We would head off with a billy, a bag of sugar and some flour. Over the river and past the paddock where the cows went when the feed was low, to the spot where the blackberries grew wild and almost unchecked on the edge of a eucalyptus covered hillside. We must have been allowed to take matches, because after the berries had been picked we would mix the flour with river water and make a fire, then, pleased with our self sufficient colonial ways, go on to mix the blackberries with sugar and cook them a little while the damper was baking.
Slowly my readers will get to know Lubriano, with its valley of edible plants and picnic spots, donkeys, ducks and chianina cattle. I’m re-living my own childhood on adventures down below the town, and find myself, over 30 years later, as taken as ever by the filling of a bucket with fruit, the fattest and ripest berries always hanging far out of reach, prickles waiting to curb over-enthusiastic hands, and one picker always ready to eat almost all the haul. In reality the Lubriano berries are small and wild, but cooked up with sugar and lemon (rind and juice) and baked into buttery shortcrust they are as good as hot damper with a smear of fresh berry jam.
These blackberry treats sort of came about when we prepared blackberry crostate for the first ‘festa delle more‘ this summer. Our friend Barbara had made an incredibly short pastry with a little raising agent. It was so soft and fluffy that in mini muffin trays the pastry literally enveloped the jam in the centre, and the result were these little blackberry baci.
300 g flour
200 g butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
300 g blackberries
Rind and juice of 1 small unwaxed lemon
150 g caster sugar
1/2 cup of water
Wash the berries well and remove any stalks. Gently boil the blackberries in half a cup of water for about 20 minutes or until they have broken down a little. Then add the sugar, lemon juice and big pieces of lemon rind (large enough to fish them out later). Bring the mix to the boil stirring well and watching not to let edges catch, then reduce the heat and let the jam simmer. Jam will set depending on fruit, temperature and a range of other factors. It pays to keep a close eye on it. My mum’s gauge as to when it is ready to turn off is; take a wooden spoon and dip it into the jam, raise it up and let the jam drip off the side onto a place. It is only when the drips begin to really slow down at the end, that we have proof that the jam is starting to set. If you are making jam to then re-cook into a crostata or jam tart let it be a bit runny – it will firm jam up more the second time round.
Make the shortcrust pastry by first sifting the baking powder and salt into the flour. Cut cold butter into small cubes and rub into the pastry between fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add an egg to the mix to help bring it together, adding a tablespoon of cold water should the mix call for more moisture. Knead the pastry a little so that the texture is uniform, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll the pastry to about 1cm and cut into disks to fit a mini muffin tray. Lay into greased and lightly floured tray and fill each one with a teaspoon of jam. Bake until golden brown.