July 3, 2012
As anyone who’s ever picked blackberries knows, there are some “prices” to be paid, as is the case with many choices in life. The primary issue (besides the 110 – 112° F. heat we’ve experienced over the last several days) is…thorns. There’s a reason that blackberry patches are called “brambles” — Once started, blackberry bushes sprawl. They get wider And denser. They grow willy-nilly. Or another way to put it is, they become an impenetrable mass, vines knotting around vines. Vines covered with lots of tiny, hard-to-see thorns. Venturing forth into a blackberry patch almost inevitably leads to scratches and pricks from the thorns. Soon, one feels like Brer Rabbit — hopelessly stuck to the Tar Baby or, in this case, tangled up in endless proliferous vines and thorns.
A less likely — but still real — possibility is an encounter with a black bear. Ursus americanus is not your friend to begin with. Black bears love blackberries (and lots of other fruit, blueberries among them). If you’re in the woods, look for claw marks and holes (from teeth) on tree bark. Bears use the distinctive claw marks and holes as a way to communicate with one another (thinking of scratch marks that read: “Yippee, I maimed a human!”) You don’t want to hang around that tree. Ditto re: hanging around cute baby bears. If you see bear cubs, run! Protective Mama Bear will not like you. At all.
In addition to being able to withstand thorns and read trees, wearing steel-toed boots is helpful in avoiding a rattlesnake or copperhead bite (I keep a snakebite kit in the glove box of the car.). And a certain degree of finesse is involved in picking the berries. Just because blackberries are black, doesn’t mean they’re ripe. (Life is so unfair.) They need to look plump and almost fall into your hand as you pick them. Just a few days makes all the difference between a sweet blackberry and a sour one. Too ripe, and they’ll drop off the blackberry bush.
I once contemplated creating a blackberry hedge between myself and a pesky neighbor. But trying to train blackberry bushes would have been much more time-consuming than building a privacy fence. And besides, blackberries yield about eight gallons per 100 feet of row. I don’t need 8 gallons of blackberries. I just wanted a taste. So, all things considered, it’s much simpler to buy blackberries from a stranger knocking at the door. And there stood Troy, soaking wet from the 100°+ heat, in all his shirtless, skinny, tatted, crackhead glory, his girlfriend Louise hovering hopefully behind him. I did admire his ingenuity, in creating a job for himself from what was available. Resourceful.
As I stepped out onto the porch and left my air-conditioned 70° environment for the sweltering 100° + heat, I made a mental note that should I choose to drive the 35 miles round-trip to a grocery store and pay at least $4.75 a pint for the same thing, I’d be doing so in my newly un-air-conditioned car. It had just suffered “black death,” more formally known as “catastrophic compression failure.” The Honda dealer wanted $3,300 to fix the problem (with no guarantee as to how long the air-conditioning would work). Since the car has heat, I’d taken a pass on the $3,300 crap shoot. At $5.00, the generous pint of berries was a bargain.
The first few tastes of blackberries went on Irish oatmeal. Blackberry-apricot spread sounds good. Blackberries in the Vitamix, maybe blended with strawberries. Old-fashioned blackberry cobbler. Hurry back, Troy. You’re far more inviting than the woods are.
Learn how to make the best dinner rolls we’ve ever eaten.
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