Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Michaelmas, Blackberries and the Devil's Spit

Some of this year's hefgerow blackberries
Some of this year's hedgerow blackberries, a few yards from our house 

Today is Michaelmas Day, one of the quarter days which mark the year in our traditional calendar. It's the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel (not the shop), who is said to have hurled the devil from heaven for his treachery.

It's the time for the final gathering in from the fields, and harvest festival celebrations. I remember this period referred to as "blackberry week" when I lived in the north east during the late 1970s. Schools gave pupils a week off in early October so they could help their families with the harvest and gather blackberries from the hedgerows.

Michaelmas, blackberries and the devil are connected in our folklore as it's said the devil landed in a bramble bush when he fell from heaven. He then spat and stamped on the bramble's blackberries, cursed them, and scorched them with his fiery breath. This rendered the fruit inedible, so tradition says blackberries shouldn't be eaten after Michaelmas Day.

My research shows the actual date isn't clear as there's also reference to 'old Michaelmas Day' on October 10th (or 11th according to some sources). This is the date Michaelmas Day would fall on, if the 11 days 'taken' when the Gregorian Calendar was introduced were restored. I'd say the folklore pre-dates the calendar's introduction in 1752*, so my money's on October 10th.

I'd also say there's a grain of truth in the folklore, with the story making a memorable warning to everyone that blackberries are usually past their best in October. It seems the supermarket's concept of the 'Use by' date isn't a relatively new introduction after all.

Bramble jam
In the interests of research I perused our local blackberries yesterday and can report they're in fine fettle. It looks like we have 11 days left to make the best of this foraged fare. Michaelmas Pie is the dish traditionally eaten today, but sadly the recipe's been lost to the mists of time. I'll make do with Threadspider's fine recipe for Bramble Jam instead.

How are the blackberries looking in your neighbourhood? What are your favourite ways with them? Tell all in the Comments below.

* = Pope Gregory's calendar reform actually dates back to 1582, but it wasn't adopted in Protestant countries until much later.

14 comments:

  1. We have been picking blackberries from our thornless blackberry for weeks now and soon it will be coming to an end. Blackberry week would have come a little late for us.

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    1. That's interesting Sue as you're quite near the north-east if memory serves. Looks like your blackberry season's been earlier than mine in the 'softy' south too.

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  2. Oooh, I love a bit of folklore! What a shame you couldn't find the recipe for Michaelmas Pie, I'm intrigued now. I haven't checked out the local blackberries yet but my niece has been using blackberries in her preserves, ice-cream and traybakes for several weeks now.

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    1. Hi Caro - I did find a recipe, but as it's complete conjecture as to what it originally was, I didn't feel it was right to feature it. I love folklore too and there's plenty more to come...

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  3. I'm still picking blackberries from the bush I have on the plot. It's been a really good year for them. I usually eat them as is, but I do like apple and blackberry crumble with cream or custard. Flighty xx

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    1. It's been a marvellous year for them here too Flighty. The cats have just left a purple trail of paw marks in the kitchen, so it looks like they've been trying them too!

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  4. We are still picking blackberries from the hedges round the garden, usually I put a few in Apple crumble, yes the Bramleys are being picked now too.

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    1. That makes 2 thumbs up for apple and blackberry crumble then Pauline - 3 if you count me as well :)

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  5. They are mainly done and dusted here although there are still a few stragglers. My dad was to have been called Michael but arrived a day later into this world :) I've a couple of folklore books that you might enjoy if you do not already have them. I'm away from my bookshelves at the moment but will try to remember to check on the titles when I can.

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    1. Ha - I was going to be called Robert Clive, Anna! Mum and dad had to have a quick think when I arrived. I look forward to your folklore recommendations. I have Richard Mabey's Flora Britannica - there's quite a lot of plant related folklore in there if you haven't got it already.

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  6. Our local blackberries are disappointingly small and tart, but they were last year too, so perhaps it is a feature of the location? The bramble jam sounds lovely...

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    1. It could be Janet, though I'm surprised as they usually do well no matter what the location is. I did wonder about your coastal location, but having met some blackberry pickers in Jersey a couple of days ago, who were enthusiastically picking away, I'm not so sure...

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  7. It's been a good year for blackberries around here. There are loads on the lane down at the allotments. I have picked some because I feel I must when I see them, but I still have some in the freezer from last year. I like to make blackberry gin and apple and blackberry crumble using Bramley apples from the tree in the garden. I thought I might try making a mixed fruit jam this year with blackberries, raspberries and any other fruit I have in the freezer.

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    1. That sounds delicious Margaret and such a good way of ensuring you still have some jam even though there's not enough of a particular fruit.

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