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.


  1. It's very strange. Even the apples from the tree in my own garden (and very nice they are) are looked at by my children as if they'd just fallen from Snow White's lifeless hand. "But it's organic! You like organic!" I remind them, to no avail. A bee might have landed on it at some point in the past, and walked mud all over.

    I would remind them that even the apples we get from the supermarket, encased in plastic bags, also once grew outside, on trees; but fear they'd then refuse to eat them at all.

  2. Oh! Cheese! (Not jam...)

    Goodness I had no notion a mulberry could inspire such political ardour.
    I have eaten of that tree. And it was good. Very, very good.

  3. I must say that I've seen more people blackberrying this year than for a long time. Whether it's shortage of money or middle class mercantile, I'm not so sure.

  4. Since a Very unPleasant Incident long ago in a different life in northern Italy, I haven't been able to face eating a mulberry but I could perhaps be tempted by that cheese thing! The VuPI involved harvesting from the wild but not realising until far too late that the tree must have caught the blast of a farmer's crop-spraying.

  5. Strange folk, humans...

    The French used to be avid wild collectors but even they have started to let fruit fall. I am missing being ale to pick sun ripened figs from a tree this year instead of seeing demands for 50p each for stuff you would reject in the wild!

    I am gurgling at the thought of mulberries, bet you are glad I don't live nearby.

  6. Maybe you have to grow up on a farm to appreciate such delicacies.

    I envy you your mulberries. There used to be a tree by the river in Oxford University Parks, but they had to take it out as they strengthened the bank, it was fast becoming an island.

    Our damson isn't quite ready, our plum is a little too ready. Our wild plums are just about perfect, though I certainly wouldn't reveal their location to the hoipoloi.

    Harvestmen are more suited to a fruit tree. I wish I could communicate this to the ones that always seem to congregate under the bonnet of the Rusty Old Wreck.

  7. We've got a bumper blackberry year this year. I've grown my own tomatoes for the first time and they are good. Rob always asks if they're safe to eat.

    Our garden is very dangerous, we have insects!

  8. I enjoyed the brain splattery bit :-)

    A couple of weeks ago I was helping myself to some lovely sweet plums from a hedgerow beside the canal towpath. 'What are they then?' asks a passing fellow. 'Plums - want one?' But the only reply was a thin smile, and he walked on by with his equally plum-deprived family.

    Wasps likes mulberries though, don't they Dru? Didn'cha get stung?

  9. It's that superior look they give you, Catherine, as though to say 'Ha! You simpleton, proper fruit comes from Tesco" ...actually, that reminds me of the bosun who once pronounced definitively upon british Outh Cuisine- "Everyone knows that REAL scampi's made from monkfish"....

    Denser and more pureed than jam, Federay. Have you had membrillo?

    Maybe it's the earliness of the harvest, Chris, that's getting people out picking? -probably a good thing to do with children in the summer hols.

    Having tried a bit of the mulberry jelly this morning, Delia, I rather wish I'd just eaten them fresh. The flavour gets lost in the jelly. Damn. Still, no pesticide. Urk.

    Very odd, Caroline. Them French'll be eating TV dinners next. Hey, there's mulberries enough for everyone on that tree. As long as everyone doesn't want lots.

    Seems an ideal place for a mulberry tree, Jenny, accessorising effortlessly with Shelley and a punt!

    My best ever tomato crop came from when I baled out the inspection shaft for the house loos when it got blocked, Anji. Humungous crop. People seemed a bit wary of the chutney I made with the tomatos, though. Tchah! I bet your insects are large and ferocious, aren't they?

    I saw not a single wasp, Suzzy. Saw a bunch of hornets the other week, but they were being quite peacable.