Posted by: lensweb | September 5, 2014

Autumn Bounty

Ubiquitous in Erewash brambles tend to take over waste grounds if left unchecked. They can also be found on the edges of parks, in wooded thickets, by railway lines and cycle paths, at field edges.

At Forbes Hole for the LENS Butterfly day I saw that the blackberries were shining purple black perfectly plump for picking. The next morning I returned to pick the fruit. Blackberry expeditions are notoriously uncomfortable affairs so I was wearing walking boots, thick denim jeans and an army surplus olive green thorn proof jacket.  I entered the dark wood just as it started to rain. Stinging nettles lined the narrow path leading to the blackberries. The Botanical Society of the British Isles lists 350 micro-species of blackberry.  Dewberry Rubus caesius, common locally, is of little use for harvest, berries have only 3 or 4 purple mini globes which burst in the hand.

Forbes dewberry IMG_7991

The best berries are on our giant himalayan briars Rubus armeniacus, wicked backward curved thorns stab from deeply grooved tall arching stems, an invasive species which has escaped from cultivation. The heavily armoured giant briars catch at your legs, your arms, your hands and tangle in your hair.

A kind grey haired gentleman came to the rescue, always carry a walking stick he advised and held the briar aloft to reveal the luscious purple treasure. We happily worked along the path pushing fruit into our mouths and some in the pot. Remembering the rule of thirds*  I moved on, squashing tasteless yellow sugar plums into the ground. Crossing the meadow to a patch of brambles at convenient height I was watched by a family of great tits. Extricating a thorn from my hand I walked round to the access road where the sweetest fruit, bathed in sunshine, lay.

It was the second flush, I could see the mummified remains of the first fruit. Why don’t the birds eat it? I had seen a pair of blackbirds feasting but which other birds would appreciate the fruit? I know rats partake, I have seen them face to face. Many insects drink the sweet fruit juice.  Nature Reserves do not encourage foragers. At school we were told that Stone Age Man lived on berries and nuts. Are we really taking the bird’s food or is it our birthright? What sort of person picks wild food? Are we the Aesop ants out of sync with the grasshopper generation? Is the season is so short there is an imperative to get out there and gather the harvest or is it the pull of food for free?


Now in a rhythm of plucking, my plastic pot was heavy, I shifted it to the other hand, some fruit rolled off the top, my eyes lined up still more fruit, my cramped semi paralysed hand automatically cutting in, darting in and out of the complex briar matrix, animal eyes keened and seeking, the single hand cupping six berries at a time to spill onto the glistening hoard. Puzzling, why when the container is nearly full, do the hands pick more furiously trying to fit in more? No desire to eat, claret fingers with curious black bristles plucking and plundering.

Schooled from childhood never to eat a wild berry, for most the blackberry is the only wild food that will ever be foraged.  Is fruit picking a skill? Can anyone do it? Has everyone got the dexterity to grasp the fruit, the delicate pressure sensing required to reject the hard berries, autonomic senses knowing how little force is needed to gently pull the ripe fruit? On touch the soft berry drops into the palm of the hand with the juice packaged in tiny drupelets ready for the pie, crumble and winemaking to follow.


2kg blackberries

Half mug of strong black tea

1.5kg sugar

4 litres water

Juice of one lemon

1 tsp pectolase

Wine yeast

1 tsp yeast nutrient

Mash clean berries in sterilised bucket.  Pour over 1 litre of boiling water and the sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the further 2.5 litres of cold water then stir in the rest of the ingredients. Cover, and leave to stand in a warm place for 3 days.

Strain into a demijohn and attach the air lock. After a month rack to a new demijohn leaving settled yeast behind and allow to ferment out.

Marion Bryce 5 September 2014

*one third for me, one third for the birds and one third for nature’


  1. A wonderful description as always and this time some new angles to enjoy!


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