If you’re cultivating something like blackberries, the hope, whether you realize it or not, is that you will be so successful that at some point merely picking them all will become tedious. Picking blackberries at my house has become tedious. I was out there until just before sunset last night, and came in with a basket of berries and ten thorn-riddled, purple-stained fingers. Today it’s my wife’s turn, and she’s still out there. I peek out somewhat guiltily from time to time, but I’ve had enough of blackberries for a day or two.
I have made jelly, my wife has made jam, we have both made pies. We looked up recipes today for syrup, preserves, and various desserts, from blackberry upside-down cake to blackberry fool. We are having blackberry arguments–I prefer preparations that strain the seeds out and leave you that beautiful, delicious juice. My wife thinks this is a waste, believing there is something picayune and unmanly about my dislike for seeds stuck in my teeth. She sets aside the seedy pulp that is a by-product of my jelly making, imagining she will do something with it. What we need to do is turn on the auxiliary freezer in the basement and start storing big bags of berries.
Because the harvest is not letting up. Our luck with other things, such as fruit trees and our vegetable garden, has not been so good. Of a dozen assorted trees, only the apple tree has fruit right now, and the birds won’t leave it alone. Our tomatoes are a jumble, and the weeds are winning out over our onions and peppers. We are eating lots of tomatoes, but we are losing many more to rot and worms and other predators. There are some predators, wild turkeys mostly, who like the blackberries. But there are simply too many of them for even the extended families of those gawky birds to make significant inroads on the harvest.
You know it’s midsummer when the berries are ripe and ready to be picked. How many of us recall standing beneath a blazing sun and hazarding sharp thorns to reach that one perfect berry hiding behind leaves deep within the canes? I would guess that any dessert made with blackberries has a least a little blood in it–maybe that’s why they taste so decadent. But it’s not only midsummer that we recognize through the medium of this thorny fruit.
Blackberry Winter is one of the more common names for that point in early spring when it seems like winter has passed–the blackberries have bloomed–and then one day the temperature drops and you’re thrown right back into winter. It’s sort of the opposite of Indian Summer, that patch of uncommonly warm days in mid-to-late autumn. Together these meteorological phenomena are known as ‘singularities.’ A singularity has to happen at least fifty percent of the time for meteorologists to recognize them, and Blackberry Winter does.
Depending on where you live, and what blooms there in early spring, you may be more familiar with Dogwood Winter or Locust Winter. All the names apply to the same thing–even the oddest name, Linsey-woolsey Britches Winter. Linsey-woolsey is a coarse fabric made of linen and wool, or cotton and wool, from which warm, utilitarian garments such as long underwear used to be made. Putting away one’s linsey-woolsey britches is a testament to the belief that winter has passed, and wise people know to wait until after winter’s final blast.
My daughter has mentioned a few times this weekend that she wants to take blackberries to work with her, to share with her co-workers. She says it cautiously, as if I or her mother will say, No way! Those are our blackberries! So she went out to pick her own berries a few nights ago, and was horrified to learn that even the leaves have thorns! For my part, I will be hugely disappointed if she leaves tomorrow without at least a quart of them under her arm, regardless of who picked them. It’s like the bounty of any season: avidly anticipated, relished for a while, and then, eventually, something of a nightmare.