When I was a very little girl my grandad used to take me blackberrying. It was a serious business: for weeks running up to bramble time he would collect empty tin cans, making two small holes in the sides into which he inserted string to form a handle just long enough to go over your head. We would set forth with a dozen of these and one large, lidded box. Having established bramble base camp by putting this box on the ground along with a pile of string-handled cans we would separate and work different bushes. With a can around your neck both hands were free for speedy picking into the can. Once filled you brought it back to base, tipped its contents into the box and went back to work on the bush. Once we had established that we were old enough to be trusted not to kick a full can over we were allowed to take two or three cans at a time to cut down on trips back to base. The pleasure for us was in helping an adult with their ‘work’ and later in the bramble pies and bramble jelly my granny would produce. According to my grandpa the pleasure for him was in getting something for free.
I try to get the Dog outdoors most days now because it does seem to help. I have been thinking about my grandpa, eyes always checking out likely bramble patches whenever he went out for a walk, as I am out and about in the city. Suddenly I am starting to see fruit where I only saw patches of green – stands of crab-apples blushing in municipally planted verges, brambles scrambling along the canal towpath, voluptuous plums plopping out the trees in my doctor’s carpark, unpicked and uneaten, plump rose hips, reddening haws, saffron and crimson rowan berries, elderberries still green but starting their rapid sprint to black, sloes with their dusky bloom just beginning to form. There is fruit everywhere and it is free! Which is good because I am skint…
Yesterday I went out to emulate those autumn days of my childhood and gathered damsons from a park. The branches were bent almost to the ground: it took barely twenty minutes in the wet grass and warm sun to pick three kilo’s of lovely purple fruit. There is something soothing about a mechanical task: you do not have to drive yourself to completion, merely stop when you have had enough and it requires no particular concentration. You just get lost in the task and it holds your attention just enough to distract you from the Dog’s low whining and growling. Back home, having weighed and cleaned my booty I realised I had had enough and decided to leave the jam-making until the next day, but each time I walked past my huge bowl of fruit it gave me a little glow of anticipation. The next day’s jam-making session was similarly soothing, the radio on in the background, steady stirring, no rush, waiting for setting point to be reached without having to push myself to make it happen. And the smell! Sour and sweet and delicious.
So now I have two dozen jars of deep red jam sitting in a row waiting for labels and giving me as much pleasure every time I look at them as a work of art: the pleasure of knowing that through the winter when we want a little sweetness we have it in jars; the knowledge of how delicious it will be (because I checked – quality control you understand) and the satisfaction of having made it myself and, like my grandpa, having made it almost for free, give or take a couple of quid for the sugar. And the pleasure of being part of something – natures huge autumn bounty – so much bigger than myself, even in such a small way.
And there is something else – preserving is about the future, and making something to enjoy in the future is like a little promise to myself that I have days of enjoyment ahead: I will eat some of that jam, some day, without the Black Dog sitting on my feet.