Friday, April 30, 2010

Blackberries, Wild Cherries and Wine

I saw blackberry bushes in bloom on the way to work this morning. The bright green leaves lead up to a cluster of snowy white flowers, and as kids we marked the location of the patches just like that - knowing where you'd seen the flowers and going back to them. The dewberry that grows close to the ground is a sweet, fat and juicy berry too, and we must've picked gallons of them as kids, but the real blackberries grow and stand up on thorny canes, a bush if you will. These were the real blackberry bushes.They'll be ripe in a couple of weeks or so. I won't get to them before the birds and the neighborhood kids do but that'll be alright. I can say that I picked my share when I was a kid. Mama used to send us out with bowls to pick the dewberries and we'd eat as many as we could and take home as many as we couldn't eat which was never a lot, but enough to make a berry cobbler usually. You can't beat the taste of a blackberry cobbler when the berries are fresh enough that you have to wash the sugar ants off of them before using them. We didn't have that luxury when we were out picking them and more than once the taste of the berry was spiced by the sting of an ant on our tongues... Still, they were sweet and we could hardly wait to go out along the railroad tracks to get the berries.
We had a wild cherry tree beside our house, and we could climb it, and that meant we could get the clusters of the sweet black wild cherries. They're only about as big as a pea but full of a delicious purple juice. It took a mouthful to get a good swallow, and then you had to sift through the seeds, but every drop was worth it.
I have a wild cherry tree beside my house now, and the fruits drop onto my deck. I don't love the purple juice so much when it leaves dime sized purple stains on the wood. The birds make a mess with them, too, but I won't begrudge them the fruits. I know how tasty it is.
Occasionally Mama would have leftover berries from our foraging and after the cobbler was made, she would take down her cookie jar - It was a large red apple and the lid was the stem of the apple. She would pour the washed berries into the cookie jar and cover them with sugar and then the lid would go back on and the jar would go up on the top shelf in the cabinet for a week or two. I didn't understand why she thought that was a good idea - they went sour in the jar!!
One summer she packed us all into the car, we picked up my sister, Linda, and her kids, and we all headed up to my Uncle Harry's house. There was a huge pine forest between his land and the road and there must have been acres of blackberry bushes in there. We were all given a bucket and instructions to be careful not to step on snakes, and to only pick the ripe black berry.  We were out there most of the day and we all filled up our buckets more than once, and our bellies too, and suffered more than a few ants on the tongue and thorns in our fingers and our forearms. We were scratched and pricked head to toe but came home with enough berries to make a huge cobbler, several quarts to freeze,  and then some got  put some into the cookie jar. Occasionally she would take it down and we'd all peer inside to see what was happening. It had a sour, sweet smell, and she'd put a little more sugar into it, then put it away again. After a few weeks we got a taste (a tiny sip) of it, and it was pretty good, but not as good as the fresh berry juice that squirted out onto our tongues when we bit into the fat, juicy berries. Years later Mama bought Mogan David blackberry wine and we got a taste of it. Instantly I knew what she had made in the cookie jar. It was a perfect little distillery and she'd made some sweet wine in that jar.
She didn't make it often, but the memories are vivid of that apple cookie jar coming down from the top shelf in the cabinet, sugar getting poured into it, and then getting put up again. Hot summer, juicy berries, cookie jars and homemade wine. I'm promising you that if the Gods drink blackberry nectar, they brew it in a cookie jar on the top shelf in the cabinet - after the cobblers are made of course.