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Oct 10

Old Michaelmas

Berry Patch
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Blackberries
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"Roly poly pudding, and blackberry pie. Peter likes the pudding, and Polly likes the pie!" ~ Traditional

If you haven't gathered your blackberries by today, Old Michaelmas Day or Devil's Spit Day, you may be out of luck. It is said that when St. Michael and all Angels threw Lucifer (the Devil) out of Heaven, and he fell to earth straight into a blackberry bush. Scratched by the thorns, he cursed the bush and spat on it (or worse) making the fruit unfit to eat! The Devil notwithstanding, by mid-October, many of the remaining berries on the bushes are likely spoiled by insect damage and molds and smuts, making this tradition a sensible calendrical guideline for seasonal activities.

Blackberry picking and recipes are traditionally linked to Michaelmas, a celebration of harvest’s end.

 

Although Michaelmas is now celebrated on the 29th September, when the calendar was reformed in 1752, “Old Michaelmas Day” was moved to the 10th October. 

 

An old proverb says: “On Michaelmas Day the devil puts his foot on blackberries,” meaning that this day is the last on which blackberries should be picked!

Other customs have the devil fouling them by worse methods, urinating or defecating on them.

 

According to tradition, it is said that the devil was expelled from heaven on Michaelmas Day. He fell to earth and landed in a bramble bush.  So cross was he that he cursed and spat on the blackberries, and every year on Michaelmas Day the devil’s spit reappears.

Other regional versions have the devil fouling them by worse methods, urinating or defecating on them.

 

In fact, a creature called the flesh fly often lands on the fruit from about mid-October and lays its eggs in a spittle like substance which makes it unpleasant to eat and can cause a mild poisoning.  Additionally, by this time of year, molds and more insect damage set in on the overripe fruit, discouraging late harvest.​

For more on Old Michaelmas customs and warnings regarding berries, click the berry patch while there's still time!