The “can we go picking blackberries” chant begins every February, as my eight-year-old twins wistfully yearn for a river of black juice flowing down their chins on to their jumpers, leaving stains that no washing powder in the universe can remove.
They’ve been blackberry pickers since they were babies and their individual personalities come through in their picking style.
On their first outing aged six months old, they craned their necks in the double buggy to observe me bending and reaching and examining the various lacerations to my skin, as the thorns resulted in streams of red blood mixing with rivulets of blackberry juice, as I completed the harvest with their then five-year-old brother Raymond.
Clara in the front carriage, Harry in the back, both always open to new tastes as they tentatively shoved these globules of mushy burgundy seeds into their mouths.
Adopting a distant stare as they chewed slowly, chewed again, decided the berry wasn’t poisonous and allowed the sweet juice to flow.
Some inward and down their throats, but mostly all over their faces, as they kept retrieving the interesting lump of mush from their mouth with their fist.
Examining it, allowing half of it to fall and get mashed into the strap of the buggy, forever embedded there.
The creases in their little chubby hands zigzagged with black veins, mapping out a path for fortune tellers.
On their feet
Twelve months later, they did their own blackberry picking and toddled beside me with plastic bowls as excited as if they were setting off for Mount Everest.
They begin to know the good spots, the places where we always find the best crop, and other places which require precise navigation, so as to get out alive without being eaten by nettles on the turn, angry as they head into winter and hungry for one final attack.
Little, chubby legs erupt into a raging rash unless properly protected so wellies and leggings, akin to a beekeeper’s suit going to tend to his bees.
Different strokes for different folks
Clara is fruit crazy and as she picked, she ate - instant gratification.
This meant her plastic bowl remained empty, but she gazed enviously at Harry’s, his bowl starting to fill up as his character is one of delayed gratification.
At 18 months, two and a half, three and a half, four and a half, five and a half, six and a half, seven and a half and again in a few months’ time, he never fails to let me know that he is saving his blackberries, that he is mature and restrained, unlike his impulsive sister.
His fast and abstinence only lasts until we get home, at which point we must bake the blackberry buns immediately.
His little legs protected by his blue wellies lose half of the berries the first year as he over-examines them.
They all fall out by the time he reaches home, while now his balancing of berries is a class act, but Clara still comes home black-lipped and empty-handed.
Equal amounts of butter, sugar, flour, six eggs and a half teaspoon of baking powder froth up into a volcano of air and pale yellow gloop.
They mix and mess with wooden spoons and black fingers, the kitchen akin to a bomb attack through a haze of flour and stray berries, making the journey to the oven treacherous.
We eventually get the trays of anticipation into the oven at 220 degrees. The mixture, which was spooned into red, blue and green bun cases, goes through a magical makeover.
Just 15 minutes later, it reemerges as golden yellow planets, with black craggy craters where the blackberries burst the surface.
They ogle them, they can’t wait, they dance with excitement and when the intense heat dissipates, they attack them like scald crows to a fresh carcase.
Their happiness, fulfilment and ecstasy at having completed mission blackberry one more time is heard in their heavy breathing as they devour mouthfuls of warm buttery blackberry nirvana mixed with a runny nose, as it’s September and within a few months the chant will begin again, “can we go picking blackberries”.