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  • Clare Backhouse

Mellow fruitfulness: autumn’s natural fortification


Blackberries and apples across the UK countryside are a delightful invitation to harvest. This post is here to describe why they can be a brilliant health policy for the winter, and some recipes you might like to try.

'Soft' benefits

First of all, I think harvesting fruit at this time of year could be beneficial for more reasons than just the content of the fruit. Getting out in the fresh air, connecting with both cultivated and uncultivated land, savouring rhythms of the year that continue despite political upheavals – I find all these things restorative and hopeful in multi-layered ways.

As a child, my parents would leave Central London on September weekends and take us to their favourite spots for blackberrying. We’d return home laden. We would freeze the berries spread on trays, and then pour them like fat glass beads into freezer bags for the winter. Rare was the wintry Sunday, when a blackberry and apple crumble could not be conjured at the last minute!

I’ve often pondered this strange peregrination: my parents, otherwise urbane and busy people, driving off in their ugliest clothes to hide in a bramble patch.

Gradually I have come to see it as a rite of rhythm and sanity amidst a tendency to flatten time and alienate from land. Both born and brought up in the countryside, my parents’ passion for blackberrying was a yearly appointment with harvest-time, a prickly but welcome stake in the calendar. It seemed to say:

Now, we take part in a simple ritual that stretches across land and time and yet marks today. Now, we stock up for the future while breathing the scents of land and bonfires and ripe fruit. Now, we are ready for the autumn, because we touched and tasted summer’s benefits.

I could wax further lyrical, about the relatively democratic way that blackberries lie around for free beside public footpaths (North American readers: the British Public Footpath is a glorious thing. It allows one to walk around most sections of the country without getting shot at). Or the way overabundant apples in domestic gardens become parcelled gifts to the passer-by, even in cities.

But instead I’ll summarise the health benefits of both blackberries and apples, and you can consider.

Nutrient benefits

It is a beautiful coincidence that these fruits become abundant just at this season. The vitamins, phytonutrients and fibre they contain are like a feast for the immune system, fortifying our bodies against cooler weather and winter bugs.

Apples, for instance, provide plentiful vitamin C, which supports immunity. They also have a valuable substance called pectin, which is a soluble fibre that can be fermented in the gut. The importance of this is that it provides ‘food’ for beneficial bacteria to flourish and as such is named a ‘pre-biotic’.

There is a trend in nutrition at the moment which is turning toward greater and more varied intake of pre-biotic foods, to encourage beneficial gut bacteria to flourish within the gut, rather than relying upon pro-biotic intake (which is just ingesting beneficial bacteria, and not necessarily helping them to stay). A healthy lot of beneficial gut bacteria is just what one needs before plunging into term-time crowds.

Blackberries are also very high in vitamin C, but their particular superpower is that they also contain many phytonutrients (though apples have some too). Phytonutrients are plant chemicals which are considered beneficial for the human body, but are not strictly vitamins or minerals. They generally act as antioxidants, helping to neutralise potentially harmful ‘free radical’ substances that occur naturally.

Among other phytonutrients, blackberries contain anthocyanins. These are what give the bluey-red colour, and they can also be found in grapes and red wine. Anthocyanins are antioxidant, as well as anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial. (Greater claims are also made for anthocyanins, but these will do for the common cold!)

So - spurred on by their host of health benefits, I will be picking and eating apples and blackberries this autumn, and I hope you can too.

Here are some recipe ideas:

Apple and blackberry probiotic fizzy drink

This is a very simple fermented drink from Sarah Wilson. Into a litre jar you put half a cup each of sliced unpeeled apple and blackberries, with 1 tablespoon sugar and a teaspoon of spice, eg cinnamon. You fill the jar with water up to 2cm below the top and put the lid on. Shake it a few times a day and after 2-6 days bubbles appear. Strain into a swing-top bottle and it’s ready to drink. Keeps in the fridge for a week.

Blackberry and apple bircher breakfast

The night before: soak half a cup of oats in half a cup of any kind of milk. Add one grated apple and a good handful of blackberries and leave in the fridge. In the morning, the oats are soft and breakfast is ready! Add yoghurt, toasted nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Speedy apple puree

No peeling. Just slice apples top-down around the core into four pieces, then chop up just a little more. Put in a saucepan with water ¼ of the way up the apples, cover and heat gently till soft. Puree with a stick blender till smooth.

Further smoothness required? Squash it all through a sieve.

Freezing extra apples without fuss

In a large bowl, dissolve ¼ cup of salt in a cup of boiling water, then add 4 litres/8 pints cool water.

As you slice your apples, throw them into the salted water. When you’ve finished, or the bowl is full, drain the apples and decant into large freezer bags to make stackable flat packages - see below. The apples can be cooked from frozen and won’t taste of salt.

Apple and blackberry crumble, but with a very nutty crumble

A crumble without the sugar and flour, adapted from Deliciously Ella. The nuts make it easier on blood sugar levels, by introducing extra protein. Cinnamon also helps to balance blood sugar.

- Put 5 unpeeled sliced apples and 2 cups blackberries into a pan; add a few cm of water

- Add ¼ cup raisins or chopped dates, cinnamon and ground ginger to taste

- In another large pan, melt 4 Tbsp coconut oil, 5 Tbsp honey, and spices to taste

- Stir in 1.5 cups finely chopped nuts & 1 cup oats. Add extra oil or nuts or add seeds if you like

- Put the fruit in a baking dish and cover with the nut mixture

- Bake for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C / 180 fan until the top is browned.

If anyone else has some good recipes for blackberries and apples, do send them my way and I’ll share them.

And as we all get set for the new term, or just the new season ahead, do get in touch if you’d like support in creating new routines, tackling stubborn symptoms, or just gentle encouragement towards the health you’d like.

Something I have so enjoyed this summer is hearing about my clients getting well in a whole variety of ways. ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine’ is just that, and I love seeing it work. Often it is just one or two changes that make all the difference.

Happy harvesting, and happy new season!

To your best of health,

Clare

Clare Backhouse, dipION, Registered Nutritionist MBANT, Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC

Consultations in London, in West Sussex, and online

Resources, reading

Briggs, A.D.M., Mizdrak, A., Scarborough, P., 2013. A statin a day keeps the doctor away: comparative proverb assessment modelling study. BMJ 347, f7267. [this modelling study compared apples favourably with statins!].

Harvard School of Public Health, 2019. Apples. The Nutrition Source.

Khoo, H.E., Azlan, A., Tang, S.T., Lim, S.M., 2017. Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food Nutr Res 61.

Pojer, E., Mattivi, F., Johnson, D., Stockley, C.S., 2013. The Case for Anthocyanin Consumption to Promote Human Health: A Review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 12, 483–508.

Slavin, J., 2013. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients 5, 1417–1435.