It’s not always easy to coax the Happy Farmer out on a walk, unless there happens to be a cow, sheep or horse needing rescued or fed at the end of it. Walking to the Happy Farmer usually involves working. I was taken by surprise then, when last Sunday, with a spring in his step, it was he who suggested we head out for a Sunday walk. Worrying the moment might pass it took me no time at all to race for those wellingtons, jacket and hat, making sure I didn’t forget to grab that Happy Farmer on my way out, before he had chance to change his mind.
It was a gorgeous day. Huge blue seas and skies. The landscape stretching ahead, crisp and clear in the autumn sunshine. The gentle walk became quite a long hike by Happy Farmer standards. Apparently, it soon became clear he had gained some insider information of an area of blackthorn bushes laden with berries. The sloes have been in short supply this autumn. Usually locations of sloes are a strictly guarded secret among farmers, gamekeepers and ferrymen, all worried someone might get to their supply before them and strip the blackthorn bushes bare. It’s a time of year when they are all busy behind the scenes preparing their flagons of sloe gin, adding a variety of secret ingredients to make sure their sloe gin tastes the very best. With the Happy Farmer’s usual haunts appearing ‘fruitless’, he was desperate to get those walking boots on and get going when he got the ‘tip off’ of a plentiful supply of sloes.
After a lovely brisk walk, we were getting ‘hotter’ in terms of the location of the berries. Before us was a jungle of rhododendrons then, and at this point our walk turned into something of a ‘bear hunt’ kind of an adventure. There were banks of tall bracken and ferns to contend with, a fast-flowing bubbling burn, with slippery rocks to clamber over, followed by bogs and thick hedges. The Happy Farmer’s worried face was giving quick backward glances every so often. Checking I was still upright and indeed following his every step, and that those beautiful earrings he bought me in Venice were still sparkling in my ears, intact, as yet another tree branch came slapping into my face. A bit of warning and I might have come along better prepared. It was an assault course to test even the Happy Farmer’s agility and stamina and my friends, when we finally reached those blackthorn bushes let me tell you, they were bare, not one sloe berry in sight.
At this point I hear you chortling and sniggering, let me assure you the Happy Farmer was not ‘chortling’. In true Happy Farmer style, he put on his bravest ‘I am so not disappointed’ face as he tried to convince me that this expedition had been purely about the walk, the lovely relaxing Sunday walk, forgetting the physical effort it had taken to reach this secluded, secret location. What a location we had arrived in, well worth the trek then, as we fought our way back through the undergrowth carefully mapping our route via tall trees we used as markers to reach the path again else we would have got horribly lost.
There may have been a distinct lack of sloes however all around the bramble bushes were laden with fruit. I couldn’t resist. The glistening black berries were so ripe that as I reached out a hand and touched them, they just fell into my palm and they were so mouth wateringly sweet to taste. Melting fruitiness in the mouth. Just as I was thinking ‘stomach’ and guzzling my way through my little harvest the Happy Farmer’s thoughts turned to dreams of bramble whisky, crumbles and puddings. Bags were handed to me, followed with a grunt that more of those berries appeared to be slipping into my mouth than into the bag. This morning my bowl of porridge was laden with the freshest of brambles at breakfast.
Rest assured, just as you imagine a farmhouse kitchen bereft of sloe gin brewing away, know that the Happy Farmer has a backup, a plan B up his sleeve for years such as these. A stash of sloes hidden in the deep freezer. Each year when the Stickman and his lovely wife are over on holiday they call by with lovely jars of home-made jams, chutneys and of course bag or two of sloes.
This week the gin will be out with flagons at the ready as the Happy Farmer rolls up his sleeves and the sloe gin tradition continues at Persabus. Flagons ready to ‘warm the cockles’ as the Happy Farmer’s entertaining continues into autumn and beyond. There is always a hearty welcome waiting at Persabus.
Until next time…