I used to think I was a sharing kind of person – not stingy, not a hoarder. That was until a friend and I discovered a blackberry patch close to home.
I can remember it clearly – it was three years ago on a walk to nowhere. It took only a split second to register the tell-tale tangle of vines and leaves and the dark glisten of berries.
We darted back home, collected our bowls and picked and crowed our way along that patch, our own private patch of blackberry heaven. It felt like summer had arrived.
As we returned from our pickings, I found myself wanting to hide our harvest. Juice-stained fingers, smug faces, bowls of berries… it wouldn’t take long for any passing neighbour to follow the ‘crumbs’ back to our patch.
That primitive urge to protect the treasure kicked in quick, so I don’t know why I did what I did next: I phoned my mother. I not only phoned my mother, I phoned my sister too.
‘Just up the road! Right next to the road. Blackberries. Easy to get to, ready to pick blackberries – and they haven’t been sprayed,’ I gloated.
Blackberrying was a tradition in our family. We even had equipment: my father put a curved nail on the end of a broom handle so that those branches, the ones with the plumpest berries, could be hooked within reach and harvested into our empty ice cream containers.
Some of the family were more into it than others. To be honest, as a kid, I was one of the less enthusiastic – was it really worth the drive in the hot car, the tussle with the prickly vines, the snagging of arms and clothes, for a few berries? I was happy to share in the finished product of course, but the activity required to get to that point had never hooked me in, until now. That’s why I had to skite, why I had to tell them – finally I understood why blackberrying was so exciting.
The next morning I got a taste of the flipside of that excitement – from blackberry heaven to blackberry fool in twelve short hours. I looked out the kitchen window to see my mother and sister roll up in the van, old clothes on, floppy hats and a question yelled out the driver’s window: ‘We’re off to do some blackberrying – where exactly did you say that patch was?’
I couldn’t believe it. We are kin. We care for each other. We share important things. I told them my secret – but I didn’t expect them to exploit it. The effrontery. The CHEEK!
There was no option really. I knew they’d find it easily enough – it was only up the road, after all. I hopped in, with my own bucket, and told them in no uncertain terms that the patch belonged to my friend and me, and they could, after this visit, find their own.
And, to give them their due, they were good. They listened, and I learnt to share, a little.
It was a great summer. It was such a great summer. Go for a walk, pick blackberries, make blackberry crumble, eat crumble, ALL FOR FREE. It felt like winning the quinella over and over again.
And that perfect balance was only threatened a few times… when a bus did its slow turn at the end of the road, with passengers in a prime position to observe the secretive blackberry pickers below, or when someone new to the neighbourhood called out her car window ‘Is that a blackberry patch?!’
Always there was the fear that we’d arrive to see others lined up for the cull. But it never happened. Not that summer, nor the next. There were enough berries for blackberry pancakes, blackberry jam, blackberry short cake, blackberry sauce… and even some for the freezer.
Until, and you may have seen this coming, until last summer. Last summer, when we went to the end of the road, there was no tangle of leaves, no tell-tale berries. No, instead we were met with a neat grass verge and a new fence. Our patch had disappeared, and we were devastated.
But if the situation can change for the worse in an instant, we also know it can change for the better. As next summer approaches, with a little bit of roaming (or eavesdropping) we’re bound to find another patch. Enjoy yours while you can.
Four ways to plate-up the humble blackberry crumble
- The layered approach: parfait glass, crispy crumble, dark juice of berries, custard or cream dripping throughout.
- Winter night’s treat: your own individual serving in a ramekin, retrieved from the freezer where a clever person produced crumble in bulk and stored them during the abundant summer months.
- The posh version: a small square of crumble on a large white plate, with a drizzle of juice and a drop of cream.
- The anti-plating-up version: the dish – leftovers from pudding the night before – is encrusted with what’s almost blackberry jam. To the side is the last left-over mound of crumble with extra flavour courtesy of a night in the fridge. Add some yoghurt or cream, sit on the couch in your pjs and savour. Bliss.