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Cheryl Hughes: Blackberries

I’ve learned a lot about picking blackberries during my time on earth.  The first and foremost lesson is I hate picking blackberries…always have, always will.  I do however, love blackberry cobbler and blackberry jelly, so I press on into the patch, braving the briars and the heat and the insects.  


I am of the opinion that one representative of each of the known insects in the Western Hemisphere lives in a blackberry thicket, as well as some that have yet to be identified.  If they remained there, I wouldn’t mind so much, but as it is, they all want to go home with you.  They will hitch a ride in your bucket, on your clothes or burrowed under your skin…sometimes all three.  The most retched of these creatures is the chigger.  

Chiggers are so small that they are barely visible to the naked eye, and they don’t mess around.  They head straight for the belly button, arm pits and panty line.  Once they set up house, they won’t go quietly.  Your best line of defense against chiggers is insect repellent.  Unfortunately for me, we didn’t have insect repellent when I was a kid.

My sisters and I picked blackberries with our stepmom on the big hill behind our barn on Ashes Creek.  The cows grazed the area, so we had a clean shot to the briar patch.  We would return home with our buckets full of berries, our hands full of briars and our skin full of chiggers.  We spent much of the following week picking out briars and treating chiggers.  Our stepmom was convinced that bacon grease would smother the little buggers, so she greased us down before bed.  We went to sleep smelling like breakfast, but woke to the same maddening itch the next morning.

By the time my daughters came along, we had insect repellent, thank goodness!  Nikki loved blackberry cobbler, so we would go out on the farm on the four-wheeler in search of the biggest berries.  This is another important lesson I’ve learned about blackberry picking: Always take a kid like Nikki with you, even if you have to rent one.  Nikki was, and still is, an “all creatures great and small” person.  It is almost inevitable that a snake will have itself curled up around the best berry vine.  I’m not talking about a Copperhead, I mean one of those little green snakes.  If I screamed one of my “surprised by a snake” screams, Nikki would come running over, pluck the little guy from the vine, then take it to a safe place far away from the screaming blackberry woman, and set it free.

I’m not sure if it was Nikki or me, but one of us came up with the idea to take a cane with us to hook around the briars out of reach, so we could pull them to us.  You have to use one of those old fashioned wooden canes, not the newer fancy ones.

I have learned that my limit for each session of blackberry picking is right at two hours.  If I can’t pick enough berries for a cobbler or jelly in two hours, I’m buying them on the black market.  Garey, on the other hand, can stay forever.  If you go berry picking with Garey, my advice to you is drive separately.  His motto is “No berry left behind.”

This year, I was delighted to see several blackberry briars right at the edge of my yard, where it butts up against the pasture.  I could just walk out my back door to get to the berries.  I’ve made three cobblers and a batch of jelly, but more importantly, I didn’t get one chigger.  I can use my bacon grease for my green beans.




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