Monday, August 4, 2014


picking blackberries
one berry at a time.
Around mid-to-late June , it was blackberry picking time.  I have wonderful memories of those times, living in the country as a young boy, making a trek through a field, bucket in hand, in search of a wild blackberry patch.  Usually the berry patch was located in an out-of-the-way, obscure location known by someone  in our family.   

Sumac Bush
When picking wild blackberries, protective dress was required—feet covered with shoes and socks, legs covered with long pants, arms covered with a long-sleeve shirt, and  head protected from the sun by a big brimmed straw hat or a bonnet.  The needed apparel for berry picking made a hot, humid summer day feel even hotter.  Even with proper precautions, it would still be a certainty that hands would come in contact with briars, inflicting their pain. Being pricked by the briars would result in an unexpected, excruciating  foreign needle into the skin—not pleasant at all.  Until the briar was carefully removed, there was no more berry picking.  Even after removing the briar, the hand would still feel lingering pain.  Caution was used as the berry picking continued until the bucket was full.   Many times clothing would be snagged by the berry briars which would not turn loose so easily, serving their purpose and preventing the beautiful, plump blackberries  from going into the  bucket.  Picking wild blackberries was an obstacle course. For a child, it was easy to be slowed down.      

Watch out for snakes!
The blackberry patch would be “wild” in every sense of the word.  Many times, other wild plants intertwined with a lush and green blackberry patch.  Taking notice of any invasive plants around the berry patch was a part of the ritual.  There was one plant that displayed a lace-like white bloom which indicated that snakes might be near.  Snakes could be hiding within the thick foliage.  There would be the wild, smooth Sumac bushes standing tall among the berries or bordering the patch.  But even worse than the fear of snakes and briars,  there was the ubiquitous  “red bugs”.   These tiny, red creatures called chiggers would hop from the plants to you as you plucked a berry from the vine.  These microscopic little creatures embedded themselves in the most private of places, creating a most annoying and painful itch.   The chiggers would have to be removed, but sadly, not before they had done their diabolical work.   It was a nightmare to a little boy.  Chiggers were certainly the most menacing obstacle to picking berries.

Watch out for Red Bugs!

Berries need to be black to be ready for picking!
Watch out for briars!

So why pick blackberries under so adverse circumstances? Because It is one of nature’s special fruits  to made the most delicious desserts.  The berries were free for the picking, only costing your time and effort. Although it was work in the hot sun, the end result was a delight to the palate.  There is nothing quite like a homemade blackberry cobbler!  It was worth all the labor.

Today,  commercially grown blackberries can be purchased in the local supermarket.  Sometimes blackberry cobbler will be found on the dessert menu of restaurants.  Recently, I went back to the home place in Winston County, Alabama and went to a wild blackberry patch, where I filled a bowl with some wild berries.  I returned to my Birmingham home  with berries in hand, place them in the refrigerator for safe keeping, and a day or two later,  created a blackberry sauce that I placed on top of a shortcake.  It was delicious. Life moves on, but my love for blackberries stays constant both in memory and in reality. 

I close with this most important thought.  In addition to the delicious benefits from those childhood berry picking days already mentioned in this article, there was one additional major  benefit that trumps the others.  And what could that be? The most important benefit was the family working together, picking together, talking together, and learning together.   In spite of the snakes, the briars, and the chiggers, we picked berries as a family.  Nothing can top that.  What a memory!  One relived every time I eat blackberries.


No comments:

Post a Comment