The Legend of the Blackberries on Michaelmas Day

Mold (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)
Mold (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

~ Seamus Heaney, “Blackberry Picking”

So much happens on some days that it’s easy to let something important slide past, ignored, but not willfully. Famed Italian culinary diva Marcella Hazan passed away yesterday morning, on Michaelmas Day, a traditional feast day in the Roman Catholic Church, with goose being the traditional fare served in England. So caught up the accolades, I paid little attention to this day, ironically the very date I first met my husband, whose name is … Michael.

I have long been fascinated by the associations of various foods with the various saints of the liturgical year and all the feasting and fasting that went along with the changing of seasons and cultures.

An old Irish folk tale, an apocryphal story like so many, relates how blackberries came to be harvested and used up by St. Michael’s Day. The saga goes that when God kicked Satan out of Heaven, the demon angel landed in a bramble patch. Each year he returns to curse and spit on the fruits of the blackberry bushes, thus rendering them inedible thereafter. This belief, I suspect, could well be the inspiration for Seamus Heaney’s poem about blackberry picking, which I mentioned in my previous post on foods black in color, “Black is the Colour of Food, Too.” He refers to late August, but still, the frantic rush to pick all the berries at once seems apt.

So the ideal ending to a Michaelmas Day meal might be a blackberry dessert like blackberry crumble.

Blackberry Crumble (serves 4)

2 cups washed blackberries (thawed if frozen)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Place blackberries in a shallow 1-quart baking dish, sprinkled with half of the sugar. Drizzle with lemon juice. Cream butter, mix in remaining sugar, flour, and salt together; distribute mixture over berries. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Serve warm or cold with cream, ice cream, or dessert sauce.

Optional: Say “From the snares of the devil, deliver me!”

© 2013 C. Bertelsen, including all photographs.

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