Read: Blackberry pickin' tradition

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It was a fairly warm June day and the humidity must have been around 125 percent as my dog Ranger and I rode around the back of the farm on my redneck golf cart checking out thorny blackberry bushes. This year's rain has inflicted some pretty good growth and the wild blackberries on my farm are a testament to the fact that this spring was a wet one.
In fact, I saw a chigger and a seed tick fighting over one the other day and they both gave up because there was no way they could get it home. They settled for my ankles instead and committed insecticide death due to all the Deet I had sprayed on my body.
Due to the abundance of rain and since the blackberry winter didn't cause them any harm, berries are not only doing well for us two legged creatures, but also the birds and wildlife who are feasting on them, making them also a competitor for the sweet black fruit on the thorny vines.
These days, I'm just a berry vine checker. Due to losing some interior portions of the stomach area, I no longer can eat the berries and their seeds; therefore, I don't inflict the pain of blackberry bush thorns to my arms either. I never enjoyed the pain, getting a heat stroke or scratching chiggers, but because of my hunger for blackberry cobbler I always made the trip and sacrificed for the wild treat.
There is nothing any better than the aroma of blackberry cobbler coming from the kitchen to make you forget the pain of blackberry thorns. Just one bowl of blackberry cobbler with sugar and butter slowly melting over its golden brown crust is enough to make all of the trouble of picking blackberries worthwhile.
A few years ago, I wrote about the blackberry picking tradition in my family. In fact, if you would allow me, I would like to repeat that little story again. Since I have heard of so many of you going through some of the same type of experience, maybe this little bit of nostalgia can bring back a few of those memories.
Each year during the summer, when I was growing up, there would be at least one day set aside for blackberry picking. That day included the entire family and usually began early in the morning right after the milking was completed.
We would gather up milk buckets, lard pails and just about any kind of container that had a handle. All of these would be loaded into the family pickup and we would head out to the Versailles Knob, which happened to be on my grandfather's farm where I live today. There you would find some of the most luscious berries and enough to give you a full day of all of the picking you could stand.
Berry picking also included the liberal use of kerosene, which is better known as coal oil to many of us. Coal oil rags tied around your ankles were supposed to keep the chiggers away. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn't. When it didn't, your ankles and waist usually paid the price.
Another fear of picking blackberries is snakes. I would make a lot of noise whenever I would approach the vines, just to let the snakes know that I was coming. It seemed that the bushes with the largest berries, also had the most snakes using the vines as their summer retreat. Many times, I would move on to another location if a snake wanted the bush more than I did.
After loading all the buckets full of berries, we would head back to the house for another round of coal oil. This time it would be in the form of coal oil baths, which didn't do much for your skin, but it did stop what chiggers got past your coal oil ankle bracelets.
Mother would wash the berries in cold water and begin to prepare them for canning, freezing and best of all, making blackberry preserves. A hot buttermilk biscuit with real butter and fresh homemade preserves is something that no real country boy would ever turn down.
She also saved enough berries for a cobbler to serve for the night's supper on berry picking day. I can still taste those cobblers she would serve.
I also remember rubbing my ankles together under my chair, to take care of the itch from the chigger bites I received from the day's activities. But as they say, "No pain, no gain."
The chiggers and ticks were still there, but we now have Off to replace the coal oil rags, thank goodness. I hope your trip to the blackberry vines is successful and allows you to bring home a delicious dessert and some memories.
I just hope you leave the chiggers and snakes where they were. You may not be pleased with where they decide to bite.

Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.
He may be contacted by e-mail at

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