Foraged fruits, breadcrumbs from left-over stale bread - what's not to like in these cost-conscious times?

One of my abiding food memories as a child is going blackberrying with my dad. He’d carry a walking stick to hook the brambles down and a newspaper-lined basket to soak up any leaks and we’d inevitably eat more berries than we took home for Mum to make pies and jam. We always went home covered in scratches and nettle rash, and purple with juice, so I’m not sure how grateful she was. Blackberry and apple pie, though, was my father’s favourite so I suspect that was a key factor.

Timing is everything, it seems. Folklore tells us we must pick blackberries before the end of September, otherwise the devil spits on them. The date coincides with the feast of Michaelmas, which celebrates St Michael, the archangel who kicked Lucifer out of heaven. Maybe the devil landed in a blackberry bush and has had it in for the thorny bramble ever since. Who knows? But it makes sense to pick them at their peak and September is their month.

My father may have liked them in a pie but today I’m offering you a blackberry and apple betty. A Brown Betty is an old American recipe which layers (usually) apples with spiced crumbs. There are many variations but I prefer it the way my aunt made it, just with the crumbs on top. It’s deeply comforting but lighter than a crumble and makes good use of stale breadcrumbs. And with experts predicting that food inflation in the UK could hit 20 per cent by the end of the year, a pudding which makes good use of foraged fruit and leftovers is a winner in my book. Scrump some apples from a friend with a tree and you’re quids in.

I’ve used walnuts in the topping for extra crunch and flavour and because they go so well with blackberries. They’re not part of the traditional recipe, so if you don’t like them or have a nut allergy, just leave them out and bump up the quantity of breadcrumbs.

Blackberry and Apple Betty (serves 6)

Great British Life: Blackberry and Apple Betty by Linda DuffinBlackberry and Apple Betty by Linda Duffin (Image: Linda Duffin)

4 largish eating apples
300g blackberries
50g soft light brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cornflour (optional)

For the topping:
100g breadcrumbs (not panko)
50g walnuts, fairly finely chopped
½ tsp ground cinnamon
75g soft light brown sugar
50g butter, melted

Heat the oven to 180C/160 fan/Gas Mark 4. Peel and core the apples and slice them thinly. Place in a bowl with the blackberries, sugar and cinnamon. The blackberries produce plenty of juice while cooking so you won’t need extra liquid. If you’d like the filling to have a thicker consistency, add a teaspoon of cornflour to the mixture, like the Americans do. Leave the filling to macerate while you prepare the crumb.

In another bowl, mix the first four topping ingredients. Pour in the melted butter and stir it through. Put the filling in a shallow pie dish and scatter the crumb on top. Cover loosely with foil and cook for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for 20 minutes more or until the fruit is tender and the topping golden.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 20-30 minutes. The topping will become crunchier as it cools and the filling is better just warm than scalding. It’s good served with crème fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

Linda Duffin is a food writer who operates a cookery school, Mrs Portly’s Kitchen Classes, from her beautiful Tudor home in mid-Suffolk. Students are invited, in season, to plunder the kitchen garden and orchard in her two-and-a-half acre garden for ingredients and can also book a stay as part of a course. Linda works closely with local producers, some of whom join her in teaching classes in their specialist areas. The Mrs Portly name, Linda says, started as a joke but she has grown into it.