Something we’ve missed this winter / spring, since we moved from over there to over here, are Blackthorn hedges. Almost all the hedges in the area seem to be Hawthorn. Suddenly the Blackthorn is in flower and we are finding occasional bushes, here and there in a fairly random sprinkle, in amongst the seamless green of the Hawthorn. If the winter hadn’t hung on for so long we would probably have noticed them earlier, but at least they are now trying to catch up and stay ahead of the May blossom.
The fruit that will be the result of these flowers is the sloe. Funny isn’t it? Why didn’t the bushes get called Sloethorn? Plums grow on a plum tree, apples on an apple tree and so on, but sloes grow on Blackthorn. According to Wikipedia the word sloe has roots in German and Slavic words for a plum. This makes it related to things like Slivovitz, that very nice Polish plum brandy. Interestingly Slivovitz is made by fermenting the fruit complete with crushed stone, adding that hint of almond to the flavour.
The other interesting thing about the Blackthorn is that it provides the wood for the traditional Irish shillelagh. Whether this is because it is particularly well adapted for hitting people over the head, or just because there’s a lot of it about, I’m not sure.