Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hedgerow – John Wright

This was another amazon purchase (and another source of high street frustration.) ‘Hedgerow’ should be easily available - it’s been well publicised, and yet I couldn’t get it in town at all. I know I keep coming back to this, but bear with me; for the last 2 years almost all my book shopping has been second hand, I’ve found brilliant books which I would never otherwise have had the pleasure of owning, reading, or even knowing about this way, but sometimes a book comes out that I’ve waited for, wanted, and scrimped to good effect over, and when this happens I want to walk into a shop (supporting the local economy) and walk out again with my purchase. It’s much more satisfying than waiting for, and then missing the post (unless someone’s sent me the book free, that’s a good feeling too).

Hedgerow’ is just such a book; I’ve been looking forward to its publication for months. I love John Wrights writing, it’s funny, warm, and informative, and although I’m not much more than an armchair forager every time I pick up one of these books ('Mushrooms', 'Edible Seashore', and now ‘Hedgerow’) I feel inspired and comforted in equal measure. In short ‘Hedgerow’ has more than lived up to my expectations, and now for the longer way of saying that...

The comfort comes in a few forms; not least being that the book is a delight to look at and handle, nice size, tactile cover, well illustrated, and an easy to use format (I think much of the credit for this belongs to the publisher, in this case Bloomsbury). I also find comfort in knowing what’s around me and what I can use it for – it leads to a very pleasant feeling of competency (doesn’t go amiss for small talk either). I love books that can be pulled out at will to be dipped into, and ‘Hedgerow’ is perfect for that, along with purely practical information there’s plenty of anecdote and folklore as well – it was my handbag book for my recent Derbyshire trip with the blonde. She laughed at me, but being in company there wasn’t much time for satisfactory novel reading, plenty of time to be absorbed by the history and mythology of the elder though (as well as edible things that can be made from it).

How inspiring I find this book (and indeed the whole series) is harder to put into words. I was bought up to take an interest in the countryside (still can’t whistle with a piece of grass though, despite my dad’s attempts to teach me) but it’s not nostalgia for a more innocent time – foraging is a competitive business (I’ve spent enough time in an English village to know better than to get between a WI member and a good blackberry at jam time), and of course if you forage the wrong thing you can do yourself some real harm. It’s not the idea of the good life either – not when even the things which are good for you can bite back (yes blackberries again).

I think what really inspires me in ‘Hedgerow’ is the sense of being rooted in a culture, a history, and in the seasons. The wild things you can eat or make use of, but not abuse (on Elder “There is one novice mistake that I must warn you about. Do not pick all the flowers from a tree, then go back expecting to find some berries. You won’t. Find any that is.”) are a rich part of our shared history, passing on that knowledge a fundamental part of country culture, as is teaching respect for the very things we hope to exploit.

One of the surprises about moving into a city was how much more in touch I got with the seasons again after a period of village life. Village life was generally about being on the bus to and from work, city life meant walking, and walking has meant being able to see, feel, and smell, what’s going on outside. It also provides reasonable foraging opportunities. Plenty of brambles, wild cherries, hazelnuts (though I’ve never beaten the squirrels to a nut, and if I did these are feral town squirrels who know no fear and are quite capable of retrieving nuts from me with extreme prejudice) mulberries – though ‘foraging’ for those was really a matter of outrageous flirting with the park gardener, and now I find there are a whole lot of other things that I had no idea were edible.

I might never make much practical use of some of this new found knowledge but I’m getting an increased appreciation of ‘weeds’, I’m inclined to look harder at what I see every day, and next time the Scottish one risks breaking his neck to gather me damsons I definitely won’t let them go mouldy before I do something with them (Gin not Jam I think). He’s well on the way to being as passionate about this book as I am – I suspect the joy of free food appeals to his thrifty Scottish soul, and deep down who ever grows out of a delight in the first blackberries of the season.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Desperate Reader,

    I write this comment with difficulty, as I am also holding a large slab of humble pie. I will never mock your book obsessions again, as I went out walking today (not Bradgate Park) . During this frenzied bout of exercise I found myself inspecting manifold hedgerows and wondering what said hedegrows contained. I did have a very nice chat with a woman about the sloe berries and how to make gin. I found myself embarrassed at not being able to proffer her similar pearls of wisdom!. I also found myself contemplating buying this book and wondering how to apologise to you.............

    So , dearest D.R. ......Your taste is, as ever, impeccable and I am a mere pretender to you r style...................

    Ruby x