Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Memories are made of this

My childhood is peppered with memories of picking fruit in various guises. My Mum used to work in the strawberry fields picking strawberries. That may sound idyllic but is, in fact, gruelling work, bent double picking fruit that's at ground level in full sunshine with no shade whatsoever. My Mum used to work in shorts and a tee shirt and had nut brown legs, arms and a little patch across her back where her tee shirt parted company from her shorts. The pay was terrible and the work hard but she did it because we needed the money. Nowadays, I'd guess that much of this sort of work is done by migrant workers but in those days it was all women just like my Mum.

We also picked the blackcurrants that went into the 1960s Ribena - I've discovered recently that 90% of the commercially grown blackcurrants in this country are sold to GSK for this purpose. The nuts we picked (chestnusts and hazelnuts) from hedgerows and blackberries and you have a pretty good set in terms of fruit picking but these latter things went nowhere further than our own tummies.

I love picking food from hedgerows, to me it's one of the purest pleasures you can have. It's free food - in these times of rising food prices how much better can it be than eating something you've not paid for in any sense except for the time taken to pick the berries or nuts.

Years ago, we picked our berries and nuts in the hedgerows of farmers fields and on several occasions, got turfed out by angry land owners for trespassing. Yesterday, I picked myself a big bowl full of blackberries from our own field's margins. I got scratched and stung - the brambles grow in perfect harmony with gorse and nettles so if the brambles themselves don't get you, you're gonna get "bit" by one of the others!

There is a deep sense of satisfaction, gained from the very pleasure of an hour in the autumn sunshine picking, with Rosie running around full of joy. She even ate a blackberry that I held out for her. Despite cuts, scrapes and nettle stings, it was one of the best things I've done in ages, especially knowing the blackberries were pollonated by our own bees and there was nothing "nasty" on the fruit from farming sprays.

Coming inside, the whole bowlful got tipped into a saucepan, water and cooking apples added and boiled to within an inch of its life. Then my heath robinson straining kit was used to extract the juice from the pulp and it's now ready to go into the final step of making spiced bramble jelly - juice, sugar and allspice. This will happen later today and our latest batch of free food will be ready for consumption from tomorrow onwards. Yee haa.

Heath Robinson straining kit - an upturned stool with a china bowl placed between its legs, a tea-towel pegged to the ends of the legs so it's suspended like a hammock over the bowl, then the hot mush poured into the tea towel. The whole lot is covered up with tea-towels so the flies can't penetrate and then it just gets left overnight for the juice to drip through slowly.

Update on Archie - as I type, he's in the garden, chasing chickens as best he can when his illness means he basically goes round in circles - but he at least has a bit of speed up and he's managed to eat some food. The eye movement is gone but the dribbling is still there. He's considerably better than he was but still far from the dog he was until last weekend.

1 comment:

toddono said...

Sounds like the best of days, Linda... Good to hear Archie is doing better. We'll keep you and him in our thoughts...