Thursday, 12 September 2013

Blackberries and Foraging (unedited) - South Shropshire Journal 6/9/13

                                “At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
                                 Among others, red, green, hard as a knot…
…Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Dear old Seamus Heaney had late summer bang-to-rights when it came to blackberries, and I’ve delighted in watching my eldest daughter tottering around inky fingered and crimson mouthed, foraging food for free. In my aspirational head it’s all so very kids’ section of the Boden catalogue, but in fact it’s M & Co down the passageway by Shropshire Building Supplies. I don’t mind revealing where we get our blackberries, because by the time you read this Bea and I will have had the lot of ‘em.

For me, blackberry picking is the very apotheosis of the childhood idyll, along with climbing trees, throwing sticks at conker trees, and attempting to buy rude magazines from petrol stations. The “lust for picking” however, is a thrill that I wish to instil in my children much in the same way it was passed on to me. I remember as a small boy at prep school taking unripe apples from a tree that was very much out of bounds, eating the lot of them and soiling myself within twelve hours. Those were the days.

Foraging is currently the Big Thing. Historically, foraging was a bit of a necessity because peasants didn’t have Tesco. Now it’s unnecessary but cool. And actually grubbing around for food from the verges (one reader recently warned against this – fie to them I say) and fields is jolly good fun, remarkably rewarding, totally free and often legal. My lovely friend Liz, based down the road in the Golden Valley is a full-time forager and furtles around in hedgerows turning her pickings into the most wonderful edible lotions and potions:

As much as I love a scrumped apple or a blagged blackberry, fungi is where the fun guys (geddit?) forage. My old Dad was something of the amateur mycologist and would often take himself off to ******* Common or ***** Hill (serious ‘shroomers never reveal their hunting grounds) armed with a small knife, a basket and Roger Phillips’ seminal book, Mushrooms and Other Fungi of Great Britain. I would accompany him from time to time in the woods, always on the search for the elusive boletus edulis, the penny bun, the cep. On our way to the hunting grounds we would find field mushrooms and puffballs to take back for lunch. It was only ever when Dad was foraging on his own that he’d find a cep that was always “eaten by slugs and not worth bringing home.”

Next week, a preview of the beautiful beast that is the Ludlow Food Festival. In the meantime, happy foraging!

Moments before filing this piece I heard on the news that Seamus Heaney died today (30th August 2013). I dedicate this week’s column to the memory of Heaney, one of the greatest wordsmiths of the modern era.

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