Yesterday we went walking and found these blackberries, the red picked as an enticement to the black ones to gel. I made a rather flouncy-sounding mûrée with them – a kind of jam but without the staggering amount of sugar. ‘Serve it tepid with a grainy cake,’ is Jane Grigson’s rather dowdy instruction, though I found the marriage of mûrée and yoghurt far more appealing. You can keep the jam in the fridge and be none the wiser. There are umpteen blackberry recipes around, and so it is easy to feel overpowered and then give up, eat them in a desultory way and stain your breathable ‘windproof’ pockets into the bargain. Your hands will also look as if they have been attacked by a feral dog.
But this, I have discovered, is part of the joy. Because there are also windfall apples to be scooped up. And elderberries and rosehips in the hedges, and some sweet little weedy chamomile that we picked and a couple of plump and bruised-looking figs. All foraged (or nicked depending on who you ask).This is what happens when you leave the Metropolis; things can get a bit wild. On Sunday, we took a path that was familiar to us, walking from Berwick church, stopping to admire the clear windows and the stillness inside and the murals by Vanessa Bell, the sculptural bird bath, and then into fields of corn, the wind looping around us and whipping the trees into a frenzy (‘I hate trees. They’re so noisy!’ I once heard a woman say to her friend on the bus). This bit we knew, but then the trail we normally took was overgrown, with watery mud underfoot and a dead crow, and then a scratchy tunnel of blackberries. We picked the purple bulbous ones and tied them up handkerchief-style in the left over clingfilm from mum’s sandwich. The rest were burrowed deep into pockets, leeching out like blood onto our hands.
And then suddenly there was no more trail and no stile. It was odd, as if it had just disappeared or we had remembered it wrongly, which we hadn’t. And then came the rain, big splodges of it, and we stood there with instant wet feet, socks like sopping flannels and wondered what to do, repeatedly going up to the barbed wire fence as if it would become something else. Finally we climbed over it, our trousers and socks snagging on the wires, sparking rivulets of blood and a torrent of swearing, and then we traipsed over the Downs to Alfriston to a warm and steamy tea room, and I felt like a character in a Barbara Pym novel – Connie Aspinal to my mother’s Edith Liversidge on our way to bag a curate – our wet things hurled in front of the cake counter so that the lovely young (slightly frightened) waitress had a job getting to the Millionaire’s shortbread.Actually she was only frightened for a bit, and then she dealt with us in the manner of a woman running a hospital in wartime; calm, efficient, professionally wary? Then as we went from oolong to rooibos back to English breakfast, from two scones to one and then realized we couldn’t actually pay because we had brought the wrong debit card, she gave up and became herself and we chatted about life generally, her horrible time at school, her love of drama (really? I wanted to say) and English literature and being bullied for years and now being friends with her tormentors. And then we paid with something (my Oyster card, I think) and ran headlong into the bus that had already left its stop but was the very last one and if we missed it I think we would have drowned each other. I didn’t have my ticket because it had disintegrated in the rain but the driver simply nodded me to a seat and we trundled over the Downs back to Seaford completely exhausted. And people think LA is wild.
Adapted from Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book
I can imagine this swirled through Bircher muesli. It is delicious with cream as a kind of fool or as the fruit component in a crostata. It is endlessly versatile and you can also use gluten-free flour. Honestly, I never measure anything but throw it all in and hope for the best, but the measurements are here for safety (and because sometimes mine tastes like papier mache if I’m a bit free form with the flour)
1 lb (½ kg) of blackberries
Sugar to taste (Jane Grigson uses 250g/1 cup)
Juice of half a lemon
25g flour (¼ cup)
Rinse the blackberries if necessary. Put them in a pan with the sugar, the juice of the lemon and the flour. Stir for a few minutes until cooked, over a slow heat. The juices will start to run and the fruit will cook down, though it’s nice if the berries retain some of their shape. Leave to cool and then store in the fridge.