The Bright Side
Blackberry picking time has arrived. The small patch growing in the clearing by Xandra’s house is heavy with berries this year. Some of the berries are black, some are just turning red, and a few are still white. Waiting until most are black before I go pick, seems like a good plan. However, the birds don’t wait. Any country girl knows you have to beat the birds to the ripe berries. Many of our fellow creatures love blackberries as much as we do. Even deer like to munch on the leaves. Bees pollinate the white blooms as they gather nectar for honey. Caterpillars munch on the leaves. The quarter-size blooms that adorn the arching canes early in summer create a lovely picture. In the fall the leaves become a brilliant red.
Blackberries are one of the plants that come in after a forest is logged. The first few years I lived here on the Ridge, I could hardly walk through the woods without a machete to chop through the brambles. As the trees grew and canopy returned, the briars faded away. However, they still grow in abundance along the driveway and on the border of the woods. Of course they grow in the jungles I call my flower gardens. I do chop them down occasionally, but that makes me feel guilty. Blackberries are a great attraction for wildlife.
Blackberries belong to the genus Rubus and to the Rosaceae family. You can easily distinguish them from raspberries. We have a few raspberries here on the Ridge, most of them grow in the clearings along the Nameless One’s driveway. That makes for easy picking. Raspberries have a round stem. Blackberries have a more square stem. When you pick a raspberry, the torus, or receptacle, stays on the bush and there is a hollow in the top of the berry. Blackberries, which grow just about everywhere in the U.S., are not a true berry. The ‘berry’ is really made up of many tiny, round, shiny berries (drupelets) stuck together – an aggregate fruit. Each tiny berry in the cluster has its own seed, so one animal eating one fruit spreads many seeds. Those seeds are the reason many people prefer raspberries. I like the flavor of blackberries
Seeing those shinny black fruits hiding under the dark green leaves brings back many memories of childhood berry picking. Blackberry picking was a family event in our family, even Dad got involved in berry picking. He scared my Mom half to death one hot afternoon in Brown County when we were picking berries. We were working on a line of briars growing along a pasture fence on a dusty road near Helmsburg. We each had a small bucket hung on our arm and were quickly filling them with juicy berries. The baby, Linda, was asleep in the car and three-year-old Billy was playing with rocks while we worked. Our goal was to fill the washtub in the trunk with berries. Mom would transform them into pies, jelly and jam for the winter, with my help of course.
She was up on the bank by the road, working on a patch hanging heavy with gleaming berries. Her long black hair was hidden under a scarf she had tied around her head, similar to the one Aunt Jemima wore. Those scarves were popular in the 1940s with a lot of women. They wrapped them around their hair and tied them in a knot on their forehead. Dad broke the silence by saying, “Dot, get down from there, quick and quiet.”
My mother did not like to be told what to do. “Why, I’m not finished here,” she said.
She kept on picking. “Dot, move quick and don’t scream. You are about to pick a snake.” That word, snake, was all it took. Mom was deathly afraid of snakes. She jumped the six feet down to the road, dropping her bucket and filling the air with berries and a string of blue words. Mom’s screams woke up the baby and she started crying. Dad’s chuckles did not help the situation any, but he did light Mom a Chesterfield to calm her nerves. That was the end of the berry picking for that day for us and the snake. The glistening black beauty quickly disappeared deep into the darkness of the bramble batch. I think the snake was more frighten than Mom.
What I didn’t know as a child, but find interesting now is the nutritional worth of blackberries. Blackberries are a delicious source of vitamins A, B, C, E, calcium, fiber and iron. In fact, just a half-cup serving of raw blackberries has about the same fiber content as a three-fourths cup of brown rice. We ate ‘close to the earth’ when I was a child. Most of our food came from the garden or was gathered from the wild. We ate very little meat or anything else from the grocery store. What we raised or hunted, that is what we ate. We weren’t unique, most country folks lived the same way. Some may think it was hard work. I suppose it was. There was always time to have fun once the chores were done. I think we were fortunate. We had the freedom to wander around the countryside, learn from the older generation and we were healthier than kids today.
The sun is climbing high in the sky. I have to find a bucket and get to pickin’
‘til next time,
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