After a particularly hot and chaotic service at the café the other day, it was with great relief that I stepped through the front door and headed for my car and a welcome burst of cool air-con.

As I blasted myself with a delicious torrent of cold air I happened to look in the rear view mirror.

I always park with the back end of the car pressed right up against the elder bushes that border the property, and these unkempt trees are often overgrown with brambles and other plants.

There, dead-centre of my field of vision, was a wonderfully plump bunch of wild blackberries. Well, you know me by now, I can’t resist a quick forage, so I whizzed back into the café for a small plastic tub and set about liberating this bounteous crop of beautiful-looking bramble-berries.

There’s something extra-rewarding about finding and using something growing wild, whether it’s found on a long walk out in the wilds, or, like me, discovered by accident in the most prosaic of settings.

This is the time of year for the last hurrah of our native fruit. Summer is definitely a fading memory, and as the autumn envelops us in its leafy coolness, the remaining apples, pears, quinces, plums and berries signal the closing down of everything fruity until next year. So we must make the most of them before we have to rely on foreign-grown fruits.

Blackberries can be tricky customers to cook with, as they are often too tart to use solo, and can become jammy if overcooked. They work best as a companion fruit, adding colour and zip to dishes using blander fruit.

The apple is the blackberry’s most famous friend, and we’ve cooked them together before many times. But for this week’s recipe, I thought I’d switch things around and use pears.

They should be in absolute perfect condition right now, both on the tree or in the supermarket. I don’t tend to use pears as much as I should, because they’re really wonderful fruit – they have a marvellous granular texture, which releases plenty of luscious juice when bitten, and the flavour is fragrant and refreshing.

They cook well, too, holding their shape even when slow-cooked, which means your finished dishes have plenty of texture and contrast.

My preferred varieties are the red-green types such as Bartlett and Comice, though the classic Conference has its merits.

I thought of what to cook, and decided upon a simple croustade, perhaps the best way to showcase the fresh fruit.

It’s a classic French patisserie item, essentially a deconstructed puff pastry pie, with the comforting presence of almond-y frangipane sitting beneath the soft pears and tart wild blackberries. It’s a nice, quick recipe, and can be made in minutes, providing you poach the pears in advance. It’d be lovely with a nice jug of custard, or a couple of scoops of vanilla ice-cream, but I think it’s best with the thick, almost chewy texture of good clotted cream.

It’s also a way of waving goodbye to summer in a suitably respectful way. So, it’s coats on for one more foraging trip, out to find those little black jewels, the last whisper of summer, hidden away in the leafy corners of our beautiful region.


100g ground almonds

100g unrefined golden caster sugar

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large free-range egg

1 free-range egg yolk

20g plain flour

Vanilla extract


2 large ripe Comice-style pears

500g unrefined golden caster sugar

500ml water

A splash of lemon juice

350g puff pastry

100g fresh blackberries

1 free-range egg yolk, beaten

2 tsp unrefined golden caster sugar


1 x 227g tub clotted cream

1 x 21cm tart tin


First, make up the frangipane; beat the butter and sugar in a mixer or by hand until pale and fluffy, then add the egg and yolk one by one, beating well to incorporate.

Add the ground almonds, flour and a splash of vanilla extract. You should end up with a lovely light creamy-smooth paste.

Store this in a tub in the fridge until required, and allow it to come up to room temperature before working with it, as it might tear the pastry if it’s toocold and stiff.

Now for the pears; make a syrup with the water and sugar, plus a splash of lemon juice.

As it dissolves, peel, core and cut the pears into 8 pieces. Lay them in the syrup and poach gently, turning occasionally, until the pears are tender and translucent.

Drain and reserve the syrup for future poaching tasks. It will freeze very well. Allow the pear pieces to cool.

Lightly grease the tart tin. Roll out the puff pastry into a loose disc about ½cm thick. Press gently into the tart tin and spread the frangipane all around the base evenly.

Arrange the pear slices in a neat pattern, and dot the blackberries around. Fold the excess pastry over the fruit to make a rim. Brush this with the beaten egg yolk and dust with a little caster sugar.

Heat the oven to 190ºC / Gas 5 and bake the tart on a baking tray for about 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is deep gold in colour, and the frangipane risen and browned.

Cool the croustade for a few minutes on a wire rack before unmoulding from the tin and serving with the clotted cream.