Sunday, August 16, 2009

on blackberries

After two days of blackberry picking, netting probably five gallons of berries, enough for five gallon-size freezer bags, ten jars of freezer jam and two gigantic blackberry milkshakes, I have a few observations to share.

Is blackberry picking a lost art? Where are the blackberry pickers? In this economy, its a no-brainer. In Southern Oregon, where people still realize that berries actually grow out of the actual ground, there are people lining the roads in 110 degree weather, boards underarm, going to their favorite spots.

Seriously. You pay five bucks for a teaspoon of blackberries at Freddy's - and I'll admit, they're fat and pretty and you don't have to change clothes to get them and you're typically not wounded in the process unless you cut in line or use the parking lot of the 39th and Hawthorne location, but really, why NOT pick blackberries? They're free. I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it before, but I knew a guy once who planted blackberries in his front yard. Now that is begging for trouble if you ask me. Hand in hand with cockroaches, blackberries will suvive human occupation. I've seen them consume houses, cars, neighborhoods.

And there is significant difference between country picking and city picking. If you see previous posts, you'll learn about the first time I picked blackberries in Portland. It was an event. I got lost in Oaks Bottom. It is my husband's second fondest wish to have blackberry pie for his birthday and I didn't know where to look. The next year, I took my husband with me, and it was a little scary down in there with homeless folks that were napping or dead, but the berries were great. Then, we found this place way down at the far end of front street in the industrial district way out toward Linnton and it was good, some evidence of homeless folks, but not like being trapped in Oaks Bottom in the damp and dark. So we went back there this year and they'd mowed or poisoned all the berries and they were gone, and the people were gone, too. This year we picked out in Hillsboro along a forgotton road, kind of a perverse Lover's Lane/slash/city dump, with old sofas and porn magazines. Nasty. But the berries were great and easy picking what with my knee injury and being like standing on a pegleg pitching headlong into the briars.

I miss picking berries on the Applegate River. I miss knowing the places of fat berries near water. Berries that are firm and juicy and don't fall apart in your hand. I miss the winding road, the sound of larks and sandpipers protecting their nests along the beach, flat stones perfect for skipping; the low August river rolling warm over tumbled rocks; the absence of fear and imbalance.


You do have to know what to look for. For instance, there is a gloss to berries, and if the gloss is gone, the berry is over-ripe. And fatter is not always better. And there is an art to just picking. My husband tends to look up and over the tops of the bushes, to places he could never reach if he was seven feet tall, always in search of the perfect spot. Me? I just pick along the road, slowly, deliberately, going after low berries and the forgotten ones at waist level. You should not have to pull on them, but to gently roll them off the vine and into your hand. And don't get greedy. Don't drop a handful trying to fit just one more into your palm. Put them in the bucket. And don't set the bucket on uneven ground. Trust me on this. I use a cut out milk jug that has less chance of spilling.

There are a couple of things to bring: a board, a long sleeved shirt and wet rags. The board is to lay down and walk into deeper berries (once you've exhausted all the low berries.) The wet rag, well, take my word for it --when you're done picking, you'll know what to do with it. The shirt, for protection. But I think you can go faster if you don't wear a shirt and are careful. The shirt hangs up on the thorns and impedes the whole process. I don't mean shirtless for god's sake. Just sleeveless. And brave.

So, if you want some pie, say so. I have enough to make a few.


Anonymous said...


asia said...

love this post! and pie, i love pie!

someone said...

mmmm pie

lightning said...

I live outside of Philadelphia now but I grew up in Gresham (b 1955). I spent many of my summers as a youngster picking berries around Gresham and as I got older many summers at the parks and special places along the rivers Oxbow, which one of my older brothers helped to clear during the summers of his high school years when they first created it, Dodge Park, Mciver Park. I was back for the first time in about 12 years last summer and made sure I made time to vist many of thse old stomping grounds.