Southeast Texas has been blessed with adequate—even plentiful—rain for a few years running, and now the berry patches are erupting along railway lines, ditches, sun-dappled roadsides, and woodland verges. This means that for the next couple of weeks, the dewberries and blackberries are ripe for the picking all over East and Central Texas.
You don’t have to live in the country to get in on this bounty. I live inside the loop in Houston, and there are several patches within a fifteen-minute walk. This weekend my ten-year-old daughter Harriet and I hit a nearby forest preserve in Houston (when you trek out for wild-berry picking, always be sure you’re not treading on private property or trespassing in any way).
The 2011 drought was not kind to Houston’s many tall pines. A tragic number of the city’s trees perished in that parched year, and you can still see many sun-bleached, barkless, limbless remnants of the remaining forestry, trunks riddled with beetles and their predators: woodpeckers.
But the absence of that pineshade has given the undercanopy, including the berry bushes, more light and room to grow. In less than 45 minutes, Harriet and I had a quart of the juicy goodies. Our trove did not come easy. It was a still, humid morning in Houston, and the tiger mosquitoes—so big you could quite clearly discern their stripes—feasted on us, even though Harriet (if not her father) had sense enough to coat herself in repellent before we went. Also, my daughter was prudent enough to wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. I wore sandals and shorts, thus exposing my legs to thorns and my feet to the inevitable fire ant feast I so graciously provided.
And wild blackberries / dewberries are famously thorny plants, so expect a few scratches, even if you wear long sleeves. Copperheads are said to haunt many a berry patch, but in my 45 years on the planet I’ve not encountered them there, and in any event, Harriet and I were both intentionally thrashing around a good bit in order to scare off what snakes might be lurking in the brush, our noise annoying the squirrels and jays competing with us for the berries.
Which could be dewberries or blackberries. It’s confusing. Dewberries are said to grow closer to the ground and ripen earlier than blackberries, which reportedly shoot upwards. Except when they don’t. Even botanists can’t easily tell them apart.
So lots of sweat, a little blood, but no tears. Harriet found a motherlode of a patch, and we were in a picking frenzy when a silver-haired grandmother and her six-or-so-year-old grandson appeared on the trail. The lady asked us about what we were picking and I told her. I offered her one and she liked it. I offered one to the boy too. He looked at me like I was offering him a sewer rat on a skewer.
“I’m good,” he said.
Your loss, little man!
Harriet and I made it home with about three cups of the berries, minus the ones she devoured on the way home. An Internet search led us to a cobbler recipe so easy and simple we didn’t even need to hit up the grocery store.
Here it is, courtesy of Cooks.com:
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
2 tsp baking powder
1 stick butter
3 to 5 cups dewberries
Melt butter in 9″x13″ pan. Mix together the first 5 ingredients. Put half in the pan. Put in dewberries. Add the rest of the batter on top. Bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour.
Oh, and top with vanilla ice cream. (Come back to us Blue Bell! Come back to us soon…)
And that’s it. A wonderful late-spring Texas Sunday morning with a hint of adventure, a little hard work, and a delicious reward at the end.
(Photos by John Nova Lomax)