Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Berry Picking

Our family went blackberry picking the other day. This is something we generally try to do at least once every autumn. Wild blackberries ('brambles' here in Scotland), raspberries, blueberries, and crab apples grow in the nearby countryside, and being the sort of people who delight in getting something for nothing, we love going out with empty plastic containers and coming home laden with several pounds of fruit.

The blueberries are the first to come out in early summer. You have to stoop to pick them and you need a subtle touch or the berries easily crush in your hand. It takes forever to collect a few pounds, but the forest where we go to pick is cool and shady and for all that your back gets a little sore, it is always worth it as the berries are tiny and intensely flavorful -- far better than anything you can find in a store. I make blueberry muffins with them, or blueberry sauce to pour over ice cream.

Raspberries are next out, in mid July. There aren't as many of these as there are blackberries, and they are so good that it is hard to resist eating them as you pick. What few we manage to bring home, we tend to put in our cereal or eat immediately.

Blackberries come out just after the raspberries, and they are everywhere. If you put your mind to it, you could easily pick a kilogram a day and leave enough for the neighbors. We've earmarked the best bramble-picking spots over the past years we've lived here: the bridle path near our old neighborhood, a certain trail in the woods, just up the road from us, along both sides of a narrow country lane. We know where there is a hidden gulley between the bushes and the side of the road (infuriatingly, the out-of-reach berries there are inevitably the biggest and most tantalizing), we are aware of the places where the nettles grow almost as high as the berries, and we know to visit the deserted farmhouse where there used to be golden raspberries that ripened just before the brambles.

So yesterday, tired but satisfied, we returned to our house with several pounds of berries. And as we were coming down the side road, there, just outside our very own garden fence, we spotted several canes absolutely groaning with the biggest, fattest brambles you have ever seen. They were so ripe and ready-to-pick that they almost jumped into our eager hands. I filled the last container with these and baked them into a huge bramble-and-apple crumble.

We couldn't get over it: we'd been all over the place, along hedgerows, through fields, down paths, up and over creeks, in pursuit of the likeliest berries and there, right next to our house, were the very biggest and best we had seen. We've walked past those brambles dozens of times and never registered that they were there.

There has to be a lesson in that. If there are any hidden crab apple trees nearby that have heretofore escaped my attention, believe me -- I'll find them.



Brian said...

Ah, blackberries. An imported pest in many parts of Oz, but for me the thought of them brings back some happy memories. When we went rabbiting or fishing out near Wollombi when I was young, we often brought back loads of the succulent things, together with mushrooms and even quinces ! Fish and rabbits too !.

Up the side of the steep hill over the creek there were wild raspberry canes, with very few berries, tiny and sweet, but with the habit of grabbing one round the ankles. If they didn't trip you ( with rifle in hand too! ) they pulled across the instep and left a lot of embedded thorns.

In Wagga we often had to rescue sheep -- stupid creatures-- that got caught by the blackberry canes. We saved the farmers a mint, I reckon.

In the Dondingalong orchard I grew boysenberries , blueberries, strawberries and raspberries-- mostly for the benefit of possums and birds.

But we got enough to enjoy the odd sweet dish,and our flighty friends were welcome to the rest.

And Murphy's Law asserts that the best berries are always at the high end of a cane.

By the way, a Welsh acquaintance of mine often asked in a delightfu lilting accent --" Why are blackberries green when they are red?"


Christy said...

Yum-oh! I'll be there for dessert. Blackberries are hard to come by here, although I know that they do grow wild in some areas of the Ozarks. The problem is that I've never managed to actually find those areas.

Carolie said...

Yum, yum, YUM! I absolutely adore berries! Perhaps partof it is that one must brave the thorny canes to get the good ones, and the store-bought ones are never very good (the best berries are too tender to travel well, and they just don't taste the same as they do when plucked warm from the sun!)

You've paid me back extra for making you yearn for peaches! Ha!

Kim Ayres said...

