It’s another hot July day, but the morning is deliciously cool.
Let’s go blackberry pickin’ while the dew is still heavy on the underbrush, and the hot sun has not started beaming down its golden rays on us. Get your berry bucket, even if it is a coffee can with a wire threaded through it, and a zinc water bucket to pour our berries in. Fill a gallon jug with ice water, and put on a long-sleeved shirt to keep the berry briers from stabbing you.
Here we must cross the creek by jumping over it to the Big Rock, and take the path up the hill. Over there is Sleepy Holler, where we have played so many hours. There is a big log across it; large enough to sit and play on it, and high enough to build dream castles in the air. In the spring, there are many varieties of violets that bloom there beside the little stream that runs through the valley, and it is a wonderful place for little girls to play.
Besides the common blue violet, there are the long-spurred variety, downy yellow ones and the sweet white violet that smells so fragrant. They grow in damp mossy places, usually among the rocks where water drips. Occasionally we found the elegant dogtooth violet, also called the trout lily. We must hurry on before the sun gets too hot.
It is a pleasant walk along the uphill path with woods on either side. There is a wayward breeze fluttering the leaves overhead, and cooling us. We trudge on to the lower pasture field where sumac bushes are scattered here and there. Berries are scarce there, and a handful is tossed in the bucket for “berry luck.” Onward we climb to the upper meadow where blackberries hang black and ripe on their briers.
It’s great fun in the beginning. The air is still cool, berries are thick and our small buckets are soon filled and poured into the larger bucket. About that time, a long-limbed brier reaches over and grabs you in the back, and while you are wiggling free, a sweat bee stings you under the arm. One under your arm is bad enough, and if you mash it, there are five or six more ready to do battle. The sun is hotter now, sweat is dripping down your back, and you are thirsty.
You grab the glass jar of ice water, only to find that it is now lukewarm, but drink it anyway. A handful of ripe berries partly slakes your thirst, but is quickly spit out because a June bug has left his calling card on it. What country kid has not tried to eat a blackberry where a June bug has been? It’s almost as bad as a stink bug.
We finally get our buckets full, and head thankfully for home. Tired and hot, we begin our descent back downhill. It is a weary, bedraggled bunch who makes their way down the rough path; quite a contrast to the cheerful, optimistic gang who started out in early morning. Carrying our buckets carefully, we cross back over the creek and make our way to the house. After Mom gets all she wants to can and makes jelly and jam, we are allowed to pick berries to sell. At fifty cents a gallon, we make our wages for the summer. I can’t remember what my siblings bought, but the year I started to high school I ordered two pieces of corduroy material for skirts. Mom sewed them up for me, and I would jerk them off the clothesline and wear them.
One of my girlfriends reminded me years later, “Do you remember those corduroy skirts you wore in high school and never did iron them?” Of course, I remember them—I earned those skirts by the sweat of my brow—literally! Today’s teenagers, with their designer blue jeans and expensive tennis shoes would shudder in horror at those skirts—but I was proud of them. Do you remember, Peggy Ann? I wore them with white bobby socks and saddle oxfords. If anyone made fun of me, I was blissfully unaware of it. Actually, I think I blended in with the rest of the freshmen.
Back to the blackberry saga—Mom had the most of the work when we got home. She had to clean the berries (and one bucket was invariably mixed with leaves, sticks, moss and dirt where someone had spilled their berries and tried to salvage them.) Then they were washed and placed in canning jars to be processed in a hot water bath. She canned most of them in half-gallon jars in a washtub over an outside fire. We ate a lot of quick jam (we called it flummery) which was berries mixed with sugar and cornstarch and cooked until it was thick and hot. It was eaten with cow butter and hot biscuits for breakfast, and we loved it.
She made a multitude of jars of blackberry jelly and jam for winter.
During blackberry season, Mom was busy from daylight to dark, and sometimes later. She still took time to make a blackberry cobbler from time to time, which we ate warm with thick cream from Old Cherry, our brown Swiss cow. Grandma Peach (Criss’ mother) made the best blackberry cobbler I ever ate. She lined the pan with pastry, poured half the well-sweetened blackberries in it, and then rolled out a flat piece of pastry dough to put on top of that. Then she poured the other half of the berries in the pan and put on a top crust.
After it was baked, the middle layer made a delicious addition to the pie. With thick cream, or vanilla ice cream, it was something to write home about. Those days are gone, but the memories linger . . .
We heard from April Lopez of Rocky Mount, VA, who sends us a new expression of Southern dialect that is quite interesting. She found it in a column written by Liza Field, which appeared in The Roanoke Times. It was “journey-proud” which seemed to be a mix of emotions before embarking on a trip. I felt this when we made our first trip to Louisiana to visit our son Mike when he lived there. I never slept a wink the night before we left.
“I’m kind of homesick for a country, to which I’ve never been before.” From the song “Sweet Beulah Land” by Squire Parsons.