Sunday 20 October 2019

The joy of raspberries

By David Medcalf

Marriage has served up more than its fair share of disappointment to Hermione.

The lifestyle of foie gras and free flowing vintage Pouilly Fumé she may have expected - indeed deserved - rather turned out to be black pudding washed down with the occasional can of common cider on feast days and public holidays.

The vision of Louis Vuitton leather and Dior silk dissolved quickly after the vows were taken, to be replaced by a reality of supermarket bags-for-life and fashion as it is filtered through the prism of mass market department stores. That fairest of fair maidens entered the matrimonial state doubtless anticipating that by now she would be the languid queen bee at the centre of a hive of domestic industry all bending to her regal authority.

Instead she finds that there is no butler, no squad of skivvies attending to her every whim awaiting instructions below stairs in Medders Manor, so she is the one who must clean those stairs. And make the bed. And boil the bacon. And iron the shirts. And walk the dog. And pay the bills. The alternative is to persuade some reluctant teenager or an absent-minded spouse to carry out these chores.

Yet in one respect Hermione, dear delectable Hermione, is living an existence to be envied by millionaire, billionaire or oligarch. For she may breakfast on as many raspberries as she could possibly desire, with more to come for lunch and/or dinner if she so wishes.

There is no predicting precisely what will be gathered at harvest time in the gardens of the manor and the orchard in the Long Meadow. We have two fine young plum trees, for example, but this year they were all leaf and no fruit, yielding a grand total of three plums. I ate all three. They never even made it as far as the kitchen.

We had three rhubarb plants in spring, sitting lavishly smothered in farmyard manure. The last time anyone checked, the population was down to just one survivor. Rhubarb is a perpetual problem in these parts. I persist in heaping on the manure recommended in all the horticultural manuals while Hermione is adamant that lack of water is at the heart of the difficulties. The brutal reality is that, for whatever reason, we cut no more than a handful of rhubarb sticks in all of 2016 and the prospects for 2017 are glum.

At least the strawberries were more plentiful than we have ever experienced before, benefitting from the protection afforded by the new polytunnel. There was even enough of a surplus to prompt the manufacture of a few pots of jam. The preserving pan was also called upon to process a healthy flush of loganberries.

Meanwhile, the apple trees have been a revelation, with some of the smaller trees on the verge of collapse under the astonishing weight of fruit. The result is that all school or work lunch boxes must, by imperial decree, contain at least one home-grown apple. Yet the crop is so plentiful that the runts of this enormous litter are being lined up for a venture into cider making. Be afraid Messrs Bulmer and Magner, very afraid.

Yet the greatest joy in all this mellow fruitfulness is the raspberries which represent pure indulgence of the taste buds. The pickings from the raspberry canes provided a delicious backdrop to the summer, a joy to offer to guests with ice-cream. They went fallow for a few weeks but now the second coming is extending deep into autumn with late-coming berries of wondrous size and immaculate conformation.

Raspberries are never cheap in the chops yet they are surprisingly easy to grow. Certainly our plants are not showered with any great attention. Hermione will take her pruning shears to them some time during the winter and I have rigged up some rudimentary netting to keep the birds away. Other than that, we have never bothered to weed or fertilise, yet the volume of output remains steadily impressive and the taste is incomparable.

A bowl of raspberries, the merest pinch of sugar, a lathering of yogurt - never mind your Michelin stars or your grand dining - there is true luxury.

Wexford People