Thank goodness for wild blackberries – and for the long hot autumn that has kept them flowering and ripening for a month longer than usual. I can’t live without fresh berries in my morning muesli and late autumn is always a difficult time for finding my fix. Up until now, it’s been easy. Starting way back in late November, tayberries, that fascinating cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant, came on stream with a vengeance. These incredibly vigorous bushes just don’t know when to stop growing and the branches on mine, weighed down with berries the size of chickpeas, gave me a steady supply of breakfast vitamin C until just after Christmas. As the tayberries faded out, the desert gooseberries ripened. These old-fashioned goosies remain green even when they are bursting with the sweetest juice, so the birds were fooled into keeping well away until I’d devoured every last one.
Raspberries were ready to gather early in the new year around the same time as the currents and strawberries, so I had pretty red jewels decorating the yoghurt topping on my muesli for the first month of the new year. Then, in February, to my delight, I discovered that the blueberry bushes which I planted three years ago, were finally fruiting, albeit in a minor sort of way. Three long years, but they were sure worth waiting for! Although there was just the smallest handful of fruit each morning, the flavour was divine.
The strawberries had a second flutter which struggled on into March, but if it wasn’t for the wild blackberries, there would have been a very unwelcome wait for the arrival of my absolutely favourite berry, the little know ugni (sometimes referred to as a cranberry although it is no relation to it). These pretty pink berries become noticeable on their bushes around the end of March when they begin to gain colour, but they aren’t ready to eat until the first frosts have turned their juices to sugar and caused the fruit to impart the most fragrant of perfumes. The scent is so strong that, even blindfolded, I could make my way to the berries. Ugni bushes aren’t at all prickly and, without their fruit, you would never suspect they were anything but an ornamental shrub (they make very nice hedges when kept well trimmed). The bushes fruit heavily, the berries are well worth the effort it takes to gather them, and they’re as delicious in muffins and loaves as they are in muesli. Alas, ugni don’t take kindly to being shifted once established so make sure you are certain of their final location before you plant them. In fact, take care with whichever berry plants you decide to acquire as one of the joys of growing fresh breakfast fruit is being able to gather it without the neighbours seeing you in your pyjamas!
Now is the time to look for berry bushes and plants in your local garden centre or to beg a few rooted cuttings, canes, or runners from friends and neighbours. Choose a variety of plants to give yourself a succession of berries over several months, and enjoy your breakfast like you never have before!