|Water is everywhere in this landscape, you just can't see it for the growth of ubiquitous nettles.|
A blackberry and apple crumble made from the tip berries of one hundred bushes would grace the table of a Roman emperor.. a quote in the Resurgence magazine from Blackberrying for Beginners.
Yesterday we went to pick some blackberries at Sandford Mill. The little field we pick in is at the end of a dead end lane, and must still belong to the mill which is now a museum of Chelmsford's past. This large water mill served Chelmsford up to 1980s, but the surrounding land has now become a wilderness of water leats, river and scrub land, though that is an unfair description when you look at the graceful willows that line the banks. A photo from last year of this small enclosed space, grown wild with time, graceful teasels dot the ground, hemmed in by a great thicket of trees, in the centre there is a small mound covered in rabbit droppings, is this the royal mound upon which head rabbit comes out to display his authority? A private place of quietness, and the brambles ramble through the hawthorns, someone has already been before us, those trampled paths through the long rambling tendrils, so difficult to unwind from, but there is plenty to pick. The sun is hot on ones's back, scratches are already beginning to appear, the fingers dark stained with those little prickles which are such an irritant, sprays of berries tantalising out of reach, and I pick the ones caught in the shadows, missed by others and hopefully the flies as well.
It has been a marvellous year for all wild fruits so they were saying in the Guardian on Saturday, late cold spring seems to have had the opposite effect, and we are now in the middle of a bumper harvest, I notice rose hips are also thick on the bushes.
I use my last piece of muslin to tie the blackberries into a dripping bag, yes blackberry jelly, someone doesn't like the little pips in jam. Staining the virginal white of the muslin with the dark juice of the berries seems like sacrilege, and as I find a stool (to be balanced on another chair because of its back) and tie the dripping bag so carefully as to not miss a drop of the precious juice, I am reminded of redcurrant jelly so beautiful in its colour as it is turned to jelly. When redcurrants hang on a bush, go down in early morning and see the sun shine through its transluscent beauty, jewel like in appearance.
Grigson of course refers to this abundant fruit of our isles, he gives a Neolithic date for some seeds found in the stomach of a skeleton dug up from Walton on Naze in Essex. And gives some folklore, in the 16th century Highlanders twined a bramble with ivy and rowan to ward off evil and witches. And down in Cornwall, nine bramble leaves (and here I must quote) compare the novena, the intercession on nine days, one after the other were picked and given the purification of spring water, and then laid to swellings and inflammations with a charm.