By Phil Nichols
One of the up sides of a wet year, here in the Ozarks, is an abundance of big luscious wild blackberries. Unfortunately they don’t come without a price. Here in the hills these tasty black beauties start to come ripe around the 1st of July. I generally figure on checking the year’s output around the 4th and this year was no exception.
Our neighbor to the north has a blackberry bramble in an overgrown strip abutting our lane and has given me permission, through the years, to pick all I want. So I keep an eye on things during my daily sojourns. On one of our trips to town I recently picked a handful for sampling and my wife agreed that this year’s crop was a dandy.
Into the third day of a four day weekend, I decided that it was time to venture forth into the bush and I do mean bush. Now came the part where the price is paid. The bill is tendered in ticks, chiggers, sweat and blood and the occasional brush with poison ivy. Death by a thousand tiny stab wounds would be a good characterization.
These aren’t thornless domesticated, tame blackberries. These puppies will rip the hide off your body if you’re not careful. I would strongly advise those new to the game to wear a long sleeve shirt and a leather glove on the toting hand. I used to cut the top out of a milk jug and run my belt through the handle. With both hands empty it was way easier to hold down the given cane with my gloved left hand while I picked berries with the right one. Now-a-days I generally just slip a surplus plastic shopping bag over my left hand. Doubling the bags isn’t a bad idea as the excruciatingly sharp stickers will rip a careless picker’s bag open—depositing the hard won fruits in the weeds.
It’s just about impossible to pick our native blackberries without shedding some blood. Inevitably, no matter how careful you are a thorn/s will grab you as you’re reaching to pick the given berry. It’s best to take the pain and not jerk back when one does stab you. The way blackberry thorns are curved tends to make them sink in even further if you pull back. Worse yet, the razor sharp little stilettos will carve a furrow through your hide if you pull back too precipitately. Better to push gently forward in the direction your hand was going to un-impale yourself. Else you’ll end up looking like a wildcat worked you over.
A blackberry patch is no place for the weak of heart or feeble of body. It helps a lot if you’re limber enough to pick your knees up to about your chin in order to be able to step down on the six to eight feet high canes as you work you way through. If you try to squeeze past them they’re gonna get you, I can guarantee.
I try to work my way around the periphery of the patch, rather than marching through it. Once you get a path stomped down the next trip will likely be easier.
When they first come on, only a berry or two at the tip of the given branch will be ripe. So it’s a pretty safe bet that should your fortitude allow—you’ll want to make a second or third trip before they are done for the season.
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