of season like the appearance of a blackberry and apple pie. This year I have given the alliance a savoury airing as a sauce for pork chops – rubbed with a thyme and juniper salt – and as a filling for a seeded oat slice.
There are few wild blackberries around my neck of the woods. A cascade of spiky brambles climbs over the garden wall, bringing flowers but rarely fruit, so it is the cultivated ones that end up in my kitchen. They are sweeter and fatter than their wild siblings, which I am not sure is altogether a good thing.
The sharpness of a blackberry picked from a hedge is an autumn treat beyond measure despite – or perhaps because of – the inevitable scratched legs and arms that accompany them. Newfangled pairings will come and go, and a few will stay and become happily part of the culinary landscape, but I imagine blackberry and apple is unshakeable – a timeless coming together of two seasonal ingredients that will be here to the end.
Pork chops, blackberries and juniper salt
Taste the apple and blackberry sauce as you go: you may want to add a little sugar depending on the sweetness of your fruit. This will give you enough sauce to accompany your chops and to serve with yoghurt, for breakfast. Serves 4
cooking apples 1.2kg
the juice of half a lemon
soft brown sugar 1 tbsp
yellow mustard seeds 1 tsp
juniper berries 1 tbsp
black peppercorns 6
thyme leaves 1 tsp, chopped
sea salt flakes or crystals 1 tbsp
red wine vinegar 2 tsp
pork chops 4 x 250g each
a little olive oil
Peel the apples, cut them into quarters and remove their cores, then roughly chop them. Put the apples into a non-reactive pan (stainless steel or enamelled) then add the water, lemon juice, cloves and sugar. Bring the apples to the boil and let them cook, partially covered with a lid, for 10-15 minutes or so, till they are soft enough to crush with a fork.
In a dry, shallow pan over a moderate heat, toast the mustard seeds till slightly darkened. Grind together with the juniper berries, thyme, pepper and salt to a coarse powder. Remove the apples from the heat, then beat for a minute with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Remove the cloves and stir in the blackberries, vinegar and mustard seeds, and set aside.
Heat a griddle pan or overhead grill. Oil the chops lightly then rub 1 tsp of the juniper salt into each of the pork chops, massaging it into the flesh and fat. Place the chops on the griddle or under the grill and cook till the fat is golden and flesh is cooked to your liking. Remove the chops, season lightly with a little more of the juniper salt and let them rest on a warm plate, covered with kitchen foil or a lid.
Put the chops on a serving dish or on plates, and add a few spoons of apple and blackberry sauce on each. Scatter over a few extra blackberries if you wish.
Blackberry and apple seed bars
Seedy treat… blackberry and apple seed bars. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer
You can easily veganise this by using coconut oil in place of the butter. Use the same weight – 100g – and rub it as you would if you were making crumble. It is important that your apple and blackberry mixture is not wet. If it is, then drain for an hour in a sieve before using. Sweet varieties of apple will be more suitable than cooking varieties such as Bramley, which tend to cook to a froth.
For the filling:
apples, sweet 1.3kg
the juice of a lemon
For the base:
sunflower seeds 50g
pumpkin seeds 40g
skinned almonds 50g
chia seeds 2 tbsp
porridge oats 100g
rolled or jumbo oats 100g
demerara sugar 4 tbsp
Make the filling: peel the apples, core and roughly chop them and put them in a shallow pan with the lemon juice and water. Let them cook over a moderate heat till soft enough to crush with a fork, then tip them into a sieve placed over a bowl to drain. When the apples cool, cut the blackberries in half and stir them in. Set aside.
Put the sunflower and pumpkin seeds and skinned almonds in the food processor and work to coarse crumbs. Add the butter (or coconut oil), chia seeds, oats and demerara then rub between your fingers and thumbs, as if making crumble. It will feel like running your hands through coarse, soft sand.
Set the oven at 170C/gas mark 2-3. Place half of the mixture in a 20 x 30 shallow baking tin, lined with baking parchment, pressing it down flat with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25 minutes till firm and light brown.
Spread the blackberry and apple mixture over the surface, lightly smooth it down, then scatter the remaining crumb mixture over the surface and return to the oven for a further 20-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to firm up then cut into 12 equal bars and remove carefully with a palette knife.
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