Saturday 21 September 2019

My redcurrant bush has required a cage to protect it from the dastardly blackbirds

with David
with David

By DAvid Medcalf

Excuse me, but can anyone help out with a recipe for redcurrants?

Something sweet or maybe savoury. Can I usefully freeze redcurrants? Do redcurrants make for good jam? Would squeezed redcurrants yield a nice summer drink? Any assistance would be greatly anticipated.

Though I may ask a lot of dumb questions, I do actually know a thing or two about redcurrants. The redcurrant bushes at Medders Manor are notable for their luxuriant foliage, and sturdy stems. Over the five years since they were planted on the Back Acre, they have grown to a respectable size.

Annually, these prospering shrubs have dripped with fruit, producing a crop more impressive than the yield of the most luxuriant vine. Each summer they have promised much but delivered nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Nada. In all of the five years since they were introduced, we who care for them have yet to taste so much as one redcurrant. It has been a tale of repeated frustration.

The reason for drawing such a blank is that we have always been beaten to the crop by the local blackbirds, with whom we have a fraught relationship. Whatever strawberries the slugs deign to leave, we reluctantly share - half for the blackbirds and half for the humans. At least the humans generally manage to snaffle most of the raspberries, though the feathered enemy siphons off a goodly portion. But until now the redcurrants have been the exclusive preserve of the lads with the orange beaks.

Until now, because 2015 will be different, for we have constructed a fruit cage. Inside this cage, no blackbird will ever be permitted to set foot. Or set talon even. As a bird brand, the blackbird probably ranks second only to the robin when it comes to projecting an image of cute wholesomeness.

The public perception, as perpetuated on countless millions of Christmas cards, papers over the reality that robins are psychopathic loners. Meanwhile, though blackbirds may be handsome, the ugly truth is that they are greedy and devious thieves, with a limitless appetite for the fruit produced by the labour of others.

Lyric writers through the decades have nevertheless fallen for the charms of these freeloaders. 'Blackbird of Avondale' is a pretty drawing room ballad of yore while Paul McCartney had the Beatles warbling about a 'blackbird singing in the dead of night'. With all due respect to Sir Paul, this was a load of twaddle, well wide of the ornithological mark. Blackbirds invariably prefer daylight robbery to performing under the cover of darkness.

Inspiration for the cage at the Manor came from Little Sis whose husband took it upon himself to install security measures for their plot of raspberry canes. Horace never does things by half and the result is a Fort Knox among fruit cages, capable of repelling wandering buffalo, never mind blackbirds. The walls are made of metal barriers such as deployed by police forces around the world for crowd control, only taller. Then nylon mesh netting has been draped over the barriers to make the whole thing bird proof.

The budget at the Manor does not run to metal barriers but at least we have plenty of manpower along with a firm belief in the power of cheap timber and plastic cable ties. Hermione and young Persephone took care of keeping the vertical posts precisely vertical (very important that). Eldrick was up and down the ladder like the fiddler's elbow securing the netting to the timber frame. I was naturally in charge - and universally ignored.

The end result is a tad less neat than Horace's Fort Knox but it should be every bit as effective against airborne bandits. It was a pleasure to stand beside our freshly finished cage the other day and watch the bumble bees clambering through the nylon mesh on their way to carry out their pollinating duties. Clusters of redcurrants could be discerned, swelling impressively amidst leafy cover, a sight to raise the spirits. The blackbirds too may admire the view but they must find alternative food sources from here on.

So it is with a sure expectation of having fruit to play with that I ask whether the redcurrants should be served boiled, baked or fried. The cage is bird proof but, oh dear, I have just realised that for now it is also human proof.

We forgot to fit a door.

Wexford People

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