I haven't quite got used to the fact that the harvest is ready earlier here in the south of France, even in the most mountainous department. Back in England one waited until the first frost had visited the sloe berries before picking them. Here you have to get in there in early September or they are gone.
I was worried that I was too late, the berries are small and some are beginning to shrivel, their bloom gone, washed off by the summer of rain, dried by the fierce September sun. Then I realise that they are drying like currants, quick dried in situ. What I am looking for is still there inside the black wrinkled globes.
There is something soothing about picking berries. Hurrying is out of the question, scattered picking seems to yield slower results. Gentle and slow, like the tortoise, arrives there more intact with a fuller basket. No looking at the next bush to see if the berries are more pendulous, which inevitably they are, just carefully finger pick the branch in front of you and you will arrive at your desired goal, an inkling of ancient gatherers stirring the memory.
Whispered thud of a handful tumbling into the basket, Fleur quietly guarding in the shade, the north side of the bushes are best.
I will use the berries in two ways. Some will go into the deep freeze, yes they do have to be frosted to make the best blackthorn elixir. (More on that later) The rest will be fermented in the autumn sun and stored over winter in a warm cupboard to have the colour extracted when once more the blackthorn announces the advent of spring.
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