There is something so precious about blackberries and their sheer abundance. They are truly wild, free and seasonal. I savour the timeless joy of walking slowly along our precious inheritance – the mixed hedgerow – and popping sweet berries into my mouth by the handful. Heading out with a pot to collect them in, and ending up heading home with a small haul, and a full belly. But what is best – they’re good for you – a good hit of vitamin C as the autumn chills hit, and even better, all children seem to love them.
Each local culture has its own customs and lore for the harvesting of wild foods, and they are particularly unique for blackberries I have discovered. I am used to blackberrying in late September and early October. However, here in County Cork the superstition says that the witches piss on them after the last day of September, or the devil. In fact many Irish people do not pick them at all as they are the property of the fairies and to pick them tempts the wrath of their curses.
We were warned severely that they were past their best, “full of worms” by well wishers as we picked them on the cliff path. How this can be I do not know, as they were only just starting to ripen. Parents cautioned me against picking them from the “busy road” (rural backroad) as we walked down to school. Why are people so worried about this natural bounty, when they are probably amongst the most healthful foods we could be eating? If we were mucking on technicoloured candy on the way down the road no one would have said a thing!
I always associate blackberries with my eldest brother. His birthday is in early October, and every year he had blackberries on his cake. So it was apt that my brother came to visit us this year at blackberry time.
The sun shone for the first time in days. The sky was blue, that bright autumnal blue with the golden stubble in the fields. We set out in jumpers and scarves against the chill wind. But the wind dropped and soon we were down to T shirts, enjoying the last of the season’s warmth – arms being scratched and stung as we reached for the juiciest berries.The blackberries this year are smaller than usual, a sure sign of the gloomy summer weather.
We had had our appetites whetted for months by our favourite Milly Molly Mandy story,where each family member dreams of a different blackberry dish. So it was with my family. I yearned for blackberry and apple pie, my husband for jam, and my son for blackberry jelly. Real wobbly jelly.
We headed home and cooked up a blackberry storm. Then with full tummies and hearts, we began a different sort of blackberry jam. Another family tradition. With my brother on guitar, me on piano, the kids on shakers we jammed together, singing our hearts out, and improvising our own song – the blackberry jam blues. The kids delighted at featuring in a song all about them and their day.
And me, I delighted in the ties of love across the generations and years, held together by the turning seasons.
This post has been written to feature on the Big Lunch blog celebrating communities, food and celebrating together.