Thursday, July 07, 2005

Foraging

There is nothing to be gained by pretending that the world is what it used to be. I am aware that some people believe that humans generally were happier back in our hunter gatherer days, but even if you would trade the glories of indoor plumbing for the dubious joys of eating what you kill, you just can't. Actually, if you're obscenely rich enough to buy your own county somewhere, I suppose you can, but I have not yet noticed a back-to-the-cave movement among the people who earned their fortunes in the industrial or information revolutions.

Still, the very market forces that drove you out of nature might push you back out into it. I refer, of course, to the astronomical cost of fresh blackberries. (I considered making a pun with "gastronomical" there, but I thought better of it, which proves once and for all that those friends of mine who claim that I have no restraint whatsoever don't know what they're talking about.)

When you were young, and your heart was an open book, you used to gather your own blackberries (you know you did, you know you did, you know you did). And it was relatively easy because there were wild blackberry patches just about everywhere you turned out in Suburbia. The whole family would go out on a late July weekend, and in a few hours you'd have plenty of blackberries for jam, for the freezer, for pies and cobblers, and for eating out of hand, though you would have done that last predominantly in the berry patch, when no one was looking, as if the dark purple stains all over your mouth weren't going to rat you out to your parents anyway.

But time, tide, and housing developers, alas, wait for no man, and the natural habitat of the wild blackberry has disappeared with the same rapidity (if not the same level of devastation) as the Amazon rain forest. And the blackberry is not alone in its plight.

Here in suburban Maryland (and elsewhere, one presumes), there is a particularly splendid sort of berry that grows mainly on the edges of forests and highways and in other places where the once-wild meets the now-paved. It is very like a raspberry, and most people (if they notice the berries at all, which they don't) call them raspberries, but which are really wineberries. I have not done the research, but I believe that the name refers to their very fine flavor rather than to their eventual destination.

I was unaware of the existence of the wineberry until I had moved back to Maryland from Boston, but once I noticed them, I began seeing them in more and more places. Until the developers ramped up their activities even further, and then I began seeing them in fewer and fewer places. I still know a couple of spots where I could pick a few, but wineberry picking is at best time consuming and at worst arduous, and when the really good, easy-to-reach patches were gone, I mostly gave up.

Blackberry picking (unless you go to a pick-your-own farm, which is probably a good idea, but which eliminates a lot of the cost savings and all of the adventure) is always arduous, but in a good patch you can get a lot in a relatively short period of time, and whenever the picking starts to feel too odious, you can pop an especially plump specimen into your mouth and it'll keep you going for cup or two. Repeat as necessary.

I have, of course, absolutely no intention of telling you where I pick blackberries. You might think that my reticence is due to selfishness and an unreasonable feeling of ownership of something that isn't mine, and you're right, but we can pretend that it's because a) no one reads this blog anyway, b) the people who read it don't live around here, and c) picking the berries is too much trouble.

There is a fair amount of trouble involved. When I go picking, it's usually late July, a time at which the weather is not relentlessly pleasant in the DC area. To pick the blackberries, you need to be wearing heavy jeans, and a long-sleeved shirt that is nearly as heavy as the jeans because otherwise the brambles will tear you to pieces. A hat is similarly necessary. You will invariably find that the best berries are in the places that are the most painful to get at, and that the best of the best berries are in the places that you can never quite reach, no matter how you try and cry. But if you find a good patch, after clawing and scraping your way to it, you'll be able to gather a significant number of berries without moving most of your body, so you'll be relatively safe until it's time to move on.

My favorite blackberry patches are not far from L.'s favorite miniature golf course, and since she and I will be alone together all weekend, I will likely take her for a round and then check the state of the berries on the way home. Assuming that they are all still there and ripen soon, I will keep you posted on how I use them. The exact uses depend to some extent on how many I come home with and to a greater extent on what strikes my fancy when I have them in my hot little hands.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Kimberly said...

Two small favors from the Universe: you commented at Bakerina's blog (so I found yours), and you've not been writing this blog for long (so I could read all of it in a couple of not-too-long sittings).

I could tell you the location of my favorite blackberry patch in the Seattle area, since you don't live around here. But, even if no one reads this blog now (and those who do don't seem to comment!), I imagine that more people will be reading soon, and what if one were a Seattleite willing to go to that trouble? I'd hate to resent you for that.

On rereading the above paragraphs, I notice that the compliments contained therein are implied rather than direct. Just me being shy; enough of that. Your blog is utterly charming. Lovely writing. Great voice. Laugh-out-loud funny. I look forward to reading more.

1:44 PM  
Blogger anapestic said...

Thank you so much for the kind words, kimberly. Alas, as I have just written in a new entry, there is no longer a secret to keep with respect to the blackberry patches. I am hopeful about finding others and not telling anyone where they are either, though.

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm doing a project on Wineberries, they are an invasive speices brought over from.....sorry, I haven't found that out yet, but they grow quickly and can b used to make dye, they grow mostly along the east cost and then in another state some where in the mid-west, maybe Kanas? if u do decide to acually transfer some to a graden, be carefull, they will displace and over crowd other plants fairly quickly, wish u the best with the blackberries

10:36 AM  

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