I love autumn, it’s my favourite time of the year. A time when nature provides an abundance of goodies, all there for the taking if you don’t mind scrambling around in hedges. I took a rare day off last Tuesday and thought I would go for a walk to enjoy some of the spectacular weather we’ve been experiencing, and to get out of the kitchen. Only I forgot my golden rule of blackberry picking, which is to set a time limit or an alarm or something which will drag me away from the berries. I’m quite a chilled out person most of the time, just taking things in my stride, but there is something about picking berries which brings out some strange OCD in me. I just can’t stop, it’s like a primeval urge to collect as much as possible before the winter comes, so if I don’t set a time limit or an alarm I can lose hours quite easily. Or to use a good Welsh expression, I get one eyed about it, as there’s always one more bush to find or hedge to investigate. But there’s also something special about being out in the countryside alone,with just your thoughts and a chance to be part of what surrounds you, and as a country girl I relish my time outside,time to bond with my inner farmer. For most of the time I was shadowed by a curious robin, a youngster without his full colours yet but he was quite happy watching me, never more than a few feet away. His company was quite companionable and I felt we had an understanding by the time I’d collected two tupperwares full of blackberries.
I like to let my mind wonder when I’m foraging, and I find myself contemplating what to make with the goodies I’ve picked. Will it be blackberry jam or bramble jelly, apple and blackberry pie, or blackberry and pecan crumble? I oftenimagine different flavour combinations and wonder what it’ll taste like, and after some thought I think this week’s berries will be destined for blackberry vinegar, but maybe with a twist. If you’ve not come across fruit vinegars they are a wonderful addition to your stock cupboard. They are incredibly versatile and can be used in salad dressings or in gravies to give a sweet fruity hit. But more surprisingly they can be used as cordials and when mixed with sparkling water they provide a refreshing and tasty drink, with none of the sickly sweet after taste of shop brought squash drinks. Oh and I’ve saved the best til last. They are amazing added to sparkly wine or champagne giving a fruity note and flavour without the extra alcohol of traditional cassis or raspberry liqueur.
Back to the blackberries, for the uninitiated there are several rules to blackberry picking.
Firstly don’t pick berries alongside busy roads, not only because you run the risk of being flattened but the berries will be covered in dust and particulate matter thrown out ofexhausts and I for one wouldn’t want to eat those berries.
Secondly, think of the biggest dog you can imagine and only pick berries above that height no-one wants dog pee in their crumble.
Thirdly, if you take odd sized containers out with you always make sure you fill the larger one first as there’s nothing more crushing than going from the giddy heights of filling your first tub than to realise that you’ve another one to do and its bigger than the first one!!
Finally, there’s a reason why the biggest, juiciest andscrummiest berries haven’t been picked and that’s probably because of some unseen obstacle between you and them! Usually a large ditch, which brings me to various blackberry picking injuries have inflicted on myself over the years. Falling into ditches and thorns paling into insignificance after a trip to our nearest A and E having managed to poke a huge stick in my eye, I did tell you I get one eyed about these things but I expect you didn’t think I would take it literally.