Berry picking time . . .

Some 500g of red currants, a few woody loganberries, and the remains of the black currants that the blackbird left us, are all of today’s berry harvest.

We should be grateful that the blackbird, a clear favourite in our garden apart from beloved Gordon the guinea fowl, doesn’t seem to fancy the red currants! He’s decimated the lovely soft juicy black currants (I knew he was after them, clocking the purple poos all over the paving stones around the place, but I hadn’t identified his entry point through the bird netting), and this year the loganberries are ripening, but feeling woody, not at all juicy, though there are loads of them on the bushes. Last year we had 4 kilos off them, and the demi-johns are racked, but the wine is not yet bottled, much to our chagrin. Say, we could bottle in time for the High Forest Show! But anyway, today’s diary is all about the berry picking season.

The red currants are juicy, thank goodness, and this is the first harvest, with another half kilo yet to pluck still ripening on the bushes, so we should get some nice clear red currant jelly, after all. The raspberry bushes are only just alive, though the wild ones on the roadside could be picked, and we might get half a dozen blackberries from the bramble bush I transplanted after it sprouted in a flower bed thanks to a passing bird’s poo delivery.

Carrie has already made sufficient elderflower cordial for the year ahead, out of our wonderful elder tree cluster (planted a couple of decades ago to keep the fairies away, don’t you know, and so far so good) but we’ve found our elder berries are hard and nasty; at least, the ones the wild birds leave us. Far better to harvest sweeter, succulent and drooping elderberries from a semi-secret location out beyond Haydon Bridge, if we wish, but we find elderberry wine very dry and filled with tannin. Much better are the loganberry, blackberry and raspberry wines we’ve carefully fermented, over the years.

Our soft fruit adventures up in Sparty Lea are really only just beginning, as there’s still the sloe berries we mean to harvest one day, from the blackthorn part of our extensive hedges, which were a delightful present from our beloved neighbours. Sloe gin anyone? And we expect to supplement the surviving raspberry plants with more canes come the autumn or spring, whenever the supplier will deliver them. The bramble bush will obviously spread far and wide along the stone wall, where it seems to have taken very vigorously indeed. Sometimes it feels like we’ve transplanted half of the roadside berry plants up onto the fellside, in a vainglorious attempt to have our own berry plants within our own demesne (I know it’s an archaic word, I just love it).

So I was skulking amongst the berry bushes as our neighbour carefully mowed the delightful hay meadow beside us, the second Special Site of Scientific Interest here. In fact we’re surrounded half-ways by SSSI upland meadows, and a sheer delight it is. It took only about an hour and the mowing was done — the one behind us is being mowed Tuesday evening. Soon the whiffling will commence in the sunshine, and the hot sultry smells will emanate throughout the fellside.

Eee, it does feel like summer, today, as the temperatures do, in fact, reach towards 28ºC (I didn’t believe the prediction, but the car thermometer said we’d done it by about 2pm. So still, balmy, sunshine-filled.

A great pleasure to be alive, picking berries in the dappled shade.

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