The Botanical room Part 8 - Blackberry Stories
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Teeth and pips
Very Berry days
Teeth and pips
(Berry Heart -copyright Billy Showell)
With the sun on your back and long shadows stretching before you, the bright late afternoon light twinkles on the juice-rich berries, crows caw, and pigeons flap frantically from the far side of the hedge. Afternoon bees are too busy to worry your pillage, yet they hover near to inspect the bounty then lollop through the warm breeze and away.
A beautiful rainbow of fruit hangs elegantly, too perfect to pick, too pretty to behold.
Brilliant black shiny fruits languish high and just out of reach, hanging splendidly in their protective nest of thorns, some are dusty, some too ripe, and some disintegrate between your fingertips. Occasionally a bonanza reveals itself, a whole branch of shiny, ripe fruits clear of prickle, clear of nettle, triumphantly you dive in to gather and smile.
(that's me in the pink with a hanky)
My memories run deep on times past with family trips to gather blackberries in late August to early September. We would prepare the boot of the car with fold-away chairs and woolen blankets, containers galore, walking sticks, ladders, gloves, aprons, and wellies, and the all-essential plastic bag of wet flannels (facecloths), and head to the wild side of the countryside.
The big Tupperware boxes were stacked with sandwiches and cakes, and large woven shopping baskets held cans of lemonade shandy and large bottles of home-prepared squash. The Tupperware came home filled up with berries followed by a triumphant
On many occasions, Grandparents would join us, sometimes aunts, uncles, and cousins too. I recall it was always a good crowd of us, but of course, with three siblings, family outings always seemed busy.
Inevitably the car would break down on some occasions, that was the way of things in the 1970s, all of us sat squeaking ‘when will we be there? When can we have the sandwiches?’ and ‘I need to pee!’ Back then, the A-roads were the main roads, so there we would be, all sat on the verge hot and bothered until the AA would come to our rescue. On the odd occasion, the car would suddenly start up again with no explanation and a grateful sigh of relief was expressed by all.
Grandma was intrepid. She was fearless in the face of the bramble wall. Ladders would be leant on hedges, and hook-handled walking sticks were used deftly to pull the bounty close enough to be harvested. She would be thrashing her way through, thwacking and hooking with her cotton dress caught in the briar and her pink stained hands, and I can still see my mum tearing herself free from the thorns to reveal her blackberry-stained knees, epic!
All of this in the hunt for the treasures of late summer. And all for the crumble.
The bountiful, ever-growing feast fulfilling bucket,
thoughts of what you can bake and make,
blackberry wine, and apple-berry pie,
blackberry compote, blackberry lemon pudding,
vanilla and blackberry muffins.
Thorny bramble castles inspire
dreams of a dark red sauce over
soft, steamed maple syrup berry pudding,
blackberries floating in an iced gin and tonic
with a little sprig of mint to delight
and the deep purple pink of a
ice cream sundae.
Of course, there are the pips!
When as children, we picked fruit, the first hour would be spent happily scoffing the berries into our sweet-seeking mouths. We all made that rooky error of gorging on the bounty, and then spent the next hour or so relentlessly trying the fiddle the pips from our back teeth with the tip of our tongues. When tongues didn’t work, we would try hopelessly to dig them out with our dusty pink stained fingernails. You would place your tongue as a guide to the tooth you thought held the pip tight, only to discover it wasn’t that tooth at all. Finally, when the pip is released from its toothy crevice you would get a lovely feeling of release and comfort; life is so much nicer without a pip wedged in your tooth.
In late August and early september, when the music of the summer birds is waning, and the tiny flies flip this way and that seeking their last feast and fling, it seems the perfect time to gather and take stock of the summer's delights and start to look forward to the next year's dreams.
The wonderful thing about this season is that there are so many lovely fruits to paint, I love to find the perfect autumnal branch with the berries just so and the leaves be-jewelled with hints of autumn colour. I have a lovely blackberry tutorial in my Billy Showell School of Botanical Painting I also painted the berry heart step by step in my Watercolour fruit and vegetable book. They are actually quite a nice things to paint and very forgiving.
AND of course we never let a season pass without collecting the fruits and filling the freezer.
The blackberry is an edible fruit of the Rosaceae family,high in fibre and antioxidants they have also been shown to be anti-inflammatory. There is said to be about 375 species of blackberry which are found all over the world and have almost always been considered wild and so rarely cultivated in gardens, probably because they are so fast growing and plentiful (and let's face it, will probably rule the earth one day).
The Berries have been used as a remedy for Gout, been used as a tea, and in hot or cold food, and no wonder as they are a superb source of vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
Each tiny juicy compartment is called a drupe, the botanical description of the whole fruit is an aggregate fruit composed of small drupelets. Even in its first year the bramble will grow 3-6 metres, later on dividing and sending out spurs that will happily set root and branch out again.
We have bramble everywhere in our garden, it had been allowed to rule regardless of paths and access and it's root go deep,so it will always win in the end, we just have to live alongside and occasionally put it back in its place until new gardeners replace us. The wild life depend upon it, and for all the pain inflicted in controlling it and the fearfully prickly berry harvest, I would not be without it. The heavenly joy of picking berries is an urge that comes from deep within my genes, my family history and if I may be so bold the history of being human.
PS the secret to avoiding pips in your teeth, is to simply squash the berry on the roof of your mouth and swallow, you heard it here first, now quickly go share the news.