It’s the 14th of September, and I know on this day last year we had our main blackberry pick. How do I know? Why, photographic evidence, with a date! Every year we have at least one and often two or three family outings to pick blackberries. And this time last year, blackberry season was still in full swing.
This year the blackberry season started really early, and I already have several pots of rich, dark jam sitting on my kitchen counter from a previous berrying venture. So today’s jaunt was undertaken in the knowledge that the season is more or less over. It was more that we always have a family trip to a particular site along the River Leen with our boys, or as many of them as we can muster. And as our previous trip had been boyless and to a different (very exciting) newly discovered patch, it did feel as if family tradition had not been properly upheld this year.
Without much hope in our hearts, we set out. Armed to the teeth with tupperware boxes and plastic bags. Ok they weren’t tupperware boxes, they were mainly ex-takeaway boxes but who knows how to get proper Tupperware nowadays? The two boys (14 and 18) made token shows of resistance but really they are as committed to these family traditions as we are. Their usual attempts to irritate each other and we their parents did little to dim the magnificence of a glowing, golden September afternoon. Our satisfaction being all the greater for feeling somehow that this is our treasure trove, and only a few other hardy foragers know about this inner city thorny wilderness.
We had to have the usual comments about how this patch of wild greenery used to be even bigger than this of course until they built all those houses and the tram, and how you used to be able to walk all the way from Bobbers Mill right along the River Leen. And how our older son Tom caught sticklebacks here (well a bit further along, the bit that you can’t get to now because there’s a housing estate there) and put them in with his goldfish and all the goldfish died … But, as Si told the current boys, the sticklebacks were so fascinating, with their little fins whirring …
Tom picking apples at the River Leen site September 2013
Because the afternoon itself, and being immersed in this little patch of nature, and hearing the companionable (and not so companionable) teasing of the boys was so – well, somehow so satisfactory anyway – because of that, when we did at last spot the occasional ripe blackberry amongst the largely denuded bramble patches we were as pleased as if we had found hundreds. The afternoon itself was sufficient. What I would normally have regarded as a very poor crop seemed like an embarrassment of riches. We treasured each and every berry, and somehow even with the relatively scant harvest, the boxes began to fill. We got our eyes in. And the more we looked, the more we found. Three boxes full of purple gloriousness.
Our scant harvest had become a feast not fit for a millionaire but for a pauper -because you couldn’t buy this if you wanted to. You could not buy the flavour of handpicked blackberries, their flavour more piquant because of every scratch and sting endured. You couldn’t buy the satisfaction of bubbling them up later with a few windfall apples, and topping them with a buttery crunchy crumble topping, and inhaling the heady aroma of simmering fruit wafting through the house.
Nor could you buy the way your teenagers enjoyed eating the glorious fruits of their labour, and the hope you have that they will continue the family tradition when the time comes.
So next time I think I have left it too late, or there won’t be enough, I will have to try to remember that the adventure of going to look is worth doing anyway – and I may find more treasure than I ever expected.
Half-eaten blackberry and apple crumble