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About A Week: Sweet September

Peter Hinchliffe recalls fruitful Septembers.

Sweet September. The month when our kitchen was filled with extra-appetising aromas. Pies and pasties baking in the oven. Pies bursting with apples, raspberries, blackberries…
Jams and cordials simmering on the hob. Elderberry, black currant, red currant…

All the fruit freshly gathered in from our garden or wild-growing bushes and trees.

Autumn trips to the hedgerows around our village were once as commonplace as a visit to the Co-Op. No need to take cash in your purse when you went blagging. The produce was free - and tasted all the better for that.

My mother knew every blackberry bush for miles around Whitley. She sometimes carried two large wicker shopping baskets when she went on blagging expeditions. To return after a productive afternoon with a juicy purple Vesuvius of fruit erupting from each of them.

My patience was nowhere near as well-developed as that of my mother. Instead of a shopping basket, I went out with the modest intention of filling a jam-jar which had a piece of string tied round its neck to serve as a carrying handle. More blackberries went into me than into the jar. I always returned home purple-mouthed.

Lads and lasses ran home from school at this time of year, spurred into speed by the prospect of a tide-you-over sandwich filled with jam still hot from the pan before dad arrived from work and we all sat down to tea.

Mother, a village lass born and bred who lived in Whitley and its environs all her life, thought it wicked not to take advantage of food that was there for the taking. She even made use of stinging nettles. I spooned up and relished nettle soup. In the lean war years nettles also served as a tasty and perfectly acceptable vegetable.

The humble elderberry was boiled into a magical keep-colds-at-bay drink. Some call the elderberry the Englishman’s grape. Nutritionists now know that elderberries are far richer than grapes in essential vitamins. Elderberries contain nearly eight times more Vitamin A than an equivalent weight of grapes.

No lists of the nutritional contents of food printed on tins and packets in those days. No packages-within further packages-within boxes. Bread was handed over the Co-Op counter unwrapped. Flour was scooped from a bin into a flimsy paper bag. Bacon was sliced before your very eyes to the thickness you preferred.

Despite the lack of mollycoddling labelling and wrapping, we grew and thrived. Folk wisdom ensured that our mams knew what was good for us. No obese children then. No car lifts to and from school. No TVs, no video games. No designer clothes or fancy trainers. Only a bunch of clog-clattering kids, eager to get home from school and rush out to play, the lucky ones clutching a jam sandwich or a jam pasty.

The free shopping counters of 50 years ago are now diminished. Many hedgerows have been bulldozed into oblivion to make way for Greed Farming. Greedy farmers eager to batter and torture their land into producing cheap food for greedy folk.

Enough hedgerows remain to make blagging worthwhile. Recently I walked by bushes where mam took me blackberry picking before I had even started school.

I picked and ate a couple of berries. Delicious! There's ten thousand happy memories in the last of the blackberry Summer wine.


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