Finding a good bramble spot is a cruicial part of settling into any new area. I never feel truly at home until I've found a place where I know I can gather several tubs of brambles.

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- Berries, mushrooms, quinces, fish and rabbits: you could practically live off the land! And yes, blackberries and raspberries DO grab you around the ankles. They seem to want your attention in the worst way. But I must admit, I have never once seen a sheep trapped by them -- and we have plenty around here! Perhaps Scottish sheep have grown used to them?

Christy -- My mother used to bake something called a Kentucky jam cake with blackberry jam, and she used to have a lot of stories about picking wild berries. I hope you do eventually find some wherever you are.

Carolie -- There is something very satisfying about having to labor to get your food. We find that this is particularly true when we are picking blueberries. But I'm still dreaming about those peaches...

Kim -- In Castle Douglas and the Dalbeattie area there are loads of crab-apple trees. Have you found these yet? You may find us in the woods there, loading up our pails!

A Paperback Writer said...

Ah, yes, I remember the brambles growing all over Holyrood Park in Edinburgh. Brambles, gorse bushes, thistles, and bunnies.... all over the place.
I grow raspberries in my backyard here at home, so I don't have to go hunting for them. Out here in the West, crab apples were generally only used to help other jams jell up -- nowdays people just buy powdered pectin and are done with it. So crabapples are just for cross-pollenating other apple trees.
When I was a kid, we used to pick chokecherries for jelly, thousands of those little things. But all the places where they once grew wild have been suburbiad now, so I haven't seen one in years.

bella principessa said...

You've made me so very, very hungry. My family and I used to pick berries when I was a child. I miss it. I'd love to do it again with them.

sevnetus said...

When I was young, berry picking was a treat. I miss it now. Also it's the thing where the grass is greener and a prophet in his home town. Berries are way cool!

TadMack said...

Looking forward to finding local produce -- discovered some squash in a store that was from Portugal! Here's to finding what's in your own backyard.

Danette Haworth said...

When I was a kid in Pennsylvania, we'd go up the mountain and fill buckets with blueberries. There'd be pies later.

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- I also thought that crab apples were just for upping the pectin in other fruit, like lemon peel. But they make the most wonderful, clear jelly, and you don't have to peel or core them. You do end up with a lot of stuff to throw out, though. How sad that the choke cherries have been replaced by suburban sprawl. Almost all the orange groves in my hometown have been razed to create strip malls and parking lots. Progress, they call it.

BP -- We picked fruit when I was a child too and I will always remember it. That's probably why I insist on going berry picking now.

Sevetnus -- I hope my kids will think that berry-picking is cool some day. Right now they tend to think it's a pain in the neck.

Tanita -- You will almost certainly be able to find brambles in Glasgow, or nearby -- and blueberries too. If you don't, come and visit us and we'll show you all the places around here!

Danette -- We never quite get enough blueberries to make whole pies with, unless we add apples. But they definitely grow on hills and mountains here, too.

allrileyedup said...

Sounds yummy. When I was a kid, there was a blackberry patch around the corner from my house and my brothers and sister and I would bring them home and make jelly. I can never eat blackberry jelly without thinking about that old house.

irreverentmama said...

Look at all the happy memories you've brought out! For me, it was picking blackberries along the railroad tracks a mile or so behind our house, often with my sister. (Through the bush, across the corner of the tobacco farmer's field, through another bit of bush, but not so far as the river - and there you were!) Gee. Sounds idyllic now.

I haven't had fresh blackberries since I was 17. Sigh.


Mary Witzl said...

All-Rileyed-up -- My children can't wait to get away from the little town we are in, which they find depressingly provincial and bucolic. I hope they'll have the memories you have about berry-picking someday.

Laura -- It does sound idyllic! We never had blackberries where I grew up, but I can still remember picking gooseberries in Kentucky, and scuppernongs behind my cousin's house in Florida. At the time, it was no big deal. Now it makes me feel so nostalgic, even the memory of the mosquito bites (Florida) and chiggers (Kentucky).