Autumn … we explore the ‘Season of mellow fruitfulness’ with our Rambling Brambler, aka Jim Carruthers, Battleby’s gardener.
The time of brambling is upon us. You and yours should take advantage of this fine autumn weather and get out there picking. Enjoy the experience afforded by one of the great, if not greatest, foraging traditions in Scotland.
If you have never done it before here are some pointers to help you make it less of a “sair fecht”.
Top Tips for beginners…
Take a stick… Essential accessory. Useful for making access through the sternest of thickets and pulling fruits to within reach. If you beat it on the ground as you approach a patch, it helps to scatter bears, venomous snakes, guardian readers and crazed ascetics. Splendid for controlling the weans and encouraging work-shy grannies.
Watch out for professionals… Instantly detectable by their glower. Pros are fiercely territorial. Plying with scones, drink, even waterboards, will not make them reveal their secret patch. Commonly take evasive, protracted detours to protect their source. If you come across a pro, do not attempt small talk. Back away slowly. It is said if you maintain eye contact they will not charge. Just mind that their stick will be stouter than yours.
Brambles differ… The main reason a pro like Mrs Gow can pick 3kg and you are lucky to get ½ kg is that she knows that brambles vary. They vary so much a typical bramble does not exist. It is known as an aggregate species because there are so many variations (try 500 for starters).Their fruits can be big and sweet like grapes from Nineveh or wee and wersh like Mrs Gow’s dog. Not just the fruits vary, but also the flowers, leaves, vigour and habit can all differ in themselves and in their response to the “terroir”. This explains the pro’s sense of ownership. Be aware that some variations in flavour in low-slung berries can be caused by dogs.
Know why you’re picking… jam, jelly, puddings and pies, freezer, breakfast, steeping in gin or as winter health foods. Best way to pick is judiciously and often. In these fine autumn afternoons, brambles will ripen daily. The more outings you have, the easier it is to pick solely fully-ripened fruits. Jam-makers should include a few deep brown berries which will help setting. Wine-makers may include the odd over-ripe one to encourage a natural yeast ferment. It’s only a matter of time before some vintage is launched with the slogan “Made with Scottish native yeasts”.
Over-reaching… Should be avoided but hey if you are going to do it, do it early on before you spill hunners. It will happen. Everybody’s done it. The wisest only once. Disentangle slowly. No, no, no, much more slowly than you are imagining.
Rooking… Overpicking is bad! Near enough a sin. It’s anti-social in what is essentially a community sporting event. Not the best way to become locally famous.
As a member of the rose family the bramble, like the rasp, is rich in nectar and so is visited by all kinds of insects. The leaves are used extensively by certain butterfly species. But the fruits without doubt make the greatest contribution to biodiversity. Birds, insects, small mammals like mice, larger mammals like foxes, awfy large mammals like yourself. So it is vitally important to leave some for others.
Top top tip…Pick each fruit by the sides only, thus avoiding the wasps that lurk with purposeful menace on the back.
Bramble crops are becoming more reliable than those of raspberries. Recent weather patterns give wet summers and dry autumns. Rasps, both wild and cultivated, fail to ripen well, develop moulds and pests flourish on them. Brambles, however, are becoming more luscious than ever, the good growth brought on by the ample rains, plenty fruits due to the large number of pollinators, the autumn sun and dry weather come on cue to complete the blueprint.
One way round this dearth of rasps is to grow some autumn-fruiting rasps in your garden. Ensure you get a variety suitable for Scotland such as ‘Autumn Bliss’. Pick them in the early morning when they are cool with dew. Reliable and pest-free, they’ll keep fruiting until the frosts get serious.
You could even plant a cultivated bramble. An area the size of a whirligig will give you a punnet a day for weeks.
In fact dinnae stop there. What do you really want with all these lawns and shrubberies and herbaceous borders in these dismal summers when the only dry days have to be spent maintaining them rather than sitting in them? Plant a Bramley apple and then puddings and pies will put a smile in your belly all autumn and Apple and Bramble jam shall make the winter rain tolerable. Keep a few flowers like Japanese anemones and asters, which will be nice for you and your visitors. You will get lots of visitors, once the “crumbles on tap” word gets out.
Just practice glowering between grins. Mrs Gow’s grandweans will be sure to be among the visitors.