Our berry patches usually give us the first sign of the end of summer. For weeks straight, we’re able to pick more berries than fit in the freezer, usually until the first frost.This year was really tough on the berry plants though. Record heat and drought conditions interspersed with record rainfall, not to mention transplanting all the raspberries right at bloomtime, threw the harvest cycle into a downward spiral. Eventually the day came where the berries looked good from a distance, but on closer inspection were all funky. Some have slug tracks, some are already rotten and dropping off, and some never really get ripe. We call this “berries gone puca”.
What the heck is a puca, you ask?
The Puca (also spelled Pooka, Puka, Puck) is a supernatural creature mostly associated with Ireland, West Scotland and Wales. It can take a variety of shapes, dog, rabbit, goat or goblin, but a large black horse with glowing golden eyes is the most common form. It has the power of human speech, and legends abound in Ireland of people seeking advice from a Puca, which are probably remnants of pre-christian religious rituals. Pucas are also known to abduct unwary nighttime travellers, taking them for a wild ride, then leaving them unharmed where they were found.
An ancient agricultural custom was that any crops left unharvested after Samhain (Oct. 31/Nov. 1) belonged to the Puca, and anyone gathering them would also gather the ill-will of the Puca.
“At the beginning of November, the Puca was known—in some locales—to either defecate or spit on the wild fruits rendering them inedible and unsafe thenceforth.” Parents would warn their children not to eat these crops by telling them they would make them sick. In many areas people would proactively leave a small portion of their crops in the field, called the Puca’s share.
If you’d like to read more about this creature, including how one was tamed by Irish high king Brian Boru, check out these links: