The word ‘scrump’ I’ve discovered, means to steal apples from someone else’s trees! Now at this point I should start my post with a disclaimer that I am not promoting nor advocating stealing of any sort, but if you happen to come across a fruiting tree in the wild, or on the side of the road perhaps grown from a tossed apple core, or have access to a friend’s farm or an area you can get legal access to, then I say ‘go scump’!
I learnt about this interesting concept at a recent preserving course I attended at the Bandusia Country Retreat near St Albans. The instructors were expert scrumpers having dedicated most of their adult lives to cooking and preserving all sorts of wonderful things in the cheapest possible way. Their supplies have come from fruit they’ve either grown themselves or have been given, from end of day specials at local markets or simply from self scrumped produce. And rather than confine the act of scrumping to the traditional definition relating to apples, they’ve extended the meaning to be any sort of fruit.
As I sat listening to their daredevil tales on scrumping, my little mind wandered off momentarily, as it does from time to time, to a place not far from where I work. This place happens to be full of very productive blackberry patches. It was at that moment that I decided the humble blackberry would be my first scrumping target.
Probably like many of you, I remember fondly the adventurous summer days picking blackberries out ‘in the country’ with my Dad. The ‘country’ I talk about wasn’t all that far from where we lived on the northern outskirts of Sydney where market gardeners, chook farmers and fruit farmers supplied a lot of Sydney’s fruit and vegetables. Today of course it is a thriving, expensive rural-residential part of Sydney and the majority of the market gardens are gone.
Mum would dress me up in one of Dad’s old shirts and with long trousers and sneakers and bucket in hand, off we’d go blackberry picking. From what I remember, the brambles were everywhere but Dad had his favourite spots which were usually down the end of some remote dirt road. Back then, lots of people did this sort of thing and although we felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere, we’d often bump into other families dressed up for the occasion.
Times have changed and the humble blackberry is now a ‘weed of national significance’ being one of the 20 most invasive introduced plants in Australia. Unless it is controlled, it has great potential to spread and because of this can have significant economic impacts on agriculture and forestry and of course serious and sometimes irreversible impacts on the environment and biodiversity. Land owners now have a responsibility to eradicate blackberry on their properties so blackberry scrumping is also destined to be a thing of the past.
Having been involved in blackberry eradication programs, there were two very important issues that I needed to resolve before I went off blackberry scrumping. The first was to ensure that none of blackberry bushes had been sprayed with herbicide and the other was to ensure I had the land owners permission.
With both of these cleared, next was to get my gear together: long thick old pants and shirt, covered shoes preferably gum boots, gloves, sun hat, clippers and bucket.
Getting to the berries is a big issue because the thorns are absolutely deadly and grab onto anything that gets remotely close, even your gum boots! They can cause all sorts of havoc and the last thing you want to do is fall into a blackberry bush. Call me a wuss but I wouldn’t even attempt blackberry scrumping without them and wonder how long I actually lasted picking blackberries in my dunlop volleys all those years ago with Dad. Actually, the vines are totally covered in thorns with hundreds of very fine thorns right up under the berries themselves. To pull the berries off you need to feel them so it’s best to have a thick leather glove on one hand to hold the vine and either use your bare hand or if you don’t want stains, a thin rubber glove on the other hand to pull the berries off. I used rubber gloves because it was all I had at the time but the little thorns that sit just below the berries continually grabbed onto them and occasionally ripped a hole in them.
As the years have slipped by, my mind has very cleverly tricked me into forgetting how long it actually took to pick blackberries all those years ago because in two hours I’d only collected 2 kilos. It’s slow work so if you’re the impatient type perhaps look for an apple tree instead! Towards the end I resorted to holding the bucket under the berries, catching each bunch as I lopped them off with a pair of hand clippers.
Because of their high water content, once picked blackberries can go mouldy very quickly so after pulling all the berries off and making sure there were no leaves or thorns in the mix, I froze about 1.5 kilos. With the rest I made a blackberry pie for Chris on Valentines Day and this weekend I’ll be putting my newly learned jam making skills to the test and will attempt my first ever batch of scrumped blackberry jam.
So stay tuned to see how I go about….making blackberry jam.