I grew up in the south. When we were kids I remember days in the woods around our house picking blackberries in July. My mom always seemed to be a good sport and cooked up our harvest into a cobbler. Between school, school and more school, I got away from the habit. That is, until I turned 33 or so. I was into wine and mead making then. I remember driving around Durham NC that summer scanning the roadside for blackberry brambles. I found a great clump along a highway access road, then spent several weeks watching for the berries to turn black. They looked pretty good by July 4th. The fourth was on a weekend that year. I had a couple of days off so I went to work. I picked for about four hours one day and came home with around five or six pounds worth. I think I crushed and fermented all of them. I don’t remember too much about the wine, but I do remember the fun I had picking berries again. When I was a kid, I took it for granted. When I was 33, I felt grateful to have the time and the chance to do it. I also felt like I was getting away with something – abandoned land, no permission… A couple of cars came by, but nobody seemed to care about what I was doing.
I had to miss the next year while we were in exile up north, but when I landed back in NC I went to it again. This time I had only been in town a few weeks when the fourth came. I had the day off again, but didn’t know many backroads. I had seen some growing along an interstate exit (the one to Home Depot). It would have to do. I had my now pregnant wife drop me off at the exit with a couple of small buckets. She went to Babys r’ Us while I went to work. Lots of cars drove by that year, but nobody seem to care – not even the cops who were using the exit to ticket speeders they had pulled over from the highway. Not so big a take that year, we made “Exit 9” blackberry jam. I couldn’t taste any car exhaust or asphalt in the jam but I’m guessing there might have been some in there.
I got busy the intervening seven years – the kid from that year plus one more; work and more work. I kept scouting out for brambles in the spring when they were in flower, but never followed through.
This year I’m back at it. The wife and kids went for a short hike yesterday and came home with a nice sized collection of blackberries. They told me about all the clumps they had seen. I had it check it out.
They must be ripening later this year. Most of the berries were a week or two away from being ready. That said, there were probably 15 to 20 brambles in the small wooded area near the parking lot for the location. By picking through the bushes carefully, I was able to fill two large coffee cups with berries. Most of them were really good looking.
I’ve given up wine making, and mostly given up jam making. Cocktails are the current passion. I stopped by our nearby small ABC store and picked up some Smirnoff 50% vodka. One cup (11 oz) of berries is soaking in the vodka now. I’ll let it go for around 6 weeks then strain it off, sweeten it with a little fructose, and enjoy over the last of the summer.
There are a lot of unripe berries left on the those bushes. I don’t want to be a hog, but if I can get a few hours next week, I may head back. It’s a public area, so I’ll need to get there when the crowd isn’t too large. It’s a place someone might mind what I was doing.