Tuesday, 10 July 2012

July 9th - Where have all the Blackberries gone?

Dear Nigel,

Yesterday i went to the garden nursery for some cottage garden plants and came back with some gooseberry bushes and two thornless blackberries. I've always rather pooh-poohed these as 'not being the real thing' (after all, blackberries are meant to be hard work to pick, aren't they?), but this time i was entranced by the delicate shape of their leaves, so different to their native cousins.

In the supermarket i am quite prepared to buy a punnet of large juicy blackberries to put on top of a pavlova, combining them with raspberries an perhaps a handful of blueberries. We are all so used to the small half-red bullets from childhood days in the hedgerows that these over-large specimens always seem to hold a certain 'wow' factor for us.

But when was the last time you went blackberry picking? And, more to the point, where exactly did you go? (we all want to know). I know i took my children picking a couple of years ago here in the Peak District, in order to make some blackberry jam; but could we find enough for even one small pot? We could not. We looked high and low in vain.

I have my suspicions that the countryside is being manicured to oblivion. Not content with their war on the ever-encroaching, out-of-control Victorian interloper - the Rhododendron - I suspect a general 'prettynization' of the countryside which involves hacking away at nature to conform to a certain ideal of what the countryside is meant to look like.

I know the National Trust and the National Park rangers here do an excellent job,....but i still wonder...Where have all the blackberries gone? As a child it was never a problem in late Summer to find a hedgerow laden with fruit (as long as you got there first). So where are they all?

You, too, are making the most of Summer's glut of ripe fruit. For lunch there is a sweet, orange-fleshed charentais melon with some salty air-cured French Bayonne ham. 'You should treat a charantais with the same tenderness you would a tiny baby, and with the same awe and wonder, too.' The simple paring of ham and fruit is 'a gift from the gods'.

The evening's dinner also ends with a pure white log of goat's cheese and a bowl of 'late season English cherries, their juices staining the white cheese as we eat.'

The main course is roast lamb with a rub of oregano and garlic. The oregano in your garden is 'in its third year and just about to come into flower'. This year, things here are taking a lot longer to flourish. The torrential rains and dark skies have knocked everything back. Last week we were stopped by floods and fire engines at nearby Glutton bridge (now there's a good name). We were OK to plough on through the waters but a whole army of little cars were turning back. Only the hostas and the weeds seem to love this year's weather.

Garlic is crushed with a little salt, chopped anchovies added, oregano, pepper and olive oil. The resulting rub gives 'a soft, aromatic note to the meat and in particular to its fat.' You eat it thinly sliced with a few salad leaves in soft rolls to mop up the juices. 'A semi-formal Sunday roast for us suddenly becomes an informal lunch, eaten outdoors.'

We eat outdoors as much as possible, plates at the ready, watching the heavy black clouds heading towards us with menace. We bob back and forward like the weather people and time and again we are lucky as the breaks are just long-enough for a meal or a quick game or a toast of sunburn.

The lettuces are still growing strong. And i still haven't had to water them,


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