When a blackberry wasn’t just a cell phone, but delicious

By Rick Houser – 

I always think it important to point out that I was raised in the 50’s and 60’s to help set the background for what I am about to write about. It is more than safe to say that things were different than they are today. That really should come as no surprise and should be expected since “times are always a-changing”. As my Dad would say, “Son, there is only one thing that stays constant and that is change.”
When I was young and mid-summer came along, so did blackberry season. I’m not speaking of the domesticated types that are raised in gardens and yards, but the kind that grew on our farm and along the side of the road. Blackberries like to be where most other things can’t and in places that are also not the easiest to access. However if you have ever tasted a homemade blackberry pie, made from the berries Mother Nature grew personally. a person will gladly venture into a thicket of briars to gather the necessary ingredients to make such a pie.
In my younger days, I would follow my sister Peg and brother Ben just about any place at any time. I followed them blindly and unaware of what they were leading me into, but a big sister and brother telling me how much fun we were going to have out in the woods was convincing enough for me (at least the first time). I must admit that when the next time rolled around I wasn’t nearly as anxious to go with them, but I did, thinking that I might miss something.
We began by dressing in long pants and high socks along with an old long-sleeve shirt and a cap or hat. This was all for protection from the berry bushes and the rest of the elements you find when when you venture off the beaten trail. Out in the summer kitchen hanging from some nails were gallon paint buckets that had been cleaned and stored. I remember them as shining in the sun as they were bright silver painted metal buckets.
Armed and ready, we headed towards the edge of the woods first. These were the most accessible blackberries for us to start with. With three of us picking and if there were a lot of berries, our buckets seemed to fill up quickly. If we didn’t meet our quota at our first stop, we then would move on to places harder to get to such as steep banks and overgrown fence lines. It was a pretty certain thing that on a 200-acre farm we coudl pick more than enough for Mom to prepare the culinary delights we were hoping for.
We would take our harvest back to the kitchen where Mom was waiting, having pots and pans ready to begin her part. She knew we liked blackberries so much that we wouldn’t return empty- handed. Mom divided the berries into sections. Some were going into a couple of pies immediately, while others she cleaned and put in pint freezer bags so we could enjoy them throughout the winter. The last batch was put into the pot and made into pint jars of jelly. I really liked this because Mom made lots of strawberry preserves and I knew that with some blackberry jelly on the pantry shelf, I would get a change up from those preserves.
As the years passed, my sister grew up and moved away and Ben did the same thing. I noticed their absence when it was berry picking time and when I took a count of who was headed to the woods, the total was “one”, me. As I clawed my way through the briars and fought off the sweat bees, it seemed that no matter how careful I tried to be I was still getting scratched up quite a bit. This is when I would begin to hum a new rock and roll song that was out with the lyrics, “One is the loneliest number”. I would pick what I thought was a generous amount of berries and head for the kitchen so Mom could turn all the burdens I had experienced into deserts that one can only imagine if they have enjoyed it for real and if they had ever gathered them and had them prepared by experienced cooks.
After leaving the farm I would from time to time spot a berry patchalong the road and stop to pick a few. Sometimes it was just enough to be served up on top of a cake covered in sugar or in a bowl with some milk and sugar. No matter how a berry is prepared you will always hear the word sugar accompanying the berries. I’m not positive, but I think that might be the law.
When my son was in high school the township re-opened a township road that had been abandoned and traffic began to use it again. I noticed that down one side of the area was a nice blackberry patch, so I took a bucket and picked a nice amount. Not certain what to do next, I decided the best person to prepare this haul would be the school’s Home Economics teacher Janet Swarthout, whose son was a friend of my son.
I showed up at their home with bucket in hand and made the offer that she could have half of them if maybe I could get some blackberry cobbler? She said, “Well, since your arms and legs look like you fell into a barbed wire fence I will see what I can do.” I must admit I had forgotten about the thorns and had worn shorts and a short sleeved shirt.
A couple of nights later her husband knocked on our door and handed me a blackberry cobbler, still warm, and said, “Janet said to give this to you.” To thid date, that was my last berry-picking harvest. It might not be my last but let me tell you this- I definitely got to taste the rewards from my efforts. That cobbler was delicious!