Bramble © Angela Porter
5″ x 3″, pen and ink.
Plucking blackberries from hedgerows bursting with the deep purple-black fruits of the bramble are memories of childhood.
Taking care not to prick fingers on the thorns, or get clothing snagged and torn upon them either. There were also the sticky burrs of goose-grass to avoid too.
It was all worth the hours of effort, however. Blackberry and apple pie, blackberry crumble, bramble jelly, and the blackberry wine my father brewed (if he could steal any away).
Blackberries were frozen by the plastic gallon re-used ice-cream tub to be used for Sunday desserts through the winter months too.
All of these things created once the blackberries had been washed in salted water to bring out any maggots that had burrowed their way into the fruits. If I caught sight of one single maggoty thing, I couldn’t eat any more of them, and eating them straight from the bramble was not an option for me. It’s no wonder I’m a vegetarian!
A free harvest that I no longer take advantage of, but may manage to do so this year if I can pluck up the courage to go by myself in to the countryside to do this.
Yes, I do mean courage, as I’ve become a bit of a recluse once again, not going out into the world where there are other human beings to encounter me. A long, personal story that is, but one I hope to change with time. The gist is I’ve allowed myself to be hurt by other people over the past few years. Things I was once involved with have gone by the by and I’ve not managed to replace these social activities with others. Oh, I do go out. I am involved in things, but the people I encounter are, generally, more acquaintances than anything else. I still seek and search for a sense of belonging in this world.
Even as I think back to childhood blackberrying, I remember that I was often alone even though the rest of the family were there, all chatting and laughing and playing amongst themselves while I was generally excluded, unless it was to be the butt of someone’s joke. Always funny for them…
Funny, the memories of blackberrying, and collecting bilberries, or whinberries as they are also called, are still ones of pleasure – the pleasure of the food produced as a result. Bilberries are small, blueberries, native to Britain.
There’s plenty of folklore surrounding the humble bramble and it’s fruits.
“Throughout much of Britain there was a widespread belief that blackberries should not be eaten after a certain date.” [Vickery]
This date may have be that of the first frost, as then they become the Devil’s fruit and are not fit for humans to eat .
Michaelmas (29 September) or Old Michaelmas (11 October) relate to the biblical tale of Lucifer being thrown out of heaven for his proud, covetous ways by Archangel Michael (Isaiah 14:12). It is said that Lucifer landed in a bramble bush and cursed it, which is why people won’t eat blackberries after Michaelmas, saying variously that:
- they have the Devil in them
- the Devil peeps over the hedgerow and blasts them
- so the Devil may have his share
- the Devil spits on them
Hallowe’en (31 October) or All Saints’ Day (1st November) are also dates given as the cut off for blackberry consumption. As well as the reasons given above, this date also relates to the following:
- they have the witch in them
- the witches have peed on them
- on Hallowe’en the puca has crawled on the blackberries.
“From a scientific point of view, blackberries contain a high concentration of bitter tasting tannins which over time accumulate in the fruit. Old Michaelmas day falls late in the blackberry season making berries picked around this time very bitter. To make matters worse, as autumn arrives the weather becomes wetter meaning the fruit will contain more fungus spores. This will not improve the taste either.” [BBC Nature UK]
Brambles were sometimes planted, or placed, on graves, one belief being that they stopped the dead from walking. Another reason is that they kept the sheep off the grave.
A superstition in Wales was “When thorns or brambles catch or cling to a girl’s dress, they say a lover is coming.” [Roud]
BBC Nature UK, Nature folklore uncovered
Roud, Steve “The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland”, Penguin Reference, 2003
Vickery, Roy “Oxford Dictionary of Plant-lore”, Oxford Paperbacks, Oxford University Press, 1995