Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Rambling, ambling, brambling

I had some writing due today, and so (as happens all too often in these situations) I was up last night until a millionty o'clock trying to make the words hang together. This morning, Esme and Shirley started up their let-us-out, let-us-out cackle a bit after 6, so of course there was flopping out of bed and letting out of chooks, lest our long-suffering and uncomplaining neighbours should be cackled awake. I'm enough of a sleep monster that I was starting to feel pretty ragged and feckless shortly after lunch. My ragged-and-feckless adjusted work regime this afternoon consisted of checking my email, checking my email again, a bit more email checking, trying to do a thing I'm meant to be doing, deciding to do it tomorrow, after a Proper Sleep, eating some chocolate, checking my email, ambling to the bus stop, catching bus, catching train, walking home from the station, where - ta da! - I was inundated with a sudden desire for a spot of energetic blackberrying.

One of the things I love about living in outer suburbia is the interpenetration of "city" and "country". Fingers of whacked-together housing poke out into paddocks to the north, and while I'm not particularly pleased to see an old field immured under concrete, I am pleased at the way the paddocks reclaim the gardens to the south. As quickly as the developers move (which is no longer as quickly as they were moving a few years ago, in the throes of Melbourne's real-estategasm), the envoys from the country move quicker. Seeds drift into my garden - thistles and canola - that wouldn't dare if I lived in the city proper. Driving to the airport very early one morning to collect me mum, we saw a kangaroo nibbling at a tidy Lalor nature strip. Flocks of cockatoos and starlings wheel into town. Just down the road, living in a makeshift pasture between a suburban backfence and a suburban drainage canal, is a small herd of goats.

And I can walk in search of blackberries through a thicket of brick veneer houses, and turn a corner, and this ... 

These are the remnants of what came before the houses and driveways. The breathing old land divided by nothing but a wooden fence-line from the mown lawns and the backyard swing sets.  I can see the hazy skyscrapers of Melbourne. I could walk to them in the good part of a day, or hop on a train and stride amongst them in under an hour.

But meanwhile, I am wading through cardoons and dog roses and grass up to my waist.

The blackberries weren't much to write home about. It's been so impossibly dry and hot this Summer (six days over 40ยบ now, with another forecast for Sunday), and most of the berries have shrivelled to hard little sundried bundles of seed. A few patches to the east of fences, protected from the hot afternoon sun, have proper juicy berries. Or had, I should say. They're snaffled now.

Despite the lacklustre blackberrying, it felt like there was food everywhere I looked. The cardoon buds have opened into big puffy thistle flowers now, but before they get there, they're as edible as any globe artichoke (as are their stems, stripped of thorns). I keep thinking herbal-tea-related things about the rude little rose hips on the dog roses. The seeds inside are covered in fine prickles, but I reckon if I just shoved a few hips, whole and un-de-pipped, into a tea strainer, and let them steep, I'd have the rose hip tea of champions.

And prickly pears! Not my all-time favourite invasive species, but not without its uses. Slice the thorns from the leaf pads and we have a very acceptable vegetable. Let the fruit ripen and ... well, they're sweet and bland, which could be worse.

Coming home means walking along Childs Road, cars grumbling past, a McDonalds announcing itself in the middle distance. It means padding along the concrete footpath of my street, past the disciplined gardens with their low brick walls. But then I see someone's nature strip overrun with the bright blue of chicory flowers or the yellow of dandelions. I think I'm saying that I like weeds.


  1. Well done on your snaffling. I didn't know prickly pear pads were edible! Do they need cooking or preparing in some way? There are squillions of them near my place, and I've been eyeing off the fruit for some close to home foraging, but never thought the rest could be used.

  2. I think you could probably eat them raw, but I've only ever had them cooked. You have to be really careful about cutting off the spines (obviously). It's a job best done while wearing gloves, using tongs, and holding the pad over a bit of newspaper, or something you can just wrap up and chuck in the bin/compost. Once I've sliced the spines off (I just run a knife under them), I cut the pad into strips and then boil for a bit, then use as a stirfry ingredient or whatever. The Weed Forager's Handbook suggests using them as a pizza topping. They're not especially flavourful, but a nice bright green. The fruit are very pretty, but the spines on their coats are smaller, less visible, and so a bit more finickety and annoying than the ones on the leaves.