Before I get complaints that it looks like I dragged my daughter face down along a gravel path, I should explain that she’s covered in blackberry juice as today she, her brother and I went on the traditional Autumn Bramble Hunt.
In England, the juicy black berry is called a blackberry (quite obvious really), and the thorny bush it grows on is called a bramble. However, up here in Scotland, the fruit is known as the bramble and the thorny bushes are briars. But, it is the fruit that we went in search of.
It can sometimes take several seasons to find the ideal bramble patch. Obviously you want somewhere you will secure a good crop without having to trail for miles. You can’t pick them too near the road or other areas of pollution, for example, and of course you need to find somewhere that other people haven’t already raided.
Once you have located your spot, harvesting wild brambles is no mean feat in itself. Quite apart from the thorny defences of the briars themselves, they love to grow among spiky gorse bushes, and stinging nettles frequently congregate in the same area, catching out the unwary picker.
Too ripe and the berry explodes in your hand before it reaches the container; not ripe enough and it will taste too bitter; too low down and it may well be coated in the urine of passing dogs; and too far out of reach and you risk falling face first into the thorns. Having bypassed all these hazards, you still have to do a quick check for maggots.
By the time you have filled a one-litre, plastic, ice cream tub, you will be covered in wee scratches, splinters and stings. Is it worth it? Too right it is!
My wife’s bramble crumble is the greatest desert in the entire universe, and it only gets made once a year if we have hunted down and reaped the wild harvest ourselves. You can buy tasteless blackberries out of a tin in the supermarket and add large quantities of sugar to try and raise them beyond the description of bland, but they will never match the luscious flavour of the uncultivated bramble.
And if we manage to gather a second tub, then we are assured of Maggie’s to-die-for homemade bramble ice cream at Christmas.
Whatever I can amass beyond the two tubs can be put in the freezer to be dropped, a few at a time, into my morning smoothies.
I have been taking Rogan on the Bramble Hunt for several years, but this is the first time Meg has joined us. More berries ended up squished over her face and clothing that made it into the tub, but she was beaming with pride at being able to show her mother the squelchy mess in the bottom of her container. Fortunately Rogan and I between us managed to fill almost three tubs, so the rewards will be great this year.