Sloe, Love, Sloe

Bittersweet. Nothing more so. The dark sherbet tang as the glass meets my lips, followed by a rich, rolling warmth as ruby liquid hits the back of my throat and warms me from within, the tingle moving through me as almond aftertaste takes over.

The colour of passion. The taste of winter. The satisfaction of a job well done.

Bittersweet. Nothing more so. Scratches like ribbons wreathing fingers and wrists, threads pulled loose in warm woollen clothes, hair tangled and full of twigs, yelping in pain then shouting with glee as a new cache of indigo emerges from thorny branches.

We come once a year to the Fire Hills, themselves a symbol of death and rebirth, to walk the fine line between Autumn and Winter. We fall forward into the buffeting sea breeze and enjoy the muddy-booted march between bracken and gorse, making our way to the dormant yet dauntless hedgerows that mark borders and bear gifts.

At first they are not forthcoming, these fairy-tale tangles and frostbitten brambles. We grumble about the poor harvest, think about heading home. But slowly the eyes attune, birdlike, to brief flashes of patinated blue amidst the brown.

We work together, one lifting a springy armful of foliage out of the way while the other goes in for the kill, grimacing against scraped knuckles and splintered thumbs. Gradually, as evening woodfires scent the dusky sky, our bags begin to bulge with fresh-foraged bounty.

Home again, stamping our feet, slamming the door hastily against ever-quickening air. After a teasing comparison of weights and volumes, we lay our prize to rest into the chest freezer under the stairs.

When we next experience these tarnished bullets of bitter blue-black, they will be unrecognisable – changed in form and flavour by a mother’s expert hand. We will breathe in deep and raise a glass and smile sidelong, knowing that the greatest treasures are the hardest-won.

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