Foraging for Blackberries

Food doesn’t get much sweeter or juicier than the wild blackberries I pick in late summer around our house in Vermont. In mid-August, I start scanning our berry patch for the red and purple signals of ripening. Some years produce more berries than others, but there is never a shortage of thorny new canes arching over the old ones, so that the berry patch seems to be leapfrogging towards the house and the vegetable garden, threatening to engulf them both. In late afternoons, when the heat has let up a bit, I don waffle-soled shoes and as much protective clothing as I can stand, then smear any exposed skin with mosquito repellant and climb the hill to brave the thorns.

The crop from our own bushes is never enough to satisfy my blackberry lust, so Lynne and I also forage elsewhere, usually along old logging trails. This year and last year, we carried our baskets up a steep, wide dirt track across the road from our place. The track climbs through 90 acres that a neighbor clearcut a few years ago with plans to sell it to developers for a fortune. The neighbor was an unpleasant man, the sort who couldn’t do even a good thing without a hateful reason. He died of old age before he could profit from his sin. The land remains undeveloped, the stumps and debris from the clearcutting are now masked by wildflowers and young trees as well as the berry bushes, and the trail provides a heartstoppingly beautiful view hundred-mile view across the Connecticut River Valley into New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

This year’s pickings weren’t as abundant as last year’s, but that’s how it is with blackberries. I’ll bake a peach and blackberry pie, and I have frozen enough to make occasional sorbets and sauces until next August. Every bite of their sweetness will bring thoughts of those lacerating thorns, that nasty old man, and the beauty he gave us despite himself.