Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blackberry Writing

My daughter and I picked blackberries yesterday. The blackberries were for a peach and blackberry cobbler, which was truly excellent, but that's beside the point. Oh, with french vanilla ice cream. Oh, my! the cobblery goodness! Nope... nope... not what we're here to talk about. No matter how good it was. I saved a tiny bit, though, so, if you can get here within  the next few hours, I'll let you have a tiny bit. A bite. Maybe two. But that's all. Anyway...

My daughter and I picked blackberries yesterday. Blackberries are a curious thing. Although they deliver us wonderful fruit, the vines are considered a weed. They're invasive, covered with thorns (even the leaves), and COVERED with thorns. Oh, wait, excuse me, not thorns. Prickles. Covered in prickles. They get in amongst other plants and, if left unchecked, will choke them out. Kill them. And they can thrive in poor soil making them great for ditches, vacant lots, wastelands. Of course, in many places, especially Oregon (Oregon produces the greatest volume of blackberries in the world), they're a cultivated weed.

I always want a ladder when we pick blackberries, because they climb all through the shrubs and up the fences and stick up way over the tops of them. There are always big clumps of ripe berries just out of reach. That's true for the kids, also. The kids that live in the complex here spend lots of time out at the blackberry vines. I can reach higher than them, so there's usually a good selection of berries at around the level of my head that the kids can't quite reach. The problem with these is that many of them have become overripe. These, of course, are the sweetest berries, and, really, only good for eating right off the vine. Which, of course, we do. And happily. The ones that are just barely within reach like that are not good at all, though. They're too high for the gentleness required to pick them, so they squish in your fingers when you try to pull them off and only yield juicy fingers rather than anything you can actually devour. But, if I had a ladder...

Also, I always want gloves. I'm not sure why I haven't invested in good blackberry picking gloves other than that I don't ever remember to do it. When I was a kid, a younger kid than my daughter is now, my cousins and I used to go picking blackberries with my grandmother. Or, rather, dewberries. Of course, dewberries are just a cultivar of blackberries, so, really, it was blackberry picking. My grandmother had these great leather gloves she wore when we picked berries. She also wore rubber boots and a thick, long-sleeved work shirt. She'd just shove the vines aside and get in there amongst the berries and pick away. My cousins and I are were always left on the outskirts gobbling up all the berries we could get our hands on, which was never as many as we would have liked. Enough, though, for us to go back home looking like we'd been fighting with a pack of wild cats. My daughter almost looks like that, but, being a city girl, she's not as willing to get scratched up as we were when we were kids on the farm in Texas. She counted seven scratches on her arms, yesterday. I'm much more cautious when I pick than I was when I was a kid, and I'm better at not getting clawed up. That comes with a price, though. Often, the plump interior berries get left behind, because I'm just not willing to stick my arm down in amongst the brambles to pull those berries out. Ah, for the heedlessness of youth.

As I mentioned, there are the overripe berries that are only good for eating right there at the vines. There are also the perfectly ripe berries. They're firm so that they don't squish in your fingers, but they also pull easily from their stem. These are also great at the vine, but, really, these are the ones you should be putting into your vessel to bring home, but they're so so tempting. Sweet with just a hint of tartness. Then, there are the nearly ripe berries. They can be difficult to pull from the stem, because they're just not quite ready to let go, but still good. A bit more tart, possibly too tart to eat at the vine depending upon how into that you are. These are also good to bring back if you're making something like a cobbler, because the tart can be a great addition for something like that. Of course, there are also plenty, right now, more than plenty, of red berries that haven't turned, yet, and have to be left for later.

Coming home with a container of berries is something to be proud of. It's not like picking blueberries or strawberries. Those are safe. Easy to get to. The biggest issue to deal with there is not eating them all while you're picking them. Not only do you have that to do deal with when gathering blackberries, you also have the thorns. Um, prickles. Coming home with a few cups worth of berries becomes a huge achievement. An oh so delicious achievement at that. Especially when they get turned into cobbler.

Writing is somewhat like picking blackberries. Wild and unkempt. It can grow anywhere. It's prickly. Choosing the ripe words can be difficult. Some of them are too soft, some of them too tart. Some not ripe at all. They're too high to reach or buried too deep inside the vines. They scratch and tear at you as you try to get at them. And you have to know what you want them for. Are you just eating them right there at the vine? The words you choose for that are going to be quite different from the types of words you're going to bring back to make into pie or jam.

