Sunday, May 17, 2009

Berry Good Times

Blackberries are among my favorite forms of produce. Especially the extra large Brazos blackberries that my parents grow. They are juicy and tart, and this year there is a higher proportion of really sweet ones. Many are the size of a pigeon egg. No lie.

They are coming to the peak of their season now; a couple of gallon buckets every couple of days. I went to the Soderberg Farm and Chicken Resort and picked on Saturday after our fishing trip. My mother and Dad and I went back there with our little one-gallon buckets ready to harvest some of the easy picks. It was around noon, and the shade was gone by that time. Though it makes the berries easier to see and pick, the bright sun drains the impetus from the picker.

As the picking progressed, there were some just too full of juice to allow them to be crushed by their own family. These I had to eat immediately. I checked each one destined for the gullet, having learned my lesson too well a while back. And not one berry passes my lips without the thought of something unseen that may be in there haunting me. You see, there are bugs that lay eggs in a berry to ensure that their offspring has a great first meal. There is always the danger (read “probability”) that I am eating some insect’s progeny, but I usually justify it by allowing that the extra protein would be beneficial. And you can’t taste them. Mostly I try not to think about it.

I never even knew about the worms, and thus never worried about it with all of the dewberries that we picked when GranMommy and GranDaddy took us to the wild berry patches when we were kids. The short version is that in the spring, they would take us to San Leon near the railroad tracks and pick berries till our fingers were purple and there were gallons of dewberries ready for use. We had our little Coke case stools, buckets, hats and a snake stick, all issued by the ramrod of the operation. I remember once when I was taking a break; drinking water out of the bleach bottle under the seat of the Dart and then laying on the back seat. When I shut my eyes, I saw berry vines. And berries. Just an image burned into my retinas. And I learned that some of the berries just needed to get eaten right away. We were never scolded or admonished for this; part of the reward for stooping, crouching and kneeling in the sticker, ant and mythical snake-infested berry patch was the joy of popping in a nice, fat, perfectly ripe dewberry.

I’m sure there were larval passengers in them as well, but I never was a witness to them. These days my parents soak their berries in the buckets for ten or fifteen minutes when they bring them into the kitchen to evict the interloping worms. With a few minutes under water, the poor little guys begin to wriggle and float to the surface for a breath of air. That’s when they’re nabbed. Either plucked out and squished or simply washed (warshed) down the drain.

So we always soak the berries. When I got my parcel of about five pounds of them home Saturday, I soaked them dutifully. After the required amount of time, I checked to see how many bug children were present. My mother’s statement from a few days back, “We didn’t have hardly any when we soaked them the other day…” rang in my ears as I watched probably ten or twelve of the little buggers float to the surface. Some were small; less than an eighth of an inch. Others, however looked as though they were outside the slot limit for length governing the harvest of black bass in some Texas lakes! Writhing eels, anacondas, mostly not the pearly white of their smaller cousins, nay, these were long purple colored streamers with a heft and ominous look overall.

They weren’t really all THAT big, only about a quarter of an inch long, but still I was glad there were no game wardens in the area. You never can be too sure.

I made a great cobbler out of three cups of our little purple friends, and there are others refrigerated for eating on cereal in the morning, or just to snack on.

And I am secure in the knowledge that the rest of the big Brazos blackberries that are harvested at the Soderberg Farm are destined for delicious, worm-free blackberry jelly. This goes well on PawPaw’s angel biscuits.

Are you hungry yet?


innominatus said...

OK, we've found the one thing we disagree about. Blackberries are evil. All jams, pies, spreads and other derivatives of blackberries are just condensed evil. I know I'm in the minority here, but I can't stand them.

Here is western Oregon wild blackberries grow EVERYWHERE. Nobody farms them. We curse them. Oh, yeah, people like the berries. But the bushes grow like crazy. If they get started on your land they will try to take over - expect years of chemicals and machete work to eradicate them. Find a nice clear path to go mountain biking on? Ride it again the next weekend and get shredded by stickers that weren't even visible there a week before.

