Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Last Blackberries.

Today, October 9th

In mid-July we left Dorothy Wordsworth (sister of the English poet, William) gathering blackberries from the hedgerows. Dorothy was a thrifty soul – not one to leave a good bush unpicked – and we can safely assume that she did not miss an opportunity to pick, cook, and preserve as much of this free hedgerow food as possible. Presumably she knew that this is the last traditionally acceptable day to pick the fruit, for food mythology says that tomorrow the Devil spits (or urinates) on the bramble bushes in remembrance of his painful landing in one of them when he was turfed out of heaven.

The biblically knowledgeable amongst you will instantly recognise a small inconsistency here, for story has it the throwing out was done by the Archangel Michael whose feast day (Michaelmas) is considered to be the anniversary of this event. Michaelmas is September 29, which is 10 days ago. So why is tomorrow the blackberry-polluting day?

It all began with Julius Caesar, who was responsible for the original calendar based on a year of 365 days (and which we conveniently call the Julian calendar). The problem was, that the length of the actual year is approximately 365.25 days, so over the centuries the calendar got out of step with celestial happenings such as equinoxes and solstices. Minor tweakings of Leap Year occurrences had been applied at times, but a major re-working of the calendar was ordered by Pope Gregory in 1582, by which time the discrepancy amounted to ten days. These were simply omitted in that year, making it all right with again between civic and celestial worlds. Apart from the Protestant sections of the world that is, who would have no truck with Papist calendars. They (meaning specifically the English and all her colonies) hung out until 1752, by which time the discrepancy was eleven days. Finally, after two centuries of operating on a different calendar from a large part of the rest of the world, the English caved in, and removed the eleven days between September 2nd and September 14th. Hence, our explanation: September 29 (Old Style), became the new October 10 (new style), and presumably the Devil too adjusted his diary to note the correct day for spitting or peeing on the berries (was he really turfed out into the English countryside?)

I was also going to give you a full explanation of why a single blackberry is actually, botanically speaking, a cluster (an ‘aggregate’) of many tiny berries, and how a strawberry is not, botanically speaking, a berry at all, unlike avocadoes and pumpkins and eggplant and cucumbers which are very definitely botanical berries. I fear however that I might risk our coffee-break-length friendship with too much botanical information on top of too much calendar information, so I will leave that to another day.

In the meanwhile, here are a couple of other ideas for your berries (I am sure they would adapt to any ‘culinary’, as distinct from botanical berry, so feel free to try them with strawberries.)

Blackberry Pudding.
Make a batter of 1 quart of flour, 3 pints of milk, and 5 eggs. Stew 3 pints of blackberries sweetened to your taste, and stir them in the batter. Bake it, and eat it with any sweet sauce.
[The Ladies' New Book of Cookery … Sarah Josepha Buell Hale; 1852]

Blackberry Brandy.
Take equal parts of brandy and blackberry juice; add to every gallon one pound of loaf-sugar. This is excellent for bowel complaints.
[The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia of Useful Information for the Housekeeper in ...
By E. F. Haskell, 1861]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Musical Food.

Quotation for the Day …

I remember his burlesque pretense that morning of an inextinguishable grief when I wonder that I had never eaten blueberry cake before, and how he kept returning to the pathos of the fact that there should be a region of the earth where blueberry cake was unknown. William Dean Howells.

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