Gardening: Branch out with berries

By Leigh Bramwell

A person with a surname like mine could be forgiven for not being too fond of brambles. The word was my nemesis all through primary school and it wasn't until I was about 17 and it was shortened to the somewhat cooler "Brams" that I was able to encounter raspberry and blackberry bushes without looking daggers at them.

I even planted one a couple of years ago, just outside the raised vege bed, but The Landscaper keeps mowing over it and although this has given it a vigorous growth habit with amazingly healthy, prolific foliage, it hasn't done a lot in the fruiting department. More accurately, it hasn't done anything.

Now I've decided to nurture it, so instead of lavishing unwanted, unappreciated and unreciprocated attention on my recalcitrant strawberries, the raspberry is getting the treatment.

It's ironic that plants that have been widely regarded as wild, thorny menaces should be responsible for producing the ingredients for one of our most fantastic desserts. But every summer these prickly nuisances produce raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, dewberries and boysenberries, all of which combine with strawberries and blueberries into luscious summer pudding to be eaten with buckets of cream.

So instead of scrambling down stream banks and through the long grasses that edge dusty country roads to pick them, plant your own brambles. They're easy to grow, they can be controlled (and not just by a ride-on mower) and the summer fruiting varieties thoughtfully ripen right after strawberries, creating a succession of gourmet fruit crops that make it seem like summer lasts forever.

Brambles require good air circulation and drainage, so choose a site for them that's higher than the surrounding ground and well out of reach of the madman on the mower. Such a location will also reduce disease and pest problems.

They'll tolerate a wide range of soils but do best when planted in deep, fertile soil high in humus. If you're unsure whether your soil is good enough, throw in some decent compost - one with chook or sheep manure would be good.

If you don't have a resident madman on a mower and are concerned that brambles may take over your existing garden, grow them in a rich compost mix in a big container.

The bushes will send up long, arching canes that flower and set fruit in the second year of growth. This means the current new shoots (canes) in a season from spring to autumn are the canes that will fruit the following season. After fruiting, remove the old canes at the base. Normally this is the only pruning needed, but if canes get too tall you can cut the ends off.

To keep a check on what has fruited and what is new, tie a marker on all the canes that fruit in one season.

You'll find plenty of bramble varieties to take your fancy - raspberry, blackberry and dewberry are basically the originals, and loganberry, boysenberry, tayberry, youngberry and marionberry are hybrids.

If you're completely at sea when it comes to choosing what to plant, follow the example of those who have the odd flutter on the horses and choose them for their names: Ranui, Black Satin, Brulee, Waimate, Aspiring, Ebony, Ivory and Karaka Black, to mention a few.

As soon as fruit begins to appear, alert your cats or set up some netting. Birds don't care whether your berries have reached the peak of ripeness so don't think you're safe until they're showing colour.

As soon as they're ripe, scan your recipe books or the internet for summer pudding recipes and choose six of the best - and make at least one a week. For some reason, the ones that look like an old work sock are the best.

Summer pudding

It's impossible to fail at summer pudding. If you're a novice, make a plain one first, and if you yearn for extras, experiment with lemon zest, cassis, vanilla paste or rum.

850g mixed berries and currants (lots of raspberries and blackberries, fewer currants)

7-8 slices firm, good quality white bread

3 tbsp white sugar

3 tbsp water

1 bottle of cream, to serve

Put fruit in a stainless steel saucepan over a low heat. Add sugar until it is as sweet as you want, about one to three tablespoons. Remember the pudding should have a bit of tartness to it.

Pour in water and bring to the boil. Simmer for three or four minutes until there is plenty of juice. Remove from heat.

Cut bread into slices about as thick as your little finger and remove crusts. Set one piece aside and cut the rest into soldiers - about three per slice. Cut a circle from reserved slice and use on base of pudding basin.

Line inside of basin with strips of bread, pushing together snugly and keeping a few strips for the top. Turn fruit into bowl - it should come almost to the rim.

Lay remaining bread over top so no fruit is showing.

Place a flat plate on top of pudding and put a weight on it to squash fruit down. Refrigerate overnight.

To serve, slide a palette knife around edge to the bottom, taking care not to tear the bread. Put a plate on top, invert basin and shake to dislodge pudding.

With luck, it should hold its shape. However, even if it collapses, it will taste sublime.


- Hamilton News

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