Food never stops being a source of fascination to me, to the point where I am obsessive about it. I have books on every facet of food, from the rituals of cannibalism to finding food in the wild to books devoted to the humble potato and nothing more. I can prepare meals similar to ones that Pliny; Queen Elizabeth I or Abraham Lincoln would have eaten. There is no facet of food that I do not find fascinating. For example: did you know that the tiny, caviar sized beads that make up blackberries are called drupelets? True, with this parched summer we have had though, the blackberries more resemble premature cabbages, so resoundingly tight and green are they. Or that milk is the only ‘food’ produced purely and therefore naturally for the sole purpose of ‘food’ and feeding.
Picking fruit has always held fond memories for me. Growing up next door to a farm, the nearest store being about 5 miles away, there was very little by way of entertainment save for going on long walks. Of course, children have vivid imaginations and after picking lots of red shiny berries, I would spread out my cornucopia and make all sorts of potions, grinding up Hawthorns and Rosehips that I had planned to poison a particularly awful teacher with! It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered that neither of those wild fruits was even remotely poisonous.
I also remember bitter cold autumns spent harvesting the nuts from the Hazel tree and chestnuts to roast on the fire later on. My Mum and I would fill our Parka hoods with them because they were too prickly to hold. When we got home, we would carefully remove the filbert from their tight little casings and revel in their creamy, crunchy, almost green taste. We would have to wear gloves to peel off the spiky, green shell of the chestnuts and then put them in the fireplace to slowly roast. My Grandad would always leave them on too long and they’d explode if you didn’t split them first.
Unfortunately, where I live now, there is very little by way of free produce save for the few blackberries that have left me scarred but undefeated, and the promise of some sloes. However, my mum, who was considerate enough not to move, has elderberries, blackberries, sloes, filberts and crab apples all pickable and without chemical enhancement within walking distance of her home.
This summer I have been making the most of what this long, hot summer has produced by making preserves. I have made four jars of Greengage and Damson Chutney and was happy to find that I could use the almond scented kernel, nestling within the tough stone of the plums to make a sort of almond liquor. I will be making crab apple and blackberry jam soon and sloe gin. Because the tomatoes are remaining a sort of peachy colour this summer, they will be perfect in a spicy relish, where slow cooking will coax out their tangy tartness and make it rich and thick.
Please remember though, to not strip the branches of their fruits. The birds need them more than we do, particularly in these days of rapid industrialisation. As D.H. Lawrence wrote: “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself”.