There’s the moment when you spot the bramble bush, laden with gleaming dark berries. The precarious reach, avoiding the prickles. That moment when, berry between the fingers, you assess it for ripeness. A ripe blackberry yields easily, ready to tumble into your hand. If you need to tug the berry from the stalk, it isn’t ready.
And then the moment of truth, as the juice hits your tongue. Will it be meltingly sweet, full-flavoured, wine-rich? Or will it pucker your mouth with unripe sourness, a hard little bullet of too-soon resentment?
I’ve been out blackberrying most days since the middle of August, taking advantage of the abundant harvest in the hedgerows around the fields and marshes of Oulton Broad. It’s been a complete delight, combining a good walk out to the river with the opportunity to stock up on free fruit. Searching out and picking the best berries, their druplets taut with juice, gets addictive. We’ve had blackberries for breakfast, swirled into yoghurt, blackberries for tea baked into shortbread and rock cakes. There are days when I’ve been tempted to pick more than we can possibly eat, just for the pleasure of gathering them.
What is it about hedgerow harvesting that is so satisfying? In Food For Free, Robert Mabey observes that blackberrying is what urbanites think of when we imagine the abundance of the countryside – an Eden where fruit hangs ready for the picking, with no need to toil or dig. And the inevitable thorn scratches and nettle stings (all the best bushes seem well-protected with stingers) only add to the sense of virtuous endeavour of blackberry picking.
Now I’m back in south London, determined not to lose the lovely sense of connection to the natural world that came so easily in Oulton Broad. So my first stop after work on Tuesday was the blackberry bushes along the pathway between the railway station and home, plastic sandwich container in hand. I soon had enough berries for breakfast – and several neighbours stopped for a chat. There’s something about blackberrying that seems to make us all want to slow down.
Note: Picking blackberries was one of the ways my mother used to keep us occupied during the school holidays, so always reminds me of childhood. I’ve written about the importance of remembering childhood pleasures on the StoryGuru website.