I was blessed with a happy childhood. My grandparents lived on the south coast of England and we spent our summer holidays there. We had certain traditions – things we children felt we had to do to make this a ‘proper holiday’. One of them was picking raspberries. How amazing that such a simple pleasure should still influence my life today in that the memory warms my heart and still makes me favour raspberries – especially sun-warmed ones – over any other fruit. I hope you enjoy the time in the soft fruit cages with me and that this passage prompts you to recall some childhood memory of your own.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in His ways. You will eat the fruit of your labour; blessings and prosperity will be yours. Psalm 128:2
On hot, summer mornings when the golden corn rippled in the field that stretched to the water at the bottom of the garden, we would skip down the garden path, ahead of my grandfather, armed with bowls and colanders. This was a special treat for us, for we had been entrusted to go and find some vegetables and fruit for lunch.
The vegetable garden was enclosed by a neatly clipped hedge, which separated it from my grandmother’s glorious roses. A neat grass path led between the rose beds where the wild abandon of old and colourful roses gave way to the trim, upright rows of lettuce and cabbages and the enticing sight of the black netting enclosure that housed the soft fruit, so beloved by my grandparents.
At last we reached the netting under which my grandfather grew his fruit. In this bed were the strawberry plants, cherished and encouraged to produce the sweet succulent fruit that plenty of rain and enough sun produces in these northern isles. Over here were English gooseberries, covered in bristles and so sharp our mouths puckered at the thought of eating them. My grandmother would stew them with plenty of sugar, but even then we preferred other fruit.
As we walked further into the enclosure we were startled by a sharp cry and the beat of wings as a thrush took flight. Somehow she had found her way through the netting and now there followed a frantic few minutes as, waving our arms and flapping our sunhats, we tried to shoo the interloper out through the gap that was the door. Eventually the bird found the space and flew away, full of fruit and stories to tell others of her kind.
Now we had the best harvesting to do. The bright red tomatoes, ripened on the vine, were waiting to be picked. Each time I broke one from the branch I would inhale the sweet smell and delight in its freshness. Even today, so many years later and so many miles away, I am instantly transported back to those sunny days of childhood when I smell freshly picked tomatoes.
And there were the raspberries, each bright pink globe inviting us to eat them. We were reminded by my grandfather – with a twinkle in his eye – that we needed them for lunch, but we could eat five each, straight from the vine. Is there anything in the world that tastes like a freshly plucked, sun-warmed, ripe raspberry to a child?
To this day raspberries are my favourite fruit, although I have yet to find any quite as luscious as those we gathered with my grandfather when I was a child.