I love this time of year. The flowers, the longer days, the smell of soil and mulch as gardens go in. I’m waking up before my alarm and feeling much lighter as the vestiges of S.A.D. slip away. Perhaps giving my mood the biggest boost is all of the wild berries I’m stuffing in my face.
They taste like nostalgia, and harvesting them makes me feel like I’m doing prep work for an apocalypse. I don’t have many survival skills, but I’m pretty handy at spotting and picking berries.
Starting in February, every walk, run, and park visit, I’m looking for signs of berries to come. I make my mental notes as they begin to ripen and come back over the weeks with buckets to collect. I’ve grown my own berries, but my favorites are still the wild ones I find myself foraging for each year.
Right now, I’m indulging on dewberries, which ripen in April and May. Blackberries ripen in June. Dewberries, which I generally just call blackberries, are related but typically grow along the ground instead of trailing up and bushing out. There are many varieties of these wild aggregate fruits, and I welcome them all, as the bland store-bought varieties taste of murky ethics. So when the white flowers begin to show, I get my basket ready, watch out for snakes, and go picking.
Besides eating them straight, I enjoy making blackberry fool. Only requiring two cups of berries, it feels decadent as it is essentially whipped cream with fresh blackberry juice added. I like this recipe from Martha Stewart because she doesn’t cook the berries and the leftover pulp is great in pancakes, muffins, and smoothies. There are other versions that add in yogurt or don’t strain the liquid. With berries and cream, it’s hard to go wrong.
I’ve been taking my kids out picking since they were bitty, and now for the first year, my five-year-old son made a substantial contribution to picking. I’ve taught him how to spot the plant, how to pick gently to protect the fruit, and how to avoid unwelcome contact with wildlife in the process. He said searching for the dark berries was better fun than egg hunting even though the plants poke a little.
Watching him add to his bucket takes me back to my childhood picking berries with my own mother and her friends. We’d walk along fences and railroad tracks filling gallon buckets that once held ice cream. Berries don’t seem as plentiful now as they were back then, and I’m more cautious about trespassing. Still, each year, I go picking with my kids. I hope their memories of this season will be as sweet as mine.