Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Berry Picking (On Nana's Farm, Part I) ...

In the hills of Southwestern Pennsylvania, one of the sweetest joys of summer is perennially the juicy ripeness of the blackberry. Luckily for me, my mom's got about one of the best blackberry patches in these parts. Every year, I anxiously await the arrival of this fruit. And when they are ready, you are on blackberry time. There's no waiting around a few days until you can find time in your schedule to mosey on out to the patch. You either pick them when they're ripe, or the entire harvest withers and goes to seed, browning from the bottom of the branch up. An over-ripe blackberry will make your mouth pucker like Minnie Pearl's.  

This, my friends, is just one little plant, mid-plucking, in an entire field of blackberry bushes.
I thought I had died and gone to blackberry heaven. 
You see, the blackberry plant is kind of a little bitch - the mean girl of the garden. She produces one of the most beautiful fruits on the planet, but she's a prickly thing; she harbors midst the protection of her thorns snakes, poison ivy, and sweat bees. Not to mention the fact that contact with her leaves makes your skin itch.

Proper blackberry picking attire includes a bandanna, old t-shirt and long sleeve
that you don't mind snagging on said cranky plant, long pants, and sunglasses. 
Furthermore, there's a science to plucking the best berry. Each little bulb on the blackberry should be glossy and plump (a good berry seems like it has the sun bursting out from under its delicate skin), and when you pinch the fruit from the branch, you must do so with the gentlest of hand, between the thumb, pointer, and middle fingers. There is also no "storing" of blackberries, in my opinion. The minute the berry hits the basket, it begins to disintegrate, staining everything in sight. Frozen blackberries are a travesty.  You either eat them raw, or you bake them up into a proper pie (see below).

I call this one "Toes in the Kubota":  I got my toes in the Kubota, ass in the dirt,
not a worry in the world, ....
I should mention, by the way, that we cheat a little. My mom drives the Kubota through the field, and Miss Mags and I hang over the edges of the bed and pick as many berries as we can reach. Hey, it beats getting poison ivy. Also, I should mention that I think I need to re-read Mags the story The Little Red Hen. Very little picking and a lot of eating;). 
Our chauffers. 
Last night, I made a pie using Marilyn Batali's Blackberry Pie Recipe. There's nothing better than a blackberry pie chilled in the "icebox." I don't like it warm. No, thank you. Cold, with a big dollop of old-fashioned vanilla ice cream from the Spring House. It doesn't get much better than that.

Tomorrow, more from Nana's farm, this time in the garden. ~Alice (aka jess)
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