John Keats famous and wonderful poem 'To Autumn' is as fresh and descriptive about this time of year now as it was when he wrote it in 1820. Those morning mists and early frosts, fruit and colourful leaves reminds me of his words.
One of my favourite fruits which are both cultivated and can be found in abundance in the wild hedgerows in this part of the world is the Blackberry. I think this is because of my fondness for Blackberry and Apple crumble which reminds me so much of my childhood.
However English legend reminds us one should never pick Blackberries after Michaelmas (September 29th) for the Devil has spit on them. It is said that the Devil was kicked out of Heaven on this day and landed cursing on a thorny Blackberry bush. He avenges himself every year on this day by spitting on the berries making them unfit to eat. In truth the tannin in the berry starts to make them taste bitter by this time of year and insects and early frosts make them wither and look totally unpalatable.
We have had a good year for all our fruits this year. The Orchards have cropped well and I usually store excess in a cool dry shed and send the remaining bruised and damaged ones to our local apple press where they make superb apple juice. I am lucky to have some of Olivia Cooper-Portlands Blackcurrant jam and Lady Binoches crab apple jelly in my larder which is comforting during the Winter months
Quince Jelly is another favourite, used as a compliment to many meats.
Out in the paddocks in Autumn especially on those misty mornings, there is usually plenty of 'field' portabello mushrooms to be picked. Providing that is the horses haven't trampled them first. Make sure however that you know what's what with all things fungi. Some can be deadly poisonous so it's essential you can identify the different varieties before you go picking.
Horse chestnuts or 'conkers' abound this time of year scattered beneath the trees. Squirrels are the first to take advantage quickly followed by children sorting through to find the best ones to have games of conkers which has been played through the generations. Perhaps not so popular now as it was in Victorian times is roasting chestnuts especially at Christmas.
The hedgerows are full of berries like these Hawthorn which are great for birds to feed on during the cold Winter months.
So to Keats then....Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness... Close bosom friend of the maturing sun.......Conspiring with him how to load and bless...... With fruit the vines that round the thatch eves run....... To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees....... And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core .....To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells....... With a sweet kernel to set budding more .....And still more later flowers for the Bees.... Until they think warm days will never cease.... For Summer has o'er brimm'd their clammy cells.
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