The briars caught in her hair, pulled at her jumper, blocked her way. My companion did not complain. She was determined to pick blackberries. After the warm, dry spell there were at last ripe berries in evidence.
We were out last Wednesday. Micheal and Chris Horan told us about an overgrown area, on the next road to Gallan Eile, which they felt might be worth trying.
Archaeological examination has show that there is every likelihood that our ancestors mining for copper on Ross Island in Killarney may well have been eating blackberries 4,500 years ago. It is now the only wild fruit still widely gathered all over the world.
I have vivid memories of being pricked and torn by the blackberry thorns. But the lush, sweet blackberry and apple made the king of all jams, pies and tarts. As well they were unequalled eaten straight from the briar. Our photograph shows nothing has changed. That memory is much stronger and compels to continue picking each year even though the thorns are as viscous as ever.
Blackberry (bramble) bushes protect young birds at nesting time. Bushes were once planted on graves, to cover less sightly weeds and deter grazing sheep, but probably also an echo of more ancient and magical hopes of keeping the dead in and the devil out.
Old cookbooks give recipes for blackberry sorbet, ice cream, mousse, cobbler, blackberry & elderberry jam, blackberry and sloe jelly, pickle, chutney, syrup, cordial, vinegar and wine. Drop me a note if you would like the detail on any of them.
“Dado*, is this one alright?” my determined fellow picker called. “Is it black?” “No. It’s red.” Another was green. “No good. Only pick the ones that are black.”
Early in the 19th century blackberries were sometimes picked commercially by children who were paid up to six pence** a pound. At the time blackberries were used widely to make a dye.
Looking out at the torrential rain this morning, and the status orange rainfall warning, as well as the numerous reports of flooding, it does not look like blackberry picking weather.***
According to old folklore, blackerries should not be eaten after Michaelmas (September 29) because the devil then spits on them. The advice is sound because the fruits become mushy and insipid about that time. But the villian is not the devil but the flesh-fly, which dribbles saliva on to the berries and is then able to suck up the juice.
But the weather forecast is good for tomorrow, as well Wednesday, Friday and Saturday look alright. It would be great to get out for at least one more blackberry picking expedition from our Gallan Eile holiday home.
The bowl of last Wednesday’s fresh blackberries, with sugar and cream, was rich and fresh. The photograph shows Sarah got her rewards. An early celebration of her third birthday in a month’s time.
* ‘Dado’ – the Irish or gaelic for grandfather;
** ‘six pence’ – about two cents in euro currency.
** but this is an ideal day to visit a waterfall … Torc, Tower Woods, Derrycunnihy, O’Sullivan’s, Gleninchiquin are all spectacular. But be careful to take advice on flooding.
– Frank Lewis