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Sweet berries good for snacks, memories
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It is that magic time of year again when one can find little black jewels nestled among green leaves and thorny vines. I called these little jewels “bri-berries” when I was a child on the farm. Later, I learned their correct name is dewberries. But back then, all blackberries were brierberries to me.
I liked to watch the lovely white blossoms turn into green berries, then red and finally black, which meant we could pick them.
I would pick a cupful, run to the pump, wash off the sand and hurry to the kitchen. I piled my berries in a small bowl, sprinkled them with sugar and poured evaporated milk over them. I would mash some of the berries and the milk would turn a purplish-red color. This was a delicious treat. There were seven children in our family and we each had to pick our own berries to eat with sugar and milk.
When there were enough ripe berries, I picked them in a Luzianne coffee can, which held a quart. It took two cans to make a cobbler for my family. Mama washed the dewberries, picked out the leaves and stems and boiled the berries in a big pot on the wood stove until all the juice was cooked out. Then she strained them through a colander. and all the seeds and pulp were thrown out the window to the chickens.
She sweetened the juice with sugar, dropped dumplings into the boiling concoction and cooked it on the stove. She stirred the dumplings very gently until they were done. We could hardly wait until supper to eat the cobbler.
Pa, my mother’s father, lived with us and he liked whole nutmeg grated over the top of his dessert. We poured Silver Cow evaporated milk over ours.
After the dewberries were gone, the regular brierberries began to ripen. These were in great quantity and easy to pick. They were taller than dewberries and we did not have to stoop over to pick them.
We had several good patches of berries in the broomstraw field. Pa loved to pick them. He always chose the hottest time of day to slip away to the field. He punched holes in the sides of a coffee can and attached a wire handle to it. He fastened the handle to his belt loops and used both hands to pick berries. I never could master his technique — my left hand just did not want to pick as much as my right.
When mama would notice pa’s absence, she’d send me to find him and tell him to come back to the house before he had a sunstroke. I’d grab my can and head to the field. I always checked to see how many berries pa had in his bucket. If I didn’t think he had enough for a cobbler, I’d fill my can and let him know that mama said it was too hot to be outside.
When there were a lot of ripe berries, my family would pick a washtub full for making jelly, jam and canning. I still remember the sweet aroma of hot jelly being ladled into the pint and quart jars. I never liked the jam because the seeds got stuck between my teeth. The jelly was so good between hot biscuits. It also made a delicious filling for yellow layer cake.
Daddy had a different idea for using blackberries. He would have us pick a tubful of them and he’d make blackberry wine.
When I was 10, we moved from our farm and my beloved berry patches. However, we quickly found many more growing along farmers’ fence rows, and those patches produced much larger berries. We picked and sold berries for 20 cents a quart to ladies who wanted berries but did not want to scratch their hands.
A few years ago, a special friend of mine, Lola Purcell Oliver of Hinesville, gave me a panful of berries she had picked. I could hardly wait to get the ingredients together to make a batch of jelly. As the juice was boiling, the fragrant aroma brought back so many precious memories of being with mama in the kitchen and helping her make jars of delicious jelly. I poured the jelly into 12 pretty jelly glasses, which I used on special occasions.
Today, I still pick enough brierberries to make a couple cobblers each year. I have tried many recipes, but I still like the one my mama used. These days, I top my cobbler with Cool Whip or vanilla ice cream instead of evaporated milk.
I think I will take a break now and go outside to pick enough “bri-berries” to eat in a bowl covered with sugar and milk!
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