Friday, June 8, 2012

Compulsive Blackberry Picker

That's what I am: a compulsive blackberry picker. Last year I almost missed them entirely, forgetting when the season started and getting to the bushes too late. This year I wasn't going to make that mistake. We have a number of bushes along our street, on the undeveloped lots, as well as along our walking routes. I've been watching them. Although winter was warmer than normal and spring came early, we had a good blackberry winter, which boded well for the crop.

Then came Ephraim, our four year old grandson. He stayed with us for ten days, beginning just at the time the first berries were close to ripening. Two years ago he and his mother visited us at picking time, and he helped me once as a two year old. He says he remembers that (I have my doubts), and wanted to pick with me again.

So beginning his first night here, we walked by the blackberry bushes. He wanted to pick the pretty red ones, and the dull green ones. I explained to him the fine art of knowing then the blackberries were best. I think it was his third or fourth night here we had a few to pick, which he carried home in his hands. Finally, on Sunday evening, I knew there would be enough ripe enough to pick that we would need a container. I put on my blackberry-picking shirt and my rattiest jeans, grabbed the bucket and cutters, and we went for it. I think we picked around a cup, maybe a little more.

Monday night we picked two cups, and Tuesday night closer to three. That night we went a little farther and found two other good places. Most of the time he held the bucket while went close to the vines to pick. Unfortunately some of the time we were along a collector street, and I had to keep interrupting picking to make sure Ephraim wasn't in danger.

Last night I picked alone (Ephraim having gone home), after not picking on Wednesday. I went back to the same places as the days before, and had more success. Not having E1 to watch, I went deeper into the bushes. In the same amount of time, I picked about 4 or 5 cups. I didn't measure them at home, but I think that's about right.

It wasn't the same of course. I didn't have a bucket holder. I didn't have a little boy to explain what makes the best pickable blackberry. He understood black very well. Plumpness took a little longer, but I think he was getting it by the end of the third day. The loose attachment of a ready blackberry to it's vine wasn't something he understood. I let him pick more on Tuesday, and as I'm eating them I see more not-yet-ripe berries.

But that's okay. I miss my little assistant. Tomorrow I'll go to the mother of all blackberry patches, about a mile and a half from our house, and try to get a gallon or more. This is an old homestead, with the right kind of soil and the right drainage and the right amount of sunshine. For two or three acres the blackberries thrive. Someday the school district will build an elementary school there, they say, but a school board member assures me that's years away.

Yes, I'm compulsive about blackberry picking. Today I learned there are bushes behind our building, next to the stormwater detention pond. I went back there after my noonhour walk, and picked a few. I'm sure my colleaques have been picking them not-yet-ripe, though that's okay. The bushes are loaded, though of course I'm not dressed to be able to reach them all.

The peak of blackberry season is a week or two away, and it looks like a bumper crop. I hope to freeze a lot this year, and for once not let them sit for years and years and get freezer burn. As I pick, I'll be thinking of Ephraim, who loves to pick blackberries with grandpa, but won't eat them.

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