Bramble Jam

I know my corner of Glasgow as a tangled patch, routes mapped by tiny rose white petals and drawn in swathes of shooting bramble bush. Trailing tendrils pull me along overgrown pathways, behind crumbling walls and into forgotten spaces. Down by the river, beside the canal, near old rail tracks, on parkland and waste ground, where branches catch at hair and spike sleeves.


My father taught me how to navigate the most vicious stems, the barbed guardians of the luscious black-red berry. How the biggest fruit are higher and farther – or lower and overlooked. How to reach and push and pinch. I burst each bauble on a single cluster with my sharpest teeth. I licked the cocktail of blood and juice from my fingertips.


There was always talk of jam but somehow never quite enough berries. Not all the brambles gathered on late summer days reached home. Those that did, were rinsed and inspected for the occasional wiggling larva. Then drenched in sugar and baked under a crumble.


I would go too with friends, plastic bags leaking a sticky track, the first-plucked berry squashed under the weight of the next. Sometimes there would be a squeal of delight, a rare find – a wild raspberry. Or screams of horror as hands brushed spiders, scurrying to squat amid the leaves, or waved away the buzz of determined wasps.


Some years later, my father began fermenting the harvest, his home-based alchemy producing a fizzing pink wine to varying degrees of strength and success. We all loved it of course. I can taste it now.


We said our last goodbyes to my father over a warm summer. Other people enjoyed the sunshine, they were able to laugh, unaware of how the world was changing.


Then, that August, a bizarre and beautiful coincidence. The Herald published an archive photograph of Tayside in the late 1930s. Between the wars, thousands of Scottish workers and their families would leave the city streets for the fruit fields of Angus and Perthshire, part of the throng of seasonal workers making little money but enjoying the fresh air and countryside for a couple of weeks. The Herald caption explained their picture was a scene from Meikleour, showing Glasgow schoolchildren from a nearby summer camp, the youngsters queuing at a lorry, ready to hand over the buckets of berries they had collected. Close to the front, the tallest boy with tousled hair stares at the man loading up their buckets. His face shines from the page… my father Fergie, aged about 14.


It wasn't brambles he carried in that bucket but raspberries. Yet this image, more piercing than any thorn, roots me in the past, binding me to him.


Our blood still spills each year, as the days count down into September. On the sunniest and on the wettest and most dreich, I work between the raw green and red stunted nibs in search of the fattest brambles. My own family are now subjected to the results. I make bramble crumble, bramble sorbet, bramble jelly and bramble jam. My fingers are stained. I cannot pick enough.


Keywords: 
family, childhood, memories, fruit, foraging