It's blackberry picking time!

It is July 1950 something and Uncle John comes inside and announces that the blackberries are ready for picking.  He has just returned from an exploration up the cut to the blackberry patch. 

I am growing up with my brother, Rex, and my Mom in Gram's house.  A couple of aunts and an uncle are still living at home.  Uncle John's announcement signals the rounding up of buckets and pans to hold the regal (as well as delicious) purple berries.  From sand pails to galvanized scrub buckets, we head out.  But buckets with bails are best.  We can hang them over our forearms and "milk" the berries into them with both hands.   We are about to enjoy a WILD harvest.  The garden near the house provides currants, strawberries, and red raspberries, but nature alone gives the sharp tasting, imperial blackberry its marvelous taste. 

This morning as I walked the dog, I notice the blackberries along the road and driveway are turning a rich red, easing into the dark purple black that proclaims, "It's blackberry picking time."  I am transported back to my first adult blackberry picking expedition. I tuck light weight jeans into high socks, and locate sturdy shoes.  Mom's light cotton, long sleeved shirt and old gloves with the fingertips removed complete my just-right costume for blackberry picking.  These precautions prevent unwanted scratches from thorns from penetrating flesh.  Before Deet(tm), we would bathe our remaining exposed skin in citronella oil, repelling ticks and chiggers, whose bites would spoil the hunt.  Hats protected our head and eyes.  We were then ready to begin the steep hike up the gas line, to the clearing, bathed in the hot summer sun, which was the blackberry patch.

On the way, I am teased by the family myth.  "If you smell cucumbers in the berry patch, it means there is a snake nearby.  Watch your step."  I am hyper vigilant.  What a grand time we had".  Woods in summer exude the aroma of green grass, dry leaves, honeysuckle, wild olives, a wild rose, and the fresh smell and soothing sound of a spring bubbling over rocks in an unseen hollow.

As we scatter around the patch, I hear the ting, ting, plop, plop of the delicious, plump berries hitting the bottoms of buckets.  Soon it is only muffled sounds. Later, an almost eerie silence as each member of the picking party becomes lost in thought as they methodically clean plant after plant of nature's largesse. Aunt Ann entertains romantic visions of Bernie coming to call for the evening's date.  I dream of jelly and hot berry pie that will be served on the porch after dinner.  Maybe Aunt Betty will run to Isaly's Dairy for a quart of hand-packed vanilla ice cream.

At five or six on my first berry picking trip, as I dream I drift from bush to bush picking a berry here and a berry there, sniffing constantly for cucumbers.  Uncle John teases, "You are such a butterfly, flitting from bush to bush.  Stay put and pick enough at least for your morning cereal."  I really try to do better, but the berries on the next bush always look much better--bigger, plumper and easier to reach.  The others fill their buckets.  I manage a pint in my sand pail; I've eaten a quart straight off the bushes. 

I don't recall the trip down the hill or helping wash all the berries, or stirring the hot jam until it was ready to pour into jars.  Aunt Maisey rolled the pastry crust. She was the best pastry maker.  I can still taste that first piece of fresh blackberry pie a'la mode and Gram's homemade bread straight from the oven slathered in butter, jelly dripping down my arms.

Slather yourself in Deet (or Back Woods Off, or Bug Out) and harvest those wild, delicious blackberries still warm from the summer sun.  Watch out for snakes and bears.



For more blackberry lore try:  Blackberry-Picking from OPENED GROUND:SELECTED POEMS 1966-1996 BY SEAMUS HEANEY.  COPYRIGHT C1998 , Seamus Heaney.  Heaney grew up in Derry County, Ireland.  He won the Nobel Prize in 1995. 

For lighter fare, Google Blackberry Boogie written and recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

There are several YouTube treats including: 

Tlingit Berry Picking Song  Berry picking Song published by Ivy Joseph August 16, 2012, and provided to YouTube by Ingrooves Berry Picking Song.  Rikshi & Crane Published on March 23, 2016.  From British Columbia

The wild berry harvest, according to iTalaina Johnn, is an important part of the lives of the Sta'ti'mc First Nation in Canada..  We are raised to take care of and respect the berry bushes just as we would any other living thing. I hope this show helps children recognize berries and their names.

 Carol Balaun, Headwaters Master Gardener