June was good with strawberries cropping at 5 kilos a day, double my weight in the month. We ate them as we picked, served them with cream or as smoothies over ice cream. Some went into jam, others got pickled in sherry or vodka. Our neighbours had their fill and some were swapped for shiitake mushrooms.
Then came the bilberries and once we’d got the hang of it we could pick 3 to 4 kilos in a session. Purple lips a bit of a giveaway to who’d been eating on the job. All sorts of puddings and perfect for freezing, on a tray, then poured into a bag. First up makes the tea and thaws a bowl of berries on the Aga. We should have enough to purplify our muesli until at least Christmas.
Gales in September and the goats knew to come down the mountain to scoff windfalls beneath the apple trees. Damsons weigh down the branches but blackberries came and went fast – instead of ripening in an Indian summer they moulded in the mist and rain. Bright red berries on the rowan and hawthorn don’t seem to mind.
With only so much space in the pantry and freezer it was time to expand with winemaking into the cellar. Racking was erected along one wall, carefully working round Colonel Campbell’s explosives chest. Advice was taken, books studied, equipment and ingredients purchased and then the first attempt.
Bilberry wine has always sounded appealing, maybe it’s a childhood throwback from Pogles Wood. There were enough berries to make several gallons but, just in case it didn’t work, I stuck to a gallon, keeping the rest of the fruit for mueslis and puddings. For 5 days it bubbled away in a fermenting bin, with a regular stir, then got transferred to a demijohn and into the cellar. There it sits next to the damson wine, blackberry wine and has recently been joined by the strawberry – when I’m in the cellar I love the gurgles of gas popping out of the air locks. The strawberry, with its champagne yeast, is bubbling the fastest.
Hawthorn berries are in the fermenting bin at the moment – the tree at the bottom of the vegetable patch is covered in them and the 3lbs I removed, a small fraction of what’s left for the birds.
What next? A never ending list of recipes to try out: rowanberries, gorse flowers, young oak leaves, etc. but what will it taste like? Fingers crossed the bilberry will be ready and good enough for Christmas Day.