The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Berry Picking and Nostalgia

By Eunice J. Pitchford © 1986

Issue: August, 1986

When I go blackberry picking I know half of my reason for going is nostalgia. I remember going berry picking when I was a child and although there was a gap of years between those days and recent occasions when I have picked again, I have to admit to myself that nostalgia is as much a reason to pick berries now as the enjoyment of eating them.

Berry picking time is usually in June in Guilford County, North Carolina, where I lived as a child. My mother would take her brood of four children to the woods and fields of a farm where she had grown up and we would stay from morning until late afternoon. She would pack us a lunch so that it was looked forward to as a picnic too.

As we lived in Greensboro in a residential area with mowed lawns and clipped hedges, chiggers weren't a part of our lives, but I can associate every blackberry-picking day with chiggers. Mother would have us wear clothing that would resist snags from the brambles and we would have to wear shoes and socks that protected us as much as possible. As a deterrent to chiggers, she dabbed kerosene about our ankles and wrists - not on the skin - but at bottoms of sleeves and pants legs. Then the minute we arrived home we had to get into hot bathwater which she saturated with salt. These remedies might have worked for some, but I always had a dozen or more chigger bites which I would scratch and endure for days and days.

In the dead of winter though I forgot about my chigger bites when Mother got out jams and jellies she had made from the blackberries. And best of all, in my estimation, was the juiciness of the blackberry pies she would make. I knew those quart jars of berries on the pantry shelf held the makings of pies. Mother enjoyed making pies and every member of her family enjoyed eating them.

In recent years I have been in Henderson County in the mountains of North Carolina at the right time of year to reap some of this bounty. Miraculously I don't get loaded with chiggers and never have used Mother's kerosene remedy or any other preventive measure. I don't can or make jams or jellies, but enjoy the fresh berries. I love a bowl of cold berries with milk and sugar. I love a handful sprinkled on cornflakes. I could happily have my bowl only half full of cereal and the rest of the way filled with berries. I don't know that I ever heard of anybody making blackberry pancakes, but I can assure anybody who wants to know - they are delicious.

A little granddaughter comes east from Kansas in summertime and has joined me in the mountains. When we go berry picking, I try to keep her from getting scratched by the brambles, pointing out to her branches that jut into the roadway within her reach. She looks forward to the jaunt to pick berries although she cares nothing for the raw berries. Some of her personally picked berries she manages to horde and take home to show to her daddy in Kansas. Cobbler is her delight and she consumes it with gusto. A simple cobbler (or mountain pie) recipe which I have taught her to make follows:

1 qt. blackberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup biscuit mix
1 cup milk
1/3 stick margarine

Generously grease sides and bottom of a loaf pan with margarine and pour in washed berries. Use balance of the margarine to dot top of the berries. Mix together with a fork the sugar, biscuit mix and milk, and pour this mixture over berries. Bake 30 minutes in oven at 350 degrees. If top isn't brown, run under broiler for one minute. Serve hot or cold. If hot, milk can be poured over each serving. If cold, ice cream or cool whip topping.