We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

Finally. I picked the blackberries. I have no less than ten thorny incisions on my violet-stained fingers to prove it. In Geoffrey’s words, I’ve more than earned a brave brambleberry scout badge.

In a concerted effort to “will” or tame the season….to somehow preserve traditions of y’ore, I patiently lingered until just a day shy of autumn to tackle our humble creepers bursting with ripe fruit.


When the day came, I packed up a punnet of necessary things: a flask of strong coffee, some bits to nibble, a special book, gloves and nippers. I set up a workstation by the old cottage at Ballyhahill, and set out to pluck a bucket of deep purple berries from the wall of prickly vines that surround and protect it.


Despite my efforts to reclaim the bounty of a true fall harvest, to go back to a time when seasons could be held accountable, the swallows have gone and packed up to soar south for their holidays. And, believe it or not, red berries are already beginning to dot our shiny, sharp-leaved holly trees. Hedgerow sloes have been ripe for the picking since mid September…usually not ready until after the first frost. Dare I ask, do these signs point to an early, hard winter? Seasons just seem to come earlier and earlier, but just how far can back can they go….in a nod to a T.S. Eliot poem, could nature somehow arrive back to where it all started?


Ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a swallow or sparrow and I certainly never knew that sloes were a fruit that grew on a tree; rather, a putrid syrupy “gin” poured as a cheap fizzy cocktail. I, ashamedly, was not at all concerned about climate change or farming or growing my own food. It was far easier to go through life eyes wide shut, worrying about my next new pair of shoes or how many air miles I was stacking up. I had a career that could cunningly give you a false sense of influence; a feeling that honestly never quite sat right with me, but also a feeling for which now I will embarrassingly admit, sure was easy to get used to…

Today, I am forced to reckon with raw nature, and well, it can be daunting. There is no sense of superiority here that’s for certain. We are ruled by nature. It affects everything we do here on the farm. From rearing animals on grass to growing crops for winter fodder. Sowing and cultivating the kitchen garden, and even allowing our new heritage turkeys to frolic in Turkey Hollow, it’s all down to what Mother Nature decides.


So, I picked the blackberries and left some behind, and I will stubbornly, and perhaps ridiculously, wait every year until it’s truly autumn to take them again.

And now, we feast.



Blackberry & Apple Tart with a Hint of Sweet Geranium

I learned straight away that any and all things Blackberry and Apple reign supreme here in Ireland during the autumn harvest season. It is certain that any manner of tarts, crumbles, cakes and puddings will be found on the dining tables of Irish country houses at this time of year. It is a tradition that was uncommon to me initially, but one that makes perfect sense as the two fruits do truly sing together. I experimented with adding a hint of sweet geranium essence to these individual tarts and we really enjoyed the subtle addition. Sweet geranium is unrelated to the flowering garden geranium and has leaves in a variety of scents from rose to lemon and even a mint-y version. Of course, you can leave out the sweet geranium syrup infusion altogether for a classic fruit tart with full-on jammy blackberry/tart apple flavour.

Makes 3 miniature tarts, or one standard pie.

For the shortcrust pastry
Scant 1.5 cups/113g butter, softened
Scant 1 cup/200g caster sugar
1 small egg
4 drops vanilla extract
2.5 cups/300g standard plain flour (all purpose)
For the filling
5 sweet geranium leaves
200 mls water
150g caster sugar
80 g butter, plus extra for greasing
100 g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4-5 Bramley apples, cored, peeled and each cut into wedges
200 g blackberries
1 large free-range egg, beaten
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
To make the pastry
1. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until a light creamy consistency has been achieved.
2. Add egg, vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and mix to a paste just until pastes comes clean off bowl. (Be careful not to over mix or pastry will become elastic and doughy.)
3. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or even better, overnight.
To make the sweet geranium syrup
1. Place 5 sweet geranium leaves in a saucepan with the water and sugar.
2. Heat until sugar is fully dissolved. Take off heat and set aside to cool.
For the filling
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
2. When syrup has cooled to room temperature, pour over blackberries and steep for at least one hour.
3. Put the butter and sugar into a saucepan and, when the butter has melted, add the apples.
4. Slowly cook for 15 minutes with a lid on, then add the infused blackberries, stir and cook for 5 more minutes with the lid off.
1. Remove your pastry from the fridge.
2. Dust your work surface with flour, cut the pastry in half and, using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces out until it’s just under 1cm thick. (Rolling the dough between two layers of greaseproof paper will also stop it sticking to your rolling pin.)
3. Butter a shallow 26cm pie dish or three mini tart tins and line with the pastry, trimming off any excess round the edges using a sharp knife.
4. Tip the cooled apples and blackberries into a sieve, reserving all the juices, then put the fruit into the lined pie dish so you have a mound in the middle.
5. Dot each mound with a teaspoon of remaining butter
6. Spoon over half the reserved juices. Brush the edge of the pastry with beaten egg. 6. Roll out the second piece of pastry, just as you did the first, and lay it over the top of the pie.
7. Trim the edges as before and crimp them together with your fingers.
8. Brush the top of the pie with the rest of the beaten egg, sprinkle generously with sugar and the cinnamon, and make a couple of slashes in the top of the pastry.
9. Place the pie on a baking tray and then put it directly on the bottom of the preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and crisp.
10. To serve, slice the pie into portions and serve with a generous dollop of custard.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014. 


