Blackberry vines in bloom
By Clif Knight
Seeing blackberry vines in full bloom around the edges of my garden last week reminded me that spring has sprung and summer is on its way. It’s time to plant and start growing just about any variety of garden vegetable you can imagine. We won’t be seeing cold weather or frost again for six long months.
I’m already looking forward to the day when Bobby Webster starts selling his homegrown blackberries at the Hartselle Farmers Market. They’re bigger than the wild berries we used to pick on the farm I grew up on. The taste is comparable and you don’t have to worry about being attacked by red bugs.
Webster‘s blackberries are grown on vines that have no thorns. They’re larger and have bigger seeds than the ones we picked.
My siblings and I received our marching orders to go blackberry picking around the Fourth of July each year. Blackberry patches were plentiful. They existed anywhere row crops were not grown: on ditch banks, in hedgerows and on low-lying land adjacent to creeks or branches. The biggest and juiciest berries were often found on vines that were the hardest to reach.
Our mother made sure we were properly dressed to work in briars and around snakes. We had to wear our work shoes, long-legged pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect our skin from briar cuts and scratches. Each of us was given a picking bucket, the size depending on our age.
Reaching a good picking spot sometimes required leaving a roadway and blazing our own trail through thick woods, tall weeds, vines and bushes. A picking could last two to three hours before all of our buckets were filled, and leave each of us with the usual signs of berry pickers – sweat-soaked shirts, blue hands and briar-pricked fingers.
The greater our success the higher was the chance that we’d be asked by our father to go back and pick more.
“I have some customers on my peddling route who have asked if I can pick them some blackberries,” he would say. “They’ll pay $5 per gallon and I’ll split that with you all for every gallon you pick.” That was all the motivation we needed.
In the meantime, we looked forward to the cobbler pies and the jams and jellies that our mother would make from the berries we picked.