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The old English legend of the Devil and the blackberries

late blackberries“Don’t pick blackberries after October 11 as the Devil gets in them.”
Mrs Houlton eyed my basket as she stirred her tea. Way back then I’d blackberry for my mum. She liked them scattered in a crumble or a handful tossed into apple compote. They were a great little present before I returned to University.

“What exactly do you mean?” I was intrigued.
“Well it’s an old English tale, really. The saying is that the Devil was kicked out of heaven on October 11th. He landed on a blackberry bush. It must have hurt as each year he takes his revenge by spoiling blackberries after the 11th. Some say he spits on them, others that he pees on them.”
She gave me a sharp, clear eyed look.
“What ever he does to them, you’ll find that they taste thin after this date.”

Mrs Houlton was a wise old soul and I blindly followed her advice. She helped my mother in the house. Small and energetic she was intelligent and kind. We eventually moved away and a few years later her daughter drove her up to see us in Oxford. As the car drew away Mrs Houlton filled the back window of the car, smiling and waving goodbye. I sensed that I wouldn’t see her again. She died a few weeks later.

Thinking about it now, October 11th is a pretty good point to stop picking blackberries. They are best picked at the end of a warm sunny day. Often we have had the first touch of frost in the UK by this date and a frosted blackberry has a watery taste. Although the weather forecast for the rest of the week looks mild I am going to take a small break each day to harvest the second flush of blackberries in the garden and remember an old friend.

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  1. I was out picking rosehips today, and I found a huge crop of perfect-looking blackberries.

    With this old post fresh in my mind (thanks to my recent search for Gilbert’s blackberry whisky recipe, and Secondhand Shopper linking to it last week) I tasted one.

    It was too watery and sweet, completely different to the sweet-tart ones we picked a couple of weeks ago. I spat it out, trying not to think of “the divil” as my Gran called him.

  2. Mary Bassett

    Lots of wise words re ‘The Devil and the picking of Blackberys’. My Mum always told me not to pick Blackberrys after Barnstaple Fair (Beginning of Sept) because of the ‘Devil weeing on them’. Therefore I never have until this year. The Blackberrys down this way were looking so good I just couldn’t resist it and yesterday we picked lots. They tasted delicious…..However, as it’s the 11th today we will take all the wise words to heart and leave the rest where they are.
    PS Does anyone have a receipe for a Cordial which entails pricking the Blackberrys and soaking them in Brandy for a year?

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sara,

    Mrs Houlton was special. A real country woman with an old fashioned cottage garden. She introduced me to the Bacon and Egg plant. She tended the flowers and Mr H tended the large patch of vegetables.

  4. farmingfriends

    What an interesting post and a lovely way to remember an old friend as you say.
    sara from farmingfriends

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Celia,

    Thanks for the info! Yes, the Devil has updated his diary. Lidgate is a stones throw from the cottage. My blackberries tasted nasty too but the keets loved them.

    Hi Kate(uk),

    I think that you are right a chilly night could kill the flavour. Found some good sloes today and strangely a lot of them looked frosted.

    Hi Pat,

    Mrs Houlton was a real old country type. Folklore was woven into their lives.

    Hi Amanda,

    I love all the old tales, most of them have a lot of sense.

    Hi Ame,

    What a shame that you missed the blackberries. There are lots of apple and quince recipes that you can make. Sloe and apple jelly is a good one.

  6. i received my birthday present of a preserving pan from my mother-in-law, late (10 days after my birthday!) and went out eagerly hunting blackberries – normally i could fill a a couple of hundred baskets walking down our driveway and up the farm track but no… any that were there looked liked the devil had well and truly p***ed on them, i managed to pick a handful and didn’t dare try them the others had looked so manky!

    at least now i know why but it wasn’t the 11th yet so maybe celia’s right and he has updated his diary 🙁

  7. Well if he hadn’t p’d on them some big dog must have done! I hadn’t heard this before either – I love old tales. So good that you got to see Mrs H a final time.

  8. Thanks for the info on Blackberries and the bit of folklore too!!! Trying to get any folklore from Brian is really difficult. I hadn’t heard that one before.

  9. Kate(uk)

    I was told not to pick them after the first frost as the devil pissed on them then, but just a chill night in late September/early October can do the damage. Sloes get better after the first frost, so it isn’t all bad news!

  10. On a short walk after a pub lunch last week, Cliff and I picked some blackberries and decided the Devil had already spat on the hedgerows around Lidgate – the fruit was tasteless, watery and horrid, even the berries that looked perfect!
    October 11th is Old Michaelmas Day; Michaelmas Day is now September 29th – maybe the Devil has updated his diary!


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