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13 Responses to “Blackberry + Apple + Sweet Geranium Tart”

  1. Pamela says:

    It must have been about a year ago that I saved the recipe of Blackberry Apple Sweet Geranium Tart from your site and now that blackberries are back in season again I pulled the recipe from my storage of files. Although I grow geraniums at my home, just going out and cutting leaves like this when I’m not SURE, I mean POSITIVE this is what I’m SUPPOSE to be using and not something poisonous, is not something I’m comfortable with doing. You say “sweet geranium” but when I do a search on this here in the states I don’t really get anything coming up for this. When I do a search for “edible geraniums” what appears most often is “scented geraniums” but I’m not sure this is the same thing. I realize being on two different sides of that BIG Atlantic Ocean can make a great difference. Do you have any suggestions or advice on how I can obtain SAFE geranium leaves to use in this and other recipes?

    • Joe says:

      Pamela, I think what you want is called Rose Geranium. When you brush the leaves they have a sweet scent of rose. The leaves are used to extract the scent for rose perfume and for flavoring cakes, jams, jellies, ice cream … and pipe tobacco.

      There are 2 different geraniums called Rose Geranium or Sweet Rose Geranium. You want the one that is: Pelargonium graveolens.

      Good luck!

  2. Jude says:

    Thank you so much for your site. I just found it this morning. I live on Vancouver Island in B.C. Canada
    Where can I find/purchase sweet geranium?
    You now have a new follower of your site…

  3. Aine says:

    Oiche Shamhna Imen, and check out The Abbey of the Black Hag, Hidden in a secluded valley southeast of Shanagolden, are the remains of a medieval convent where the prioress, a lady of the FitzGeralds from Shanid Castle, terrified the local population with her use of the black arts and sexual practices. The sacristy where she is buried is called Black Hag’s Cell after the blackness of her face when she died. Other reported ghosts include the Countess of Desmond who was buried alive in the Abbey, a mistake that came to light when her menacing ghostly figure prompted an investigation of her makeshift grave, where her finger bones were found to be worn out and ragged from clawing. Today her screams are heard throughout the ruins. Enjoy Colcannon and maybe even a spot of breac. Happy Halloween 🙂

  4. Mairéad says:

    I love all your blackberry photos – they remind me of my childhood days on my granny’s farm in Cork. Thanks for bringing back lovely memories of stained hands and berry picking days.

  5. Zambian Lady says:

    I like how the area where the blackberries are looks. It’s so raw, for lack of a better word.

  6. Krista says:

    I identify so much with what you wrote, Imen. The rawness of nature overwhelms and scares and inspires me all at once. I cringe a bit thinking how utterly naive I was when I moved here, but I’m so grateful for all I’ve learned and continue to learn. It feels good to be part of something uncontrollable yet so generous. I love your words and your photos so much. 🙂

  7. Kit Mitchell says:

    Lovely post of your thoughts, Imen- It’s good to have forces in life that make us see what is truly important.

  8. Cara O'Sullivan says:

    This post resonated with me. My husband grew up in Ireland and he misses the tastes of home–I will have to make this pie for him. I grew up in Iowa, descended from Irish immigrants. Blackberries and raspberries grow wild in the woods of Iowa. When I was a child, we’d pick them and if my mother was lucky, she’s get a bucket of them brought to her. Most didn’t make it home. 🙂 Pie and T.S. Eliot–what’s not to like. Thank you for bringing up memories. I must go bake that pie this weekend and reread Mr. Eliot. — Cara O’Sullivan, Provo, Utah

  9. Julie Seibel Smith says:

    Whenever I see blackberries it immediately takes me home and memories flood my mind of days with my mom and siblings with a pail on our hip held by a belt, long sleeved shirt regardless how warm it was, heading to the woods. We came home with purple stained hands, lips and cheeks. My favorite was canned blackberry sauce dipping in fresh homemade buttered bread. How I miss home….and Mom.

  10. Meghan says:

    Your writing is spellbinding, and your farm is breathtaking. In this stage of life, I am caught in between the brute of society and the hand of nature, hoping to soon take hold of the latter. It is quite daunting, indeed, but well worth the effort in the end, I think. I’ve never seen geranium syrup, but it sounds absolutely resplendent, as does the pastry it is infused to. Lovely, really.

  11. Donna Baker says:

    I’ve always loved those lines from T.S. Elliot. After years of thorns, we finally planted thornless blackberries and I don’t know how I did it all those years.

  12. This post is gorgeous and inviting. I’ve never tried sweet geranium before, but now I really want to — it sounds like just the right note of surprise and delight for a cozy apple-berry tart.

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