Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Always Mark Where You Find the Juiciest Berries

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Always Mark Where You Find the Juiciest Berries

Article excerpt

If you go down in the woods today, you'll be sure of some big returns--thanks to this year's mild winter and early spring, Britain is enjoying a bumper harvest of wild fruit, and so there's never been a better time to get out there with your carrier bag.

The easiest candidate to spot is the familiar blackberry; little chance of mistaking that for anything deadly. Even the most diehard urbanite is confident enough to pluck a few fruit from the spiny tendrils that bravely push through tarmac for most, finding the gritty berries represents our sole annual foray into the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Britain boasts about 400 microspecies of bramble, which explains why the flavour varies so much from bush to bush, and is why it's worth recording the location of any particularly good fruit you happen upon for next year (or, indeed, take a cutting home with you, though given that they can grow three inches a day I'd recommend this only if you enjoy the slash-and-burn style of gardening).

All are members of the rose family, a fact that surprised me until I managed to snag a finger on a particularly vicious thorn. There was some comfort in the knowledge that I was in timeless company in this late-summer ritual of hopping and cursing; the Old English word broembel means prickly shrub, and a Neolithic skeleton in Walton-on-the-Naze was found with both blackberry and rose seeds (though, sadly, no Tesco bag).

Brambles are unusual, in that the fruit don't ripen simultaneously, even on the same plant; it is common to find little red bullets blocking the way to the sweet, purple ones you're after, or to discover a juicy treasure amid mould.

If it doesn't come away from the stem easily, then it probably isn't ready to pick. But my theory--that the fruit with more small, tightly packed drupelets are usually tangier and thus tastier than those with larger, blowsier charms--finds little support in the literature on the subject. …

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