Often in Edinburgh a wet, grey summer is followed by a bright September. The days are sunny and the wind drops. But the days are also getting shorter and there is a chill in the air. I ascribe it to a miserable Presbyterian God who, if you get two days of sunshine together in July, says, That’s enough, you miserable sinners, and then brings on the haar or rain, and if you have sunshine and gentle breezes in the here and now, in the very near future are the 5 months or so of long dark nights, gales and the cold.
However, it has been lovely weather for cycling. I was off work on Wednesday and in the afternoon went out to look for blackberries at the edge of the city. A steep path where I had found a lot last year had been cleared of brambles, and now giant hogweed, which is as rampant as brambles, but doesn’t bear fruit, was growing there instead. Other patches I found were picked over or growing in the shade and had miserable little berries. But on a hidden path off another hidden path I found a flourishing plant in the light with stems thicker than my thumb, and which had big sweet fruit. It was intertwined with a sloe, and was growing on a steep slope, so a lot of the fruit was out of my reach. The thorny stems tried to grab me. I found that wearing a bicycle helmet protected me from having my hair pulled out, which normally happens when you gather blackberries. Having got what I could, I continued along the path and then to some unfamiliar and attractive country roads, which took me back to the city.
I remembered blackberrying when I was a child. We lived in the country in the Waikato, New Zealand, near the end of a no exit unsealed road. We used to go to school by cycling along this road for a mile or two, leaving our bicycles (unlocked those days) at the junction and picking up the school bus. This road was lined with blackberries and in the early autumn on the way home I’d pick them and eat them, until they were sprayed. Blackberries in New Zealand are like gorse and ragwort, imports that went rampant and take over swathes of land, and so farmers declared chemical warfare on them. But my father must have left a patch because I do remember going out blackberrying as a family, my mother in a straw hat and cotton frock, everyone carrying buckets, except me, who as the youngest, was given an enamel mug, and added my blackberries to other people’s bucketfuls. I think I fell in a bush once, and probably howling, had to be pulled out. We had blackberry and apple pie, and we made blackberry wine one time, which was very successful. I imagine it would have been too sweet for a wine drinker’s taste, but my parents’ idea of wine was port or sherry at Christmas.
I only got a handful of blackberries on this trip but I stewed them with some cooking apples the guy next door gave me and they came out a beautiful rich colour and taste delicious.