Tomorrow is the Autumn equinox and marks the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn. This year, Autumn seems to have arrived early and we haven't had the glorious Indian Summer that we enjoyed last year. However, despite the nights drawing in and the mornings getting darker, I've learnt to love September. I quite like the return to 'normality'. Summer can be quite frenetic and full on, feeling the need and the pressure to eek out every sunny day and be out and about and there is the long six weeks holiday to fill with an only child who doesn't have the privilege to play outside on the streets with her friends, like I did.
September is calm and mellow with nature slowing down and preparing to hunker down for the winter. Amongst the rain and the wind, there have been some still soft golden days. Nature still has a lot to offer, particularly when it comes to berries - think Hawthorn, Rowan, Rosehips, Sloes, Elderberries and the many garden shrubs, which I don't know the names of, that bear berries of red and purple.
Purple and it's various shades are, to me, the colour of September. Many of the late summer flowers are purple, the most obvious being the Michaelmas Daisy which really stands out amongst the fading foliage and, indeed, got its name because it is one of the few flowers left at this time of year, Michaelmas being the 29th September.
Every year, when I was young, we would head to the North Yorkshire Moors to see the vast swathes of violet Heather. The fruits we eat at this time of year are often purple too - Damsons, Plums, Grapes and Blackberries. Indeed we use some of their names to describe the various shades of purple.
I love 'Brambling' - picking wild blackberries from the hedge - which starts in August on our summer walks. We call the fruit a Bramble too where I grew up and I've just learn that Blackberries are in fact not a berry. My daughter is a fruit monster, so it didn't take me long to convert her to the joy of finding delicious things to eat, for free, whilst out and about. The first time we went brambling, her mantra was "ten in the mouth, one in the tub" and then eating the ones out of the tub too!
We always get scratched and our clothes caught on the sharp thorns, but it is well worth it. They are so much more delicious than the cultivated variety, particularly if it has been a bumper year. The purple stained fingers are a mark of a job well done. I adore the scent of blackberries and, when my tub is full, love to take a deep breathe in and inhale their unique perfume. It's heaven and evokes so many memories and feelings - (I do the same with rhubarb in Spring).
I tend to go picking in September when the schools are back and have a favourite spot I return to each year. It is apparently unlucky to pick Blackberries after Michaelmas - something to do with the devil having spat on them - but in essence they are past their best by then and the flies have commandeered them all!
I always pick too many, so sometimes freeze them, although I don't think they taste quite as good from frozen. Without fail, I make a Blackberry and Apple crumble. Other favourite recipes include Blackberries in Custard Fools, Streusel Cake and with Baked Pears and Carmel.
A few years ago I finally got round to making some Bramble Jelly, which is quite hard to find in the shops and is one of my favourite jams. I followed a Waitrose recipe, which has very clear instructions for all the various stages of boiling, setting, sieving and decanting into jars. I like dressing up the jars and it's always nice to have something homemade to give as an impromptu gift, much more satisfying and personal than a shop bought item.
I have included a couple of pictures from Flower Fairies of the Autumn by Cicley Mary Barker, depicting the Blackberry, Elderberry and Michaelmas Fairies. My sister and I used to collect Flower Fairy things, although I think my collection only amounted to three things - a tin, a mirror and a book. They may be 'old-fashioned', but I still think they are beautiful. The representations of the flower or tree are accurate drawings from observations and the poems/rhymes that go with them tell you facts about the flower or tree too. My daughter loves to read them to me and look at the pictures. Each tree/flower is also depicted through their season, so, for example, you get a Hawthorn blossom fairy and a Hawthorn berry fairy.
All this talk of food is making me hungry, but also reminding me of all the sweet treats to come in Autumn - Toffee Apples, Parkin, Bonfire Toffee....hmmmm