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About A Week: Blackberries

Peter Hinchliffe welcomes the season of blackberrying – and tells of a sandwich fit for the gods.

Sweet September. Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness…and blackberries.

At least it used to be the prime season for blackberries, but in these parts folk have been picking the luscious black fruit for the past month.

In some parts of England blackberries were ripe and ready for picking in early July.

Last weekend I passed a chap with two plastic shopping bags filled with free bounty, heading home along an ancient green lane near my home.

“Don’t eat ‘em all at once,’’ said I, enviously thinking of blackberry pies and blackberry jam. “If you do you’ll get belly wark.’’

The man, who obviously understood broad Yorkshire, said with a grin “That’s what my mother used to tell me.’’

Belly wark, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is old West Riding lingo for stomach ache.

My mother always issued the belly wark warning when I set out on blackberry picking expeditions with friends Alan and Philip Kaye.

“Make sure you bring back more than you eat,’’ she advised sternly.

The advice was ignored. My mother must have realised that it was futile. There are things that an eight-year-old lad has to do. Breathe, run, wrestle, kick a football…and eat one blackberry for every two that go into the collecting jar.

Our collecting jars were large jam jars, with string tied round the lip of the neck to serve as a carrying handle.

It didn’t take long to fill those jars. We knew the location of every blackberry bush within a mile radius of our village.

That left plenty of time to cram fruit into our mouths, relishing the distinctive tangy-sweet flavour.

We arrived home with purple tongue and purple lips. And our mothers, recognising that we were still hale and hearty, untroubled by stomach pains, were wise enough to pretend not to notice.

A large jam jar contains just enough fruit to make a decent pasty. Before the day was out that pasty would have been baked and eaten with huge self-congratulatory delight by an eight-year-old who had just learned his first lesson in living off the land.

When mother went on blagging expeditions she took not a jam jar but a huge wicker shopping basket. Being a blagging genius, she was back in next to no time having gathered in a mountain of berries.

These were converted into delicious pies and jams which were fit to set before the most demanding monarch.

Modern times bring new styles of blackberrying. A year or two ago I saw a chap get out of a Jaguar car in a lane near where I live. He went to the hedge and picked berries, putting them in a bag.

Then he got back in the car, drove 50 yards up the road, and got out to pick some more.

Mother would have grinned at the thought of executive-style blagging.

Unfortunately there are far fewer bushes around for either the executive or ordinary picker than when she was in her blagging prime.

Brambles thrive in tangled hedges. And too many hedges have been uprooted to make way for modern farming machinery and methods.

In the 1940s there were 500,000 miles of hedges in England. There are now less than half that number.

However there are still enough bushes remaining for an enthusiastic blagger to go out and fill two plastic bags with free fruit.

And when you are spooning up the last mouthful of home-made blackberry pie the risk of scratched hands while combing the hedgerows seems more than worthwhile.

Even more worthwhile when you spread bramble jelly on a slice of fresh-baked bread.

We have done our blackberrying for the year. They jelly is maee – jars and jars of it.

Now here's a tip for a delicious snack. Spread soft cheese onto a slice of bread. Spread backberry jelly ont top of the soft cheese. Add another slice of bread. And there you have a sandwich fit for the gods.


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