Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.
Blackberry picking heralds the end of summer for me. Driving through the countryside I see fields of wheat stubble and hedgerows heavy with berries, autumn is around the corner and I can hardly wait.
As for blackberrying, I've had a much easier time of it than Seamus. No trekking round soggy hayfields and cornfields for me, just an amble up my garden with a bowl in hand. No scratches, my blackberry is thornless. Its berries are large and juicy and they are not going to be left in a byre to rot because I have a freezer. Sensible me.
'Ah! that makes me think the time for blackberry puddings has come!
Then she gave one to Mother, and asked her what it made her think of. And Mother said, 'A whole row of pots of blackberry jam that I ought to have in my storecupboard!'.
Then she gave one to Grandpa and Grandpa said it made him think of 'Blackberry tart!'
And Grandma said, 'Blackberry jelly!'
And Uncle said, 'Stewed blackberry-and-apple!'
And Aunty said, 'A plate of fresh blackberries with sugar and cream!'
I'm with Mother, my jam stores are very low. The blackcurrant jam I made last month has all gone. I shall freeze what I pick for the next couple of weeks until there are enough to jam. I hope to have some left over though, for puddings and pies as well.
This illustration is from the wonderful Food In England by Dorothy Hartley, which might just be my most favourite book ever. Her lovely informative illustration shows when the berries ripen and the best way to use them. My bowlful should be eaten raw according to Dorothy, maybe we will.