Miss Blackberry, are you winking at me?
Flashing your juicy smile my way.
How can I resist your deep colouring and shiny curves dotting the prickly hedgerows.
And how can I decipher your sweetness from your sour sisters and under-ripe brothers?
It's hard to know isn't it. Hard to know which fruit is going to be sweet, which one sour. Here in the UK there was over 200 varieties of bramble, who knows, maybe they've hybridised and there is more types now, though I expect that we have lost a few, and we now have less variables of blackberries. Of course I'm not talking about the large, cultivated shop-bought ones, I'm talking about the wild ones.
Back to sweetness of the bramble fruits, this depends on 3 things; the weather, the soil and the variety. Weather we definitely can't influence, not immediately anyhow, the soil, well you can, so reach for your shovel and be prepared to wait. Though variety, well this requires memory and/or foresight.
This autumn, when you're out picking your blackberries and you come across a fantastic tasty crop. Remember. Yes, remember where they are and check this exact spot next year. If you're feeling daring you could also cut off a branch and plant it in your garden or somewhere else perhaps - though be warned they grow thick and fast.
Blackberries are our own, native super fruit, easily over-looked because they are common, though don't forget where the sweet, juicy ones are, and next autumn go foraging for your remembered crop.
Enjoying a combination of new sights & tastes & feeling reassured
by how many wild edibles we share with mainland Europe
Back in Spring, I felt inspired to plan a trip to Europe, lured by stories of ice-cold mountain lakes, lots of outdoors people, armfuls of wild berries & mountains...
Over the last few years I've found myself completely content with being in Cornwall - I felt I had everything - sea, moors, great locals & the inspiring influx of newcomers & tourists. In my experience, like any love affair, there usually comes a time when I feel established enough in the relationship to step out into new things, knowing I can return home with fresh ideas & renewed vitality.
On this premise, I vaguely planned my trip, & on the cusp of September when I thought the berries might be at their best, got on the sleeper train to London & started my journey to Austria. Now, you may well be familiar with travelling abroad, for me, lets just say it's been a while. Starting from a small town called Mayhofren nestled in the alps of south Austria, the delight of seeing & smelling a new environment was inspiring, naturally I wanted to be out there immersing myself in it all.
I find walking & foraging a great way to experience a place & before I knew it I was walking along rivers, up & down valleys comforting myself with the pleasures of elderberries, bilberries & raspberries. Everything can taste differently in a new place - the air, earth & water contributing to a plant's unique flavour.
The raspberries were like none I'd tasted before - sweet, seedy & ripe. As an optimist, I often have a romantic idea about a place before I go & on the whole, Austria lived up to my image of it, however, armfuls of berries, hmm, I'm not sure about that! Foraging, can at times need concentration & focus, & even when I found bushes & bushes of bilberries in the alpine forests, I needed a keen eye to pick them out.
Locally, bilberry jam was delicious, I had traditional Austrian dumplings flavoured with juniper berries & a fellow walker had burger & chips with cranberry sauce - move over Heinz ketchup! The foraging highlight for me was these last two berries - juniper & cranberries. Although I've read that juniper berries grow in South England, I've never found them, ooh, & the sharp taste of raw cranberries was surprisingly pleasant as a walking snack.
So, rest assured, that learning about foraged foods in the UK can give you a broad starting point across Europe, a unique way of appreciating new landscapes & a fun way of tasting your way round many countries, mountains & lakes!