independent

Friday 23 August 2019

Blackberry pickers, where are you?

Yours, George Bridges, Clonard, Wexford

Dear Sir, WHERE HAVE ALL the blackberry pickers gone? Especially this year, with a bumper harvest waiting to be appreciated.

Oh! How I look forward to this season of the year! Fifty years ago while I was lying in hospital and viewing the fields in the distance I asked the good Lord to give me the pleasure once again to enjoy picking the free health food of the countryside. Yes, my wish was granted and now at 90 years of age, while the farmer cuts his corn, I am happily picking my winter store of blackberries as I have done from childhood.

People would be surprised to learn that the blackberry in the 1940s, '50s, '60s and '70s was in a way an economic blessing for the money earned helped to provide the children's winter footwear. The mother and the children did the picking.

Buyers were in most towns and villages and barrels were left with the families to facilitate the storage of the fruit. The standard price was 2/6 a stone and one local buyer I knew exported over 300 tons annually. What was the tonnage for the whole of county Wexford? Or more intriguing still, what was the tonnage for the whole country?

One of my happy memories of a blackberry harvest was 30 years ago while staying with my son in the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen.

We were hiking in the hills around Lough Hine and came across an abundance of huge delicious blackberries. Feeling troubled at seeing such waste we secured buckets from John Murphy, the hotel's proprietor, and set to work.

The next evening his diners were pleased to discover among the dessert list the famous blackberry pie which won the overwhelming acclaim of the dining room!

How long since we have been offered this tasty pie treat in restaurants and hotels? Perhaps it is because we are now too grand to be seen picking this poor man's fruit.

With the picking season coming to a close in the next few weeks it is not too late to bring our children to the country for an autumn picnic including the enjoyment of blackberry picking with the hope that tarts or pies would later follow.

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