In the August 2021 edition of Valley Views, Dr Jenny Powell wrote a very interesting article on “The Humble Bramble”, also known as the blackberry. This got me thinking about the relationship between the seasons, what we grow in our gardens, and the things we do, as we transit from summer into autumn.
One of the most famous British traditions of autumn is the bramble’s association with the Devil and Michaelmas. Tradition says that when Archangel Michael defeated the angel Lucifer in a huge battle and banished him from heaven, Lucifer landed in a thorny blackberry bush in hell. This made Lucifer so angry that he spit on the bush and cursed its fruit so that it becomes poisonous on Michaelmas, the feast of Saint Michael, observed by the Church of England on 29 September. The Irish proverb goes: “On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries”.
In reality, it is at about this time when unpicked blackberries start to go mouldy in our hedgerows. According to Be Healthy Now, blackberries have mould spores that live on the berry (and do you no harm but will mean the berries won’t last more than a day in the fridge without going mouldy).
The word Michaelmas is also used in many other contexts, including both calendar events and botanical species. In many universities, the term which runs from October to December, is called the Michaelmas Term.
In September, many of us have a display of Michaelmas Daisies in our gardens as they add colour to borders late in the season. You can even enjoy colourful, often bright pink, Michaelmas Daisies on the patio or balcony because these hardy perennials also thrive in pots and baskets.
In medieval England, farmers used Michaelmas as a way to delineate the changing of the seasons—which made sense, as it fell around the change of seasons. Michaelmas was a time to finish the reaping and start preparing for winter. Traditionally, in the British Isles, a well fattened goose, fed on the stubble from the fields after the harvest, was eaten to protect against financial need in the family for the next year; and as the saying goes: “Eat a goose on Michaelmas Day, Want not for money all the year”.
In Lambourn, the Church of England is named for Saint Michael, and the church celebrates its patronal festival on the Sunday closest to the date.