I’m a self-confessed foodie and therefore, as this description may suggest I love food, whether buying, cooking or eating it. And free food trumps just about all other varieties!
As we say goodbye to the summer, the hedgerows are full of yummy treats that are free for those willing to put a little time into their collection. While I don’t confess to be able to identify the varieties of mushroom and leaves that are safe to eat I do know what a blackberry looks like. As a child I remember wandering through the woods behind my grandparents’ house picking blackberries from the undergrowth before returning to my Nan’s kitchen where the results of our efforts were turned into a delightfully comforting crumble. I’m now fortunate enough to live in an area where all the local roads are lined with bramble bushes burdened with the fat, purple fruits and I take a childlike pleasure in raiding this free food source on a sunny September afternoon.
After a recent foray into foraging I was reminded of a few of the key things to consider before embarking on a fruit collecting afternoon and thought I should share them so that others don’t make some of the same ‘mistakes’ that I seem to repeat each year!
Pack a punnet – remember to take something with you to put your picked fruit into. Whilst carrier bags may be handy to bung into a pocket on your way out to your chosen picking spot there is increased risk of crushage and juice leakage which will most likely result in a purple stained disaster (see ‘Get your gloves out’ below). Lidded containers work best for bunging into a bag once you are blackberried out and start to head home. I find an empty ice cream carton works pretty well.
Don’t wear shorts – so it’s a sunny afternoon and after a non-existent summer you decide to make the most of the sudden appearance of sunshine by getting your legs out. You then decide to make the most of the weather with a blackberrying expedition. Well before you go any further don your wellies or change out of your shorts into some trousers. I manage every year to head out in cropped trousers forgetting that a) blackberry bushes have thorns which are surprisingly sharp and will scrape and graze any flesh on show and b) nettles often grow alongside brambles resulting in stings to those bare legs in addition to the scrapes and scratches.
Get your gloves out – if you don’t want to look like you have just performed mass murder in a Ribena factory, a little pair of rubber gloves are certainly useful. The juice from overly ripened blackberries really does stain just about anything it comes into contact with and after a blackberrying trip last weekend I am still attempting to get the purple stains off of my palms and from under my nails.
Aim high – and lastly, probably the most important tip of all, pick your blackberries from above knee height…or as my mum always used to say above ‘dog peeing range’ (need I say more)!
Then all that is left is to head home and enjoy your bounty. The most obvious place to start has to be the aforementioned crumble, smothered with ladles of custard. For the slightly more adventurous forager jam is also a good choice andI personally adore the addition of a good squeeze of lemon juice to my blackberry jam. And for all of these British classics I instantly turn to my dog-eared copy of Margaurite Pattern’s Everyday Cook Book for instruction (although these days Google provides a good deal of inspiration of what to do with your crop)! So before autumn hits us with a vengeance why not try and squeeze in a little foraging for a free foodie treat.
Julia Calderwood is currently studying for a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast where her research is focusing on methods to improve yields in mussel farming. She is settling into life in her new coastal residence – a gorgeous lough side house with an aga and a view and will be providing some interesting recipes on a local/slow theme in the months to come. Her own foodie adventures can be found on her fascinating blog, Something Missing