Couple of years ago, when people started to feel hard up, journalists (I blame journalists for many of the world’s evils including Marmite and homeless kittens) started writing about food for free, or foraging. ‘Go out into the country,’ they told us, ‘and you can pick yourself a dinner of herbs.’
Top of the list are things like dandelions, bitter but ok if you like bitter salad, and nettle soup, which is fine if you don’t mind the fact that they smell like cat pee. As to the rest, it was mostly mushrooms which a. might poison you b. only grow in the autumn, for the most part, and c. tend to grow in places like Epping Forest, where you are not allowed to pick them.
The exception, of course, is brambles. ‘Blackberries’ if you must be posh. The things on the left.
They grow on waste ground all over northern Europe. If you live in the UK, chances are you’ve eaten one. Quite possibly, one was enough. They don’t taste of that much when raw, and there’s always a danger of Maggots.
Cooked, however is differentnot least because any maggots have merely become extra protein. Cooked, they have a fruity woody taste that is like the essence of autumn. Made into jelly to spread on bread, they become a fond reminder of the day you picked them.
Off I go today, to pick brambles. I’m not saying where, but I live in central London, not the sort of place you’d expect to forage for food unless you were a fox in a dustbin, so it’s safe to say anyone can go brambling. First off, I get on a bus and it’s diverted because of Notting Hill Carnival. Ah, Carnival. I’ve lived near it for more than 25 years and every year when it comes round, I plan my weekend’s activities around avoiding it.
So, I’m on the bus and it starts a detour that eventually deposits me about 50 metres from my bramble patch of choice. This is not the buses usual route, but I’m going to make a note of brambling on this day again next year, because it is much more convenient than the usual two buses and a 15-minute walk.
I head for the thickets. The first thicket has no brambles, which is a bit odd and I am momentarily worried. The next one though, is very brambly. Set out brambling equipment:
- Suede gardening glove for left hand
- Plastic container for fruit
- Bottle of water which I always need but have never brought before
Am already wearing thick cotton drill gardening trousers, and hiking boots. Normally I cover up to pick brambles but it’s a very hot humid day so I’ll just have to make do.
Insert myself with care into bush, lift up bramble branch, and start picking. It’s wise to respect bramble bushes. They have thorns like nobody’s business and additionally I seem to be slightly allergic to the leaves. Not, I’m pleased to say, to the fruit.
People who are given to saying ‘nom’ should say ‘nom’ at this point.
Remember how my bestie told me her dad offered her 5p a pound (which was serious money) for brambles when she was in her teens and she picked several stones of them so he had to pay for them all. Reflect on last time I picked brambles when I tripped over a tussock and sprained my ankle and resolve not to do this again. Pick pick pick. My technique is to pick seven brambles at a go then drop them into the container. Pick for about 40 minutes. Drink water. Pick for another 10 minutes. Decide if I am out much longer, I will burn. Also feeling knackered. It’s like a pilates class, this bramble business.
Pack up and head back to bus stop. Bus nearly doesn’t stop for me as this is not its usual route, and they are creatures of habit, buses. However it does and I hop in. Bus deposits me, 20 minutes later, outside my flat, with brambles.
Take them in, wash them, take photo, cook them, put in sieve to drain overnight for jelly. Do not talk to me of Muslin. There’s no need. I am not competing with the WI. I am making something to eat. I don’t care how clear the jelly I get is. I’m not bothered about depth of colour etc. I want something to last me through the grey days of winter.
And dinner tonight. I saved enough for a crumble, natch.