I only managed to make one day this week, but it was a full day of picking in the hot sun. Today's fruits were all members of the genus Ribes and included blackcurrants, gooseberries and redcurrants.
At the Apricot Centre, the black currant and gooseberry plants occupy the same area. They are planted outside in neat rows, in an alternating patern: black currant, gooseberry, black currant, gooseberry. The black currants were pretty easy picking. Growing in bunches on small bushes, their branches stand up and it was easy enough to brush them off their stems and into the trays below. I think of black currants as being a quintessentially English fruit. I had never heard of it before I came here and it's very common to see it in beverages (particularly as squash).
Gooseberries took a lot of concentration. Their branches have stiff thorns an inch long. The branches went all over--some reached out into the black currants, some grew really close to one another. I was told the secret was to pinch the type of a branch--careful to avoid thorns--and lift it. The berries are quite heavy and roll to the underside. For the most part that worked. It was slow going through the gooseberries, trying to be careful to avoid all thorns. I didn't manage to make it out unscathed, but I did manage to pick two trays and even sample a ripe berry, which is a very subtle sweet taste and a polar opposite to its unripe green self. A gooseberry looks kind of like a grape (but with a watermelon like pattern) and has seeds like a grape (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gooseberry). A green gooseberry tastes incredibly tart and dry; I couldn't help making a face when I tasted it--while a red gooseberry is only faintly sweet.
The the redcurrants. The redcurrants were located in what my fellow picker refers to as the nettle patch or the forest garden. On the upside, it was shaded which was a nice break from the sun. On the downside, it was in a nettle patch. The idea was that the nettles would prevent the birds from eating the berries. Well, they also prevent me from wanting to pick them. Aidan went through with his foot, pulling the nettles down, gently weeding them out from the redcurrants and stomping them into a nice patch at the center of the ring around the cherry tree. I pulled the nettles I found up at the roots. There was an abundance of redcurrants, but they're not as easy to pick as some things (due to nettles and other things) and they need to be pulled where the stem attaches to the branch. They're also tiny little things and it takes a big amount of the fruit to fill up a tiny tray. I kept at it, filling up a tray and a bit, until exhaustion took over and I started grabbing at nettles. Stung, stabbed, and sweaty, I called it a day.
P.S. I hopped off the bus at a different stop and found my way down a new path. I went past a field of some sort of grain with red poppies rising above the soft golden crop. It was lovely. On the way home, Aidan gave me a lift to the Salary Brook cycle path and I followed it for about 2 miles to the University. It's a lovely little patch of green space on the edge of Greenstead. Estate to the right, open space to the left, it was a nice way back to uni, accompanied by bird song and avoiding the magic roundabout.