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A taste of Autumn on the North Coast 500

Do you remember that fragile flower way back in summer? I wrote a blog about the delicate mauve flower that seemed to hang in the air back in August. Well, here is another reason why I love it so much. It has started to bear its fruit, bubbly brambles. There is no other berry that conjures up the taste of autumn quite like a bramble. It is so precious. Only available for such a short period of time. If the sun hasn’t reached them they stay green too long to become viable. Conversely, if I wait too long they will never ripen. If the frosts come too early they are ruined before they have had time to mature. If I leave it too late the berries have all been gathered, eaten or withered on the branches. Maybe that is why they are so precious. We can only harvest them for such a short period. No other berry tastes like them. Many have come on the market but they have just not be able to capture that amazing flavour. Maybe the harsh winds, blazing sun, wet and crispy snow together throughout the year actually causes that autumnal taste. If they are not grown outside perhaps that is what is lost.

My love of brambles even penetrated into my fictional village of Blàs (of the Highlands) and I devoted a whole story built around this juicy fruit. In real life bramble patches are shared between other gatherers and the wild life. In Blàs both Stroma and Auntie Lottie thought they were the only ones that knew about a particular patch. I’m sure that is the same assumption many of us foragers have of ‘our own’ patches as we secretly guard natures yield.

Some brambles plants are not so shy in positioning themselves. Many people in the burgh have been admiring a particularly large patch over the last few months. We have watched them grow and mature almost ready to eat. From pale green, to hard red sliding into soft purple. These berries were not shy and hiding away in amongst grasses and trees. No, these berries were flamboyant, waving their little treasures for all to see. No need to scramble through undergrowth or over thickets these berries were just asking to be loved and eaten.

Little bags around the town were at the ready, surreptitiously hidden in pockets. Small containers were being washed out and stuffed into jackets and coats. People were at the ready to grab some of the berries as soon as they were ready. There was a noticeable increase in footfall around about the area. Dog walkers’ normal strolls were being rerouted and they passed more frequently, just waiting like the rest of until these tempting berries were ripe. Then harvest day arrived. An extra container was rammed in our coats. Off we went with a light step and a small dog at the end of a lead. Obviously we weren’t really going out just to pick berries. No, this would be put forward in the retelling of just some fortunate good luck that we were there at exactly the right time. But then horror of horrors, when we got there all was gone; before we had a chance, a taste or even a sniff.

Who would do that? Who would take the whole lot? And when I say the whole lot I don’t just mean the berries here, I mean the whole plant. How cruel, how wasteful, how disappointing. We suspected who the culprits were of course. Who else would have cleared the whole path with no thought of what could be saved or used or given to us poor gatherers; we who had been salivating at the mere thought of brambles. Who of course could it have been but the council cleaning the undergrowth? But why (if it was them) were they being so efficient when we wanted them to ignore this area, if only for a few more days? Many sad faces were seen that day walking past excitedly only to come back not quite so light of foot. The dogs of course, well they weren’t bothered, their tails continued to wag.

Back to our original plan then. Scrambling over twigs and nettles, ripping fingers and scratching faces from the fierce thorns that danced towards us. Of course being a fickle Scottish berry, not all fruits are ready at the same time. In fact many are still too small. Some thorny branches are still flowering. Other branches have berries already past their best, while even more are still green or red.

I’m hoping we may get some sun before all are lost to the cold. I have a wee drop now frozen in time, waiting for the rest of the harvest to ripen so I can at least make something. I have enough maybe for a bramble and apple pie, a favourite at this time of the year. But what I really want and what I have been waiting a whole year for is a treat we save, especial for our wild brambles. Although you can make this desert from other fruit this is by far the best for this type of pudding. I await enough berries for a bramble fool, the true taste of autumn. I haven’t given up hope yet. Watch this space, hopefully this year unlike last year, I will be able to gather enough and 2020 will have a sweet ending after all.

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