Of course, the more we work at it, the more cultivated we can make our vines. Trimming them back so they don't get too tall. Or too deep. Keeping other plants out of them. Knowing which cultivar we want at any given time. Marionberry seems to be the preferred cultivar, at the moment, somewhat the way YA fiction is the preferred genre. At the moment. These things always change. Having the right tools to get the most out of our words.

Maybe, for some, writing is more like blueberries, but, for me, it's blackberries. It's painful, and it takes a lot of work. Selecting just the right berries for what I'm doing at that moment. Of course, when you get them home, you have to wash them off and pick back through them. Eat some more. Make sure they're good. Of course, if you're making jam, you don't have to be as careful. Just dump them all in. If you haven't been careful when you were picking, you may have too many that aren't ripe enough and have to be discarded for other purposes. Edit the berries more if you're doing something like putting them on ice cream. Those berries have to be perfect.

I tend to expend more work in the picking stage. I only want berries I'm going to use. Some people pick everything, which is faster and easier, but have to go back through their berries with much more care than I do. Some of those not quite ripe berries can still ripen if set aside, after all. Yes, I edit at the vine. So to speak. Editing in the kitchen is not something I enjoy as much, although that seems to me the way most people do it.

Hopefully, when you're all finished with your picking and sorting and sifting and cooking, you have a yummy cobbler like we did last night. Of course, it still may not be to every one's taste, and that's okay. My younger son chose not partake of the cobbler that everyone else was so ravenous over. Yes, we all think he's crazy, but it did have peaches in it, and he doesn't like peaches. Still, it's okay for him not to like it. However, blackberry jam (seedless) is his favorite kind of jam. The important thing is that you like it. I mean, you are the first person that will experience whatever it is you're picking those words for, right, so it's most important that you like it. And, if you don't, if you've cooked something up that not even you like the taste of, don't try to force it on someone else. Just get back to picking and try again.

Oh, and just by  the way, British folklore says you shouldn't eat blackberries picked after October 11. Apparently, the devil claims any blackberries that are still around at that point of the year and urinates all over them to stake his claim. I'm not sure what that says about writing, but I'm sure it's something significant.


  1. Great Post! I love that last paragraph about the devil urinating on the blackberries! I just love folklore.

  2. Nice segue that you made from the blackberries to the pain of writing. And I don't believe that rubbish about the devil...well...because I'm atheist lol. The devil does not exist to me.

  3. Wow. When comparing writing to food production, I think of milking walnuts. Well, at least that's what it seems like to me while I'm doing it. People keep saying It's not going to work, but maybe that's just because they gave up too soon.

  4. The devil PEES on them? I love old wives tales. Hilarious. You can't make that stuff up, except that somewhere someone did.

  5. Jennifer: Yeah, it made me crack up. It didn't really fit with the post, but I just couldn't leave it out.

    Michael: Well, I don't think your disbelief is keeping him from pissing on your berries. :) Or from keeping the toxic fungus from growing in the berries which is the drupelet of truth behind the tale.

    Rusty: Well, see, you're doing it wrong. Walnuts don't give milk. You need to be using almonds!

    Bess: It's amazing the kinds of explanations people can come up with to be able to understand things that are inexplicable to them. heh

  6. Haha, love that last paragraph! I feel like the devil peed on my writing lately. Must get back to it! My son starts school tomorrow, though, so writing here I come!

    Nice job between the berry picking and the writing. However, it mostly made me all jealous that I have never seen a blackberry bush here in Colorado. I hope to find a great blackberry bush when we visit family in Oregon next year, so my kids can have that experience. I grew up picking berries in Oregon and then Maryland, but none here. We'd bring back the tarter, more solid ones and soak them in cream and sugar. Yum!

  7. We're over-run with blackberries in the UK. And like you, Andrew I've picked them most years since I was small. I'm still small so I only get the berries on the bottom rung, but I still love them. Gorgeous with softened apples in a crumble with cream or made into jam or compote. I liked the analogy of words being like berries on the bush. Lovely nostalgic post.

  8. Shannon: It's nice to live in a place with conveniently close berry bushes! I like that my daughter can just go forage for food when she's hungry. heh

    And, yes! on school. Maybe, I'll begin to get caught up now.

    Valentina: Hello and welcome! I wish I could remember, now, what made me think of the analogy, but it had something to do with nostalgia and remembering my grandmother's gloves.