Chilli fest and hedgerow harvest

foodtrav-philippablackberryTRAVELLING chef Philippa Davis was back in Dorset in time for the annual Great Dorset Chilli Fest at St Giles Park near Wimborne – and the hedgerow harvest of blackberries …

The tropical sun set a thousand colours over the lush vegetation as the choruses of tuneful birds swooped through the warm evening air back to their roosts for the night…. Oh no, wait a minute, I’m in Dorset. Anyhow it was a beautiful end of a day.

I had visited the Great Dorset Chilli Festival. It didn’t take a Poirot to deduce what one might have expected from such and event, lots of chillies and chilli products showcased in Dorset, so no great surprises

I was surprised however to find out that I had up ‘till now been eating Padron in their infancy. For those of you who haven’t tried these, they are usually found as part of a Spanish tapas menu and are simply fried and sprinkled with salt, they go incredibly well with a glass of Fino sherry. I used to cook at the wonderful Moro restaurant in London, where the chefs would play Russian roulette with a cazuela filled of these. Our theory was one in seven were really hot, the Dorset padron seller said one in 10 but the chances are increased as the Padron matures. So if you like it hot, and some do, go for the larger ones.

I bought a bag full of mixed chillies with varying positions on the Scoville scale. We did a big curry night where I put half a Chocolate Hababero into a Keralan style fish curry I was making. Silly me. The sauce was so spicy I couldn’t serve it and had to do a last minute substitution. I then donned protective clothing of overalls, goggles and thick gloves and split the seriously spicy Chocolate Haberno chilli sauce into eight bags before cryogenically freezing it for a date when we had either ‘manned up’ or could get asbestos lined mouths.

The rest of the chillies are still in their bag in the fridge where they will remain for a bit, I am sure I can hear them taunting me every time I open the door.

“Can’t handle us eh?!!, If you cant stand the heat…

Well as it turned out I couldn’t stand the heat and so took the chillies’ advice and got out of the kitchen to go for a walk. Scrabbling across the fields I was in perfect luck to have timed my trip here with the ripening of hedgerows full of blackberries.

Despite the possibility of either being stung by nettles or pricked by the thorns it is great fun to go out hunting the hedges for these beauties but be warned, recruiting children to be the “hedge find managers” is not always wise, as they tend to eat more than they put into the pot.

The blackberries’ fate I decided was to be made into jam, a great way to enjoy the fruits little by little over the coming months, or in one tea time sitting when served with bread and butter to an army of kids as it turned out.foodtravphilppablackberry2

Blackberry Jam

I have tried lots of jam and I always come back to the conclusion that simple is best so I rarely add anything now apart from fruit and sugar into the pot.

This recipe yielded about 3.5 lb jars.


Blackberries 1.5 lb

Preserving sugar 1.5 lb

1 teaspoon butter (salted or unsalted is fine)



Place 2 saucers in the fridge. In a heavy bottomed saucepan heat the blackberries until they have yielded lots of their juice, stirring regularly and not worrying about them becoming a little bashed up, it will take about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Add the sugar then stir on a low heat until the sugar has melted.

Once the sugar has melted increase the heat so the mixture is simmering fast and cook for a further 8 – 10 minutes. Take off the heat and scoop out 1 tbs onto one of the chilled saucers. Put the saucer with jam on back in the fridge and leave for 3 minutes. If after the 3 minutes the jam skin crinkles as you push your finger through it, the jam is ready. This is the setting stage. If not return the saucepan of jam to the heat and simmer rapidly for another 5 minutes, then test again. When setting stage is reached pour the jam into hot, sterilised jars and seal with the lid.

Delicious on scones, drop pancakes , in melting moments, swirled through yogurt sweetened with honey and frozen as lollypops, layered between victoria sponges and cream, injected into doughnut, shaken with gin and topped with tonic water for a seasonal cocktail and of course simply spread onto bread and butter.

For more of Philippa’s Postcard Recipes and to follow her travels, visit her website