Monday, 29 August 2011

hey, you, get offa my tree

damsons, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

It's always a heck of a party when I lay the blanket on the ground, let me tell you. A quick shake of the damson tree and before you know it, the earwigs are dancing a sprightly Roger de Coverley around the damsons; the harvestmen tiptoe gingerly away; and a bush cricket manages to look ever-so-slightly peeved as it takes stock of its new tartan surroundings, thinks about it for a moment, then hops off to somewhere that doesn't clash so violently with its bright green overalls.

I was getting the last of the fruit from the local tree, yesterday morning; then for good measure, I picked a pile of apples too.

Home again, the damsons were washed and put in a pot in the oven to soften them up for making 'cheese', which is the local version of membrillo, I suppose you could say.

And then, as it was still bright and early on a sunny day, Deborah, who is no slouch when it comes to wild harvests, came over, and we went off to the Mulberry Tree Of Plenty, in the heart of Clifton. It's just about my favourite tree, because mulberries are so very nice and because it is very climber-friendly.

You have to be careful with mulberries, as they're so very juicy; and even if you are careful, you end up with hands that look like you've just slaughtered a pig. Last time I picked some, I was knocked off my bike on the way home, and when I saw the splodged mulberries on the road my first thought was that my brains had been splattered out. Not a good thought....

A couple of years back, I met Kayle Brandon up the tree; she's done a wild food guide to Bristol, that I feel a bit ambivalent about; the thing about nice trees is that it's good to know where to find them, and a bit of a bore if you get there and find that someone else has stripped the tree, especially if they're doing it commercially. Oh, and she organised the 'Feral Food' event at the Cube, that I helped out with....

This year, we met a tree troll. He was small and wizened, and advanced towards us, shrieking "What are you doing in my tree?"

Fortunately, I know how you deal with tree trolls. You start by fixing them with a steely gaze.

"We're picking mulberries," I replied, slowly and clearly.

"They're not ready yet," he said.

I showed him my basket of ripe mulberries.

He explained that he picks them and sells them to a local greengrocer. I told him about Kayle's wild food map. "Middle class people," he snarled, "making money out of it".

I reminded him that his interest was mercantile, but he seemed to think that his was the Right Sort Of Mercantile.

Eventually, he wandered off to catch his bus.

"What's your name?" I called as he departed.

He paused and thought about it. "That's a state secret," he said.

Tree trolls, eh?

Two young women came by, with buckets. They were collecting money for a charity. They stopped and asked for some. Deborah and I held out our empty but bloodied hands to show our lack of money.

"Have mulberry instead," I said, and selected a particularly nice one.

The charity collector looked askance at it. "What is it?"she asked, "a berry? Is it poisonous?"

"Best berry there is," I said, and put one in my mouth to show how to do it.

She held it up and touched it tentatively with a lip. Then backed away and continued along the path.

"She's not going to eat it, is she?" said Deborah.

"Bet she's thrown it away already."

Bless the British suspicion of Food Off Trees. As long as it persists, there's always going to be nice things to eat for nothing.