Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Fruit and Folklore

A little late in the season, but this fruity blog was recently published in Leaf! newspaper...

Autumn is a fruitful season. A rummaging ramble along woodland edge or roadside hedge at this time of year reveals a ripe harvest of both tasty treats and rich folklore...

Scrambling brambles that suckled a host of nectar-sipping insects throughout summer now glisten temptingly with succulent blackberries, ready to stain fingers and tongues. Early in autumn they offer a pick-and-mix of sweet and sour, maturing from the tip of the shoot backwards as the season proceeds. But don’t delay too long as time-honoured tradition states that blackberries should never be eaten after Old Michaelmas Day (10 October) when the Devil spits on them – an act of petulant despoiling resulting from Old Scratch having landed in a patch of brambles when he was expelled from Heaven.

Elderberries, mercifully un-bedevilled throughout October, hang in dangling clusters of petite purple globules - light and refreshing when eaten straight from the branch, becoming deep and intense when turned into cordial and wine and packing a punch of vitamins to stave off winter’s ills and chills. According to legend witches can magically turn themselves into elder trees, so it’s considered pertinent to ask permission from the Old Lady before you help yourself from her branches. Thickets of blackthorn bushes also harbour gluts of hidden fruit. Sloes, secretly ripened amongst protective spines, have become the colour of bruises –tart to the taste but ready to be picked and pricked and transformed into intoxicating tipples.

Autumnal yields of hazelnuts have nourished humans since we first walked this land, but each year, as soon as they turn from insipid green to alluring gold, there’s a ruthless rush of beak and claw amongst the turning leaves to grab the nutritious feast. Once gathered the nuts can be safely squirreled away for later leisurely consumption, roasted on the fire as the wild weather blows outside. In some parts of the country 31 October was known as Nut Crack Night, where hazelnuts had amorous applications in foretelling future lovers. The Anglo-Saxon word ‘haesel’ translates as hat or bonnet and refers to the frilly fringe of leaves neatly fitted around the base of the hardening husks.

Even when ripe crab-apples, as their name suggests, are generally hard and sour to the taste (as in ‘crabby’ – also referring to persons of bitter disposition). They were once widely harvested and used in fermented form as ‘verjuice’: a home-grown, hedgerow alternative to lemon juice, and are still sometimes roasted as an accompaniment for cooked meat as well as a key component of mid-winter Wassailing drinks. Alongside native crab-apple trees, assorted ‘wildings’ from discarded domestic apples serendipitously sprout along the hedgerows and in neglected pockets of countryside, their branches brimming with profuse fruit. It’s easy to understand how the apple tree has become such a striking symbol of abundance and generosity in folklore. Furthermore apples are perhaps the most ‘storied’ of all our autumn fruits: featuring heavily in a crop of tales from magical myths to local legends; especially in the West Country where apple growing has a deep-rooted tradition. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A nod to the dead...

A wee piece of poetry in praise of the delicious darkness of All Hallows' Eve...

A nod to the dead
That trod before us

A toast to the ghosts
That pass through our lives

A dance with the devil
That tempts us to tango

A wink at the witches
That bewitch us with spells

A howl with the hounds
That serenade the moon

A scamper with skeletons
That rattle our bones

A dalliance with demons
That wrestle our souls

A fling with the foul things
That darken our doors

A jest with the djinns
That conjure up dreams

A fooling with ghouls
That play on our fears

A sport with the spooks
That dare us and scare us

A romp with the monsters
That stomp through our stories...