Alas, it was of course at the juncture of when I had fully lathered up two black labradors that the heavens opened and the three of us became utterly drenched. I desperately tried to get the soap suds off their coats by firing as much icy water from the garden hose onto them as possible and probably a large portion onto myself, if truth be told. So wet was I after 5 or 6 minutes standing in the torrential downpour that I actually looked as if I'd simply been in the washing machine myself. As for the dogs, well they had to spend a few minutes longer in the garage getting dried than they would normally wish for.
But to every tale, there is always some good news and that is the pin-pointing of the remote bushes with their enormous abundance of Blackberries and the Blackthorns being weighed down with their rapidly ripening fruit (Sloes). Admittedly it's a little early right now for the Sloes but with the regular rainfalls now becoming daily, we have to take stock that foraging season is now upon us. It's August for a bit longer I know, but come September, it's Autumn and time to trawl through the hedgerows for Sloes, Damsons and other delights to start preparation for Christmas Gin, Rumtopf (German Preserve & Drink) and Winter Blackberry Vodka.
'Agghh, don't talk about Christmas' I hear you call and I have to admit that I'm finding it odd to be talking/thinking of Christmas when the sun is blissfully shining outside. However, my head has been in a spin since Selfridges decided to open their Christmas Store six days ago; I'm still not sure why anyone needs this much 'present shopping' time? I can normally get what I need 2-3 days beforehand and enjoy a little more 'bang-for-my-buck', as the sales seem to be on by then too. To be honest though, on the food stakes, it's not too early really to be thinking about the big day and according to my Christmas Clock there are only 134 days, 6 hours, 36 mins and 4 (or so) seconds until we're opening presents and having a Bucks Fizz for breakfast.
On Sunday I spent time out in the garage locating the all important, whicker fruit baskets (read: large sacks) I use when out picking. Now that I know where they are (read: sitting by the doors ready to go), I'm thinking there is probably one more week before harvesting can really begin. But at this time of the year and with so many people seemingly eying up the fruit (or so my spies in the pub tell me), it's important to be prepared and ready to groom the British hedgerows at a moments notice, because if you're late to the game, it's off to the shops for your fruit.
One of the reasons that I love Hedgerow Season is that so many people are out and about too, and although competitive to find the fruit, it's a really lovely way to spend a morning - chitchatting in the hedgerows. It can at times feel like a fight to the death to collect as much fruit and from the most remote (read: potentially dangerous) spots without killing or maiming oneself reaching precariously to grab the last of the treasures. The other reason for loving the foraging season is that once you've made your bottles and pots of Sloe Gin, Damson Gin, Rumtopf, Blackberry Vodka and Preserves, the house is full of fantastic Stocking Fillers (or emergency gifts) that can come in handy when you need a quick hit to take the edge off being with the family on Christmas Day - if not before!
I've been lucky this week to have spent the mornings (and will continue doing so) plucking my Blackberries - even the dogs have been foregoing as they seem to enjoy chomping down on the lower fruit branches. They certainly don't have the same picking finesse that I do, but they are far quicker at harvesting than I. Over the last few days, I think I've amassed about a kilo of blackberries, so this morning, after a quick wash and dry, I popped them into freezer bag, then into the freezer until I'm ready for Blackberry Vodka making. Although this year, I'm feeling reckless and have popped about 250g of them into my Rumtopf. For the Sloes, I'm taking it slow as although they all look pretty and ripe, I'm convinced they need a little more time. And the old guard will always tell you that it's best to pick sloes after the first frost when their skins would break open, but frankly speaking, with fridges and freezers, vac-packs and the like, the same effect can be achieved easily enough - so I'm giving them one more week!