The fruits of labour

At the end of summer, the last week of August, first of September, the making of jams and jellies would begin in earnest. Grandpa had a strawberry farm, which supplied berries to a jam factory, filled general orders in the neighbourhood and for several seasons, the berries were sent by train to the Covent Garden Market, London, sold to the buyers before they reached Derby and gone from the train within minutes of arrival. Trays, holding twelve pounds of fruit each, would come off the fields, at the height of the season, at the rate of several tons per day. Folk would come from all around to pick from early morning till teatime, if the weather was good, and in those days a farthing (a quarter of a penny) was paid per one pound basket. Some women could pick at the rate of three hundred to four hundred pounds of fruit per day, which quite something to watch I can tell you.
But back to the jams: the best strawberries for jam were the stragglers at the very end of the season. A picker might search among the bushes for several hours and only come up with twenty baskets. Tiny little fruits they were, but oh so sweet and tasty, just right for cooking. Raspberries there were too, growing in the hedgerows. There were several kinds of red, a yellow variety, and an odd one, here and there, which was almost white. Some jam was made from the rasps, but they were often mixed with the currants, the black ones in the garden and the yellow, red and white from along the lanes and among the quarry stones. Apple jelly was made too, gooseberry jam and jelly also, if there were any goosegogs left, because we kids would eat them right off the bush, especially a little yellow one, which had a lovely taste.
The kitchen smelled of cooking fruit for days, and as there was a quota of jars to fill, we were sent out often to scrounge up as many more basketfuls as we could.
The baskets themselves deserve a mention, for the gypsies made them out of willow. When used for berry picking we lined them with big cabbage leaves, rescued at the end of the day and added to the soup pot.
Simple days, simple food, simply delicious.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s