Blackberries create thorny relationships

My hair’s up, the hummingbirds have arrived, and the air conditioning gets turned on before noon. Yep, must be summer.

We were joking the other day about writing yet another ode to the tomato sandwich. I mean, really. Enough, already. Those who love it (and we do) know how magnificent it is. Why sing its praises every single summer?

Instead, I’ll concentrate on another star produce of summer.

One of my mother’s favorite, evil tasks for us children was to send us into the vast acerage of woods behind our house to pick wild blackberries. Now, we knew those woods and open hilly areas, creeks and marshes like the back of our hands because we were out there every day. We blithely traipsed past the No Tresspassing signs posted on the outskirts and caught crawdads in the creek (on a strictly catch-and-release policy), built forts, climbed trees, and carved our initials on many a birch tree.

But, having to haul buckets out there, and brush off the gnats and mosquitos while rummaging through the acres of thorny brambles was definitely not on the “fun” list. Plus, our mother made us wear long-sleeved shirts in the sweltering heat to protect us from a few scratches, as if she was ever going to run out of that vile mercurochrome she doused us with.

And what’s worse, she would send me out there with my angry teenage brother on his dirt bike. My brother has always ranged from monosyllablic right up to laconic. But, once his fingers started getting shredded by those blackberries thorns, it unleashed an awesome, deep-rooted, nearly pathological stream of constant cursing. Seriously, I learned every bad word in my vocabulary from our forays into the brush. You know that scene from “A Christmas Story” when Ralphy spews his cuss words out while pounding on the neighborhood bully? Well those blackberries were my brother’s bully.

Finally, my brother would hang the loaded buckets from the handles of the bike and I would warily climb on behind him. Warily, because I knew what was coming. He would gun that puny engine, twist and turn and plunge across streams until I fell off. Every time.

I know, you say, why didn’t I just walk back? I still don’t have a good answer for that. It was kind of thrilling, and I never really got hurt – well, nothing a slathering of mercurchrome couldn’t handle.  And perhaps, like a cowboy at a rodeo I just wanted to see how long I could stay on.

Granted, those nights when, tattooed with long streaks of orange medicine, I tucked into a bowl of my mother’s blackberry cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on top, it seemed worth the ride – and the abrubt end of that ride.

Blackberry Cobbler

4 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed

3/4 to 1 cup sugar (depending on the berries’ tartness)

1/4 cup flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

For topping:

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 cup regular oatmeal

12 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the blackberries into a large casserole dish. Combine the sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon, then stir into the blackberries. For the topping, combine the flour, sugar and oats. Cut up the butter, place it on top of the dry ingredients, and using your fingers blend the butter in, until you have moist crumbles. Put the topping on the fruit and bake for 30-35 minutes.

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