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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
Currants and Wee Birdies

Anna ran outside. Her long, auburn braids were tied tightly with red ribbons, near the end of the braid. They bounced up and down against her head. She picked up the wicker basket and put it over her arm. "Mum, Iím going to pick some black currants. Can we make some black currant jelly tonight, after I get back, or how about black currant cheese? I love that!" Anna called to her mum, who was busy hanging clothes on the rope wash line.

"Thatíll be good, Anna. See if you can see some red currants too. You know how your father enjoys them, especially the pink and white ones. Do try to not get covered with juice," she smiled to her daughter.

"Iíll be careful, Mum. Iíll be back in a little bit." Off she went. The air felt damp to Anna as she headed towards the woods. It always seemed to be raining. Anna wished that just one day it wouldnít rain. Her mum had explained, "When you live on an island off the coast of Northern Scotland, this is the way it is." Anna liked the rain, but sometimes got tired of it.

Sturdy oaks, enormous elms, and fragrant pines grew not far from her house. It was rare to see currants of any type this far north, but the glen where Anna lived was protected from the cold sea winds that blew ferociously in other parts of the island.

Anna pushed her way through the tree branches. Pine needles, pointed, yet soft, tickled her arms as she brushed by them. She loved hearing the twigs crunch as she trampled over them. She quickly spotted some black currant bushes. She could smell them too; the leaves and berries were very fragrant and sweet smelling. She picked the berries off the stalks, being careful not to make too big of a mess. Into the basket they went.

As she was picking them she heard a bird chirping. She looked up into the oak tree that spread like an umbrella, protecting the currant bushes and other shrubs from the harsh weather. "Hello, wee birdie. Are you singing for Anna?" The crested tit, a little brown and white bird, warbled as Anna continued plucking the berries from the bush. "Wee birdie, Iím picking the currants so we can have black currant tea and black currant jelly, and even some black currant cheese. Do you like to eat currants?" The bird, perched on the overhanging branch, ignored Anna and kept singing. "Thatís all right, wee birdie. You go ahead and sing." After sheíd picked half a basket of black currants, she said, "Wee birdie, Iím off to look for some red currants. Do you know where any are?" Again, it ignored her questions. "Never mind then. Iíll find them myself," Anna said and walked deeper into the woods.

The woods were full of lush green ferns. They were like huge fans, curly at the sides and ends. Bracken, just beginning to turn green after the bitterness of winter weather, lay thick and matted, covering the ground like a brown carpet. Anna climbed through it, pushing the ferns out of the way. Gorse, with tiny, buttery yellow flowers, grew alongside the red currants. "There you are," she said, reaching for them. They were ripe and juicy looking, bright red, like a stormy sunrise reflecting on the clouds. She picked several branches and put them in the basket. She couldnít see any pink currants, or any white ones. Satisfied with what she had, a full basket, Anna headed home.

"Mum," she cried out. "Iím back. Iíve got a whole basket filled with currants, black and red." She opened the door and went inside. Her mum was pulling something out of the oven. "Oh, Mum. You didnít, did you? You made some oatmeal scones with raisins?"

"Yes, Anna. I know, theyíre your favorite. I knew after youíd been out in the dampness gathering currants, that youíd like something hot and buttery. Now, set the basket down on the table and then sit down and have some hot scones with butter and blackberry jam." She put a plate piled high with scones, hot and flaky, onto the table.

Anna sat down. She reached over and took one. She put a big spoon full of fresh butter on it, which ran down, melting all over her hands. She took a bite. "Oh, Mum. These are delicious. Will you make some black currant jelly and some black currant cheese now?"

Annaís mum laughed. "We can make some tomorrow. Now go and wash up, and do your other chores. Your father will be home soon. Iíve got a big pot of lamb stew for supper."

"Does it have carrots and onions in it, Mum?" Anna asked, licking her lips.

"Itís filled with onions, carrots, and turnips, fresh from our garden. Theyíre bubbling away in the pot. "

"I canít wait," Anna said, running into the living room to begin her chores.

That night Anna and her family had a wonderful supper. Anna showed her father the currants sheíd picked. He was looking forward to some black currant cheese the next night when he came home from work. Anna lay in her bed, tired after a long day. When she closed her eyes she could smell the black currants and hear the crested tit warbling. She dreamed sweet dreams about her day in the woods.

Black Currant Cheese is delicious and is made by putting equal parts of stalked currants and loaf sugar into a pan; place over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then bring slowly to the boil, stirring all the time. Remove all scum and simmer for an hour, stirring often. Rub the fruit through a hair sieve, return the puree to the pan, and stir until it boils, then put it into small pots and cover like jam.

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