Saturday, 22 September 2012

Preserving summer

It's hard to describe the smell of blackberries. I've often heard of other things, particularly wine, being described as smelling of blackberries but I've not heard it the other way round. There's an edge to the scent, slightly tart. And is there a hint of mustiness or perhaps earthiness?  Whatever it is, it is quite distinctive and always reminds me of summer.

When I was young (in the 1970s) I remember scouring the hedgerows with my Mum, Dad, brother and cousins together with my Auntie Jeanne and Uncle Bill. We would happily spend an afternoon in August trying to avoid stinging nettles and bramble scratches to collect our precious harvest. We popped as many into our mouths as we did into our stork margarine containers. The competition between us kids as to who could get the most meant we would often abandon caution to get just one more berry.

At the end of our search we'd hand over our bounty to Auntie Jeanne who would visit us a day or two later with a couple of jars of blackberry jam.

Almost 40 years later Elizabeth and I have a well-worn trail around our allotment site picking berries to make pies and jams with. Sometimes we go alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes other plotholders join us on our tour. But the routine is the same: we each take a plastic tub and walk along the hedgerows, Elizabeth picking the low fruit and me the high fruit until our tubs are full. We both end up with scratches and purple fingers and tongues. It is our routine for late summer evenings; one we both look forward to and one that I cherish, both for living in the moment and reliving the past.

My Auntie Jeanne is long gone so I make the jam myself these days, filling jars I've collected over the year. As I heat the berries the smell of summer is concentrated, captured and stored in jars to be shared with friends and family to savour during the long winter ahead.

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