Autumn is my favourite time of year. Winter is cold and wet, while the summer is too hot for me. I like to doze under heavy blankets, and I cannot do that in the summer heat. While spring temperatures are just right for me, there is still an underlying hint of frost. But autumn? In autumn we have the dying heat of the year and – best of all – it is time to go foraging.
I am lucky in that I live within easy distance of the countryside. There are plenty of parks and woods for me to walk through, canal towpaths and riverside paths to make my way along; and it is this time of year that the bounty of the countryside is at its best. The hedgerows become a blaze of colour, filled with ripening fruit and berries. I like to wander the trails, clutching a bag full of plastic boxes, scouring the brambles and the trees for blackberries, damsons and sloes.
My introduction to blackberrying came at an early age. My mother would take my sister and I for long walks along the coastal path on the southern side of Belfast Lough, looking for tangles of brambles. Then we would dive into them, searching for the biggest, ripest blackberries that we could find. My mother imparted the wisdom that had been passed down to her: “You have to pick blackberries before October, otherwise the devil sours them,” and “Don’t pick any blackberries below waist-height. The dogs will have pissed on them.” Then we would go home, laden down with our haul, and watch as our mother made jars of sticky-sweet bramble jelly to spread on toast during winter teatimes.
After I moved away from home and set out on my own, I didn’t have much chance to go blackberrying. My job took me all over the country, and I did not get many opportunities to search out the best places for foraging. It wasn’t until I settled down again that I decided to teach my daughter the delights of autumn fruit-picking. It took a couple of years to learn the best places to go. Brambles were everywhere – but I also learnt to identify other delicacies of the hedgerow and to expand my wanderings to look for them. I also learnt how to prepare them and preserve them, so that I could enjoy these fruits well into the winter.
In a couple of weeks I am going to go looking for blackberries. My kitchen will be full of heady smells and sweet steam. Then, as the year progresses, there will be more of nature’s treasures to harvest and enjoy. I shall fill my cupboards with jars and bottles: blackberry jam, damson jelly, sloe gin – beautiful shades of red and purple that remind me of my childhood.
OMP Admin Note: John Nedwill is a writer, OMP Network member, and a regular #OneMillionProject Blogger. His work can be found on Wattpad.com and in the One Million Project’s Short Story Anthologies published in February 2018.
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