Mellow fruitlessness

I woke up to autumn the other day. I could smell it, sharp and cold up my nose, and the colours in the landscape had shifted – just slightly – to a riper, richer tone. Summer had slipped away and it made me smile. The time had come to stack the woodpile and stock the larder, to forage, pickle and preserve before the harvest ends and winter sets in.

A bunch of brambles

Bramble whisky, bramble jelly, bramble wine, bramble vinegar, bramble and apple crumble...

I set off up the lane with my basket in search of crab apples, rowans, brambles and any other hedgerow edibles I could spot. It was still early and silver balls of dew clung to the grasses and picked out the cobwebs that slung, sparkling, from thistle to thistle. Nobody else was up, and the boats slept in the marina as I passed. I had the morning to myself. Sunshine flickered through gaps in the dense pine forest as I followed the track up to Ascog. After a while, the trees gave way to open moorland, bruised purple with patches of new heather.

Loch Ascog is small, brown and trouty, and has a ruined castle perched on its bank. The loch isn’t set in the prettiest spot – the loggers have left the land barren and marked it with wide tracks for their machinery – but the castle, the old seat of the Lamont clan, is a beauty. It grows out of the ground like a crag, its remaining walls held upright, it would seem, by swathes of ivy. I sat feeling the history around me. A fish rose with a plop, rippling the surface. Two eiders flew low across the water, their reflections beating in time. And then I spotted it – a crab apple tree huddled in the shelter of the ruin’s walls. Its branches were thick with small, hard apples. I picked those that had a rosy blush and set off home, grabbing a bag full of berry-red rowans on my way – all the ingredients for a crab apple and rowan jelly.

To make the jelly you’ll need:
•    1kg rowan berries (stalks removed)
•    1kg crab apples (chopped roughly, including the cores)
•    1.5kg sugar

We had a eerily low spring tide. Perfect for sunset foraging.

I put the fruit in a big pan and added about 600ml of water, simmered it all until the fruit was soft (mashing it with a spoon helps), put it in a jelly bag and left it to drip. You then add 750g sugar for every litre of juice you have, boil this mixture until it reaches setting point and pour it into jars. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to that stage – I had an accident involving a doormat at the juice-dripping stage. Such fruitlessness! Still, it’s a good excuse for another nose around the castle. Fingers crossed the apples manage to cling on in these gales – it’s blowing a hoolie out there. Just the weather to crack open my bramble whisky…

‘These autumn days will shorten and grow cold. The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall. Christmas will come, and the snows of winter. You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world. Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur—this lovely world, these precious days…’ Charlotte’s Web by E B White.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Mellow fruitlessness

  1. Hazel MacFarlane

    Leave some brambles for me please, I’ve only managed to pick enough for a small crumble – too many people after them.

  2. I think they might all get blown away by the gales today.

  3. Morv

    It was a beautiful sunny day on Loch Fyne today – just what the brambles need to ripen up properly! Shame it was minging,driechness when I got back to Inverness 😦
    I’m off to Turkey for a week on Sunday – looking forward to hearing what you have in store for us for the micro-adventure when I get home. I’ve rooted out my bivvy bag, dusted off my kitten heels & still have the midge jacket on standby…

  4. Andy Montford

    More beautiful, evocative language, Eve, and a great quote at the end. Sukey will love foraging with you – just make sure she doesn’t try and bring any of the fruit back down to Brighton in a panier!

  5. Richard H

    Hello Eve, I’ve only very recently came across your blog and have just finished reading through all your posts. I’m supremely jealous! Although I was born in Surrey I spent all my childhood in Scotland – growing up near Aberdeen and also spending time at public school in Edinburgh. I live in Hampshire now but still consider Scotland home – reading your blog has stirred up so many great memories from my childhood. I frequently visit Irvine, as the company I work for are based there, and am planning on having some microadventures in the area (perhaps even around on the Cowal and/or Kintyre peninsulas) but I think this may wait until the warmer weather next spring. Can’t wait to read more. Best wishes, Richard

    • Hi Richard. I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I lived near Aberdeen when i was little too (Downies – tiny place perched on the cliffs), but we always had our holidays on the west. It’s strange – I do feel that in moving back to Scotland I’ve come home. Even with 20 years living in England and a very English accent! Ah, there are some great microadventures to be had in Cowal/Kintyre – some real undiscovered spots. People tend to race past on the road further north, but it’s a great bit of the west. I’m just writing up my microadventure now, so I should have something to post soon! Eve

  6. Richard H

    Fancy that, we lived just down the road in Newtonhill! Also spent a short while in Muchalls, I think whilst we were waiting for the house in Newtonhill to be finished. I went to school down the coast in Johnshaven and I love Stonehaven – it would feature high on my list of places to move to in the UK.

    • How funny indeed! We used to go swimming in that great outdoor salty pool in Stonehaven. My brother went to mackie academy, I never made it there though – we left when I was just at the end of primary in Portlethan. Ha! Small world.

  7. Richard H

    Yes, we used to go to the pool – it was always freezing! Up until about a year ago, and in my previous job, I used to travel to Aberdeen regularly and always stayed in Stonehaven. It was only after I stopped visiting that I wondered why I’d never thought to go and use the outdoor pool in the evenings. A great regret now.

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