Whilst writing about the wines from the far south west of France I came across an unusual liqueur made by Domaine Berthomieu at the village of Viella in Madiran. Tanatis is a Vin de Liqueur made from late harvested grapes. These are 100% Tannat from vines which are more than 50 years old. After 10 days of maceration to extract colour and tannins from the flesh, skin and pips, the fermentation is prematurely stopped by the addition of spirit alcohol - in the same manner as the making of Port. The tasting notes suggest highly concentrated flavours of blackberries, bitter sweet cherries and prunes.
It made my mouth water and having spent yesterday blackberry picking in the hedgerows I wondered if any of you have come across the blackberry liqueur Crème de Mûres? In Jurançon they make a super aperitif which is similar to Kir (which uses the blackcurrant Crème de Cassis). The Jurançon version is called Le Murançon and uses Crème de Mûre à l'armagnac and Jurançon white wine. Jean Boyer is a producer from Saint - Geours de Maremne in the Landes (which is sandwiched between the Gironde and Pyrénées-Atlantiques). They make artisan aperitifs and liqueurs and come highly recommended.
Here in the UK we must pick our blackberries by Michaelmas (29th September) lest the Devil spits on them. There is some truth behind this myth as after the end of September the blackberries turn wishy washy, mouldy and bitter. Did you know that blackberries grow on every continent except Australia and Antarctica? Blackberries have been used as food and as medicines for thousands of years. The Greeks used the blackberry as a remedy for Gout, and the Romans made a tea from the leaves of the blackberry plant to treat various illnesses. They are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins along with being a good source of the minerals potassium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium.
The blackberry has quite a lot of mythology around it – in Brittany, it was considered a fairy fruit and consequently was untouchable. Another tale says that the blackberry was cursed by Lucifer when he fell from heaven and fell on the brambles. Blackberries are considered remedy against vampires - this lore is much older than the garlic one. The reason lies in the assumed fanaticism of all demons to count things. When you put blackberries on a threshold or windowsill, you can force a vampire to count over the thorns and berries until morning comes.
The fruity fragrance of blackberries is quite intoxicating and in 1920 René Lalique (1860 – 1945), one of the world's greatest glass artists and jewellery designers of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods began to make a blackberry perfume bottle called the Bouchon Mûres (French for "blackberry stopper"). He worked with François Coty, Roger & Gallet, Houbigant, Molyneux, d’Orsay, Molinard and Worth and his bottle designs, which evoked the enclosed fragrance, revolutionized the perfume industry. His glass creations are still collected by museums as well as glass enthusiasts – one of his Bouchon Mûres sold for £38,000 in 1990. Lalique’s son, Marc revived the family business under the name Cristal Lalique after World War II. The firm, currently run by grand-daughter Marie-Claude, produces new designs as well as favourites by René and Marc.
The perfume House Molinard is one of the few to still make a Blackberry perfume. Simply called Mûre has notes of Amalfi lemon, bergamot, African orange flower, blackberry, vanilla and musk. Mûre is from the collection "les fruits' which spotlights a single fruit note and all the ingredients are grown in Molinard's orchards in Grasse. Grasse is the birthplace of the worldwide perfume industry and lies in the Provence region of southern France. Maison Molinard was founded in 1849 and has remained an entirely family-run business right through to the present day.
With the scents of blackberries firmly in mind I decided to turn mine into a chutney rather than the usual jam. Chutneys as we know them today don't reflect their original form which came from India as we prefer ours to be sweeter - and the Indian ones are saltier, hotter and more intense. I thought a spicy hot blackberry chutney would be an unusual twist and that it would go well with beef cold cuts and the stronger cheeses.
12 oz. (350g) blackberries, hulled
¼ pint (140ml) white wine vinegar
1 onion, chopped
12 oz. (350g) cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
4 oz. (100g) light brown soft sugar
1 tbsp mustard powder (or Dijon mustard if you are stuck)
1 tbsp root ginger, finely chopped
1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped (optional)
Place the blackberries and vinegar in a large bowl and cook until these blackberries have disintegrated. Sieve to remove pips. Add all the other ingredients and bring to a boil. Keep boiling and stirring until the mixture becomes so stiff that you can see the bottom of the pan when you draw a wooden spoon through it. Spoon into clean hot jars, seal and label.