I bet CharleyD could tell you plenty of blackberry horror stories, too. He's a few miles closer to the coast than me and I bet he gets 'em even worse.

aA said...

Har! We have nothing on the Texas Gulf Coast that is on both the beneficial and pest lists.

Feral hogs are pretty close; some people trap and eat them, others trap and sell them to places that export them to California, but most folks around here with land or deer leases would rather that they dissolve in rainwater.

Fire ants are much worse than blackberries, cuz nothing eats them, they sting all at once when they're all in position on your lower legs, and they get in your house. I couldn't even begin to count how many dead baby birds I have seen on the ground after a short fall from the nest and a concerted fire ant attack.

charleyd said...


innominatus is right!

Sure: they taste good when they are ripe...but the pain in the YOU-KNOW-WHAT, they are around here; they are no where worth the trouble!

I don't know how many times I took deisel mixed with gasoline, --a machete', and a match, --tractor, and 245T herbicide to KILL them DEAD! They're as bad as Scotch Broom! ARRRRGGGG!!!!

aA said...

My sympathies to the Oreo-ganians whom I have riled: I am sorry that you have such a tainted experience with the blackberry, p'raps you want me to send some fire ants up there?

invigilator_tex said...

Blackberry hate??? I'm so puzzled by this. Pray tell, friends, tell me why. Is it the taste? The stickers? The seeds? All the above? I have to side with Geeze on this issue. I love those things and would suffer almost anything for a pound or two.

innominatus said...

Speaking for myself, I HATE EVERYTHING about them. Taste, texture, purplish stains, thorns, overgrowth, etc. Now I know lots of people like the berries, and that's cool. Eat all you want as long as you don't sneak them into something I'm eating.

But they grow like crazy out here. They're just a big prickly weed that happens to have a fruit some people enjoy. The thorns are tough enough to pop my bike tires. They like the wet, so all the riverbanks are overrun by them, making it hard to get to the water except at boat ramps and stuff. If you leave your lawnmower or RV or whatever parked in one place too long it'll have blackberries engulfing it. Better hurry up and dig it out, or by the end of summer it'll look like a scene from a bleepin' horror movie!

When I was a kid there was a lumber yard that gave out free wooden yardsticks as an ad promotion. We'd whittle an edge onto the yardsticks and use them like swords to hack paths through the blackberry patches. Those memories are the only vaguely good thing I can think about blackberries.

invigilator_tex said...

Wow! Who'd a thunk it? Well, I know those little seeds can send people to the hospital real quick if they have pollups in the 'ol digestive tract.

I remember as a kid scrambling down a river bank and into stinging nettle. Man, do those things hurt! Like wasps on every leaf.

Howlsatmoon said...

Well....M'Lady made me a luchtime snack today of fresh, chilled blackberries and strawberries and blueberries with some ritz crackers on the side........

When I was still teaching Army Rangers silly stuff about warfare and such, wild black and rasp-berries were the one truly wonderful treat to visiting Tacoma.

It amazed me that they grew all along the highway.

Oh, and bugs? Back in those days, I'd eat anything......I'm voting on aA's side this time.

Besides, blackberries are classified a shrubbery aren't they?

Everbodies knows I love shrubberry.

jo said...

Worms?! Ewww...Thanks for sharing. A couple of friends will go blackberry picking. Since they're nice people I'll definitely share the 411! ;) Miss you!

DammitWomann said...

Hmmm - I live in year-round strawberry country. No worms in them (that I know of)

Rob V. said...

Another tasty way to enjoy the berries is to add some to your pancake batter before cooking the pancakes. My favorite is whole wheat pancake batter. Add about a cup of berries, and maybe some walnut pieces. Top it with some melted butter and genuine maple syrup, and you've got a berry delicious meal.

DammitWomann said...

Yummmmmmmm what RobV wrote. Gonna make some this weekend for the grands...........