Blackberry Tales

When I was a small child, my father was assigned to work nearly 17 hours away as a result of corporate downsizing and bizarre union rules.  He was part of a crew retrofitting rail tunnels in the mountains outside of Lawson National Forest in Northern CA so that train cars could be double stacked with cargo containers.  This being the age of timetables and (if you were lucky) radio signals, the crew would have to leave the tunnels and move to a side rail at least 30 minutes before a scheduled train resulting in 45 minutes or so of down time several times a day.

Many of the side rail lines abutted wild blackberry patches.  One of my few memories of the whole experience is my dad pulling into the garage on his BMW bike on a Friday with 2 ice cream gallon buckets of blackberries bunggied to the second seat.  While we were used to him being away often due to the spatial realities of railroad employment, these blackberries served as a small consolation prize for 10 solid days of absence from a family with 4 kids under 6… particularly when he topped his Saturday-morning family-tradition crepes with whipped cream and these berries that resembled black caviar to our working class family.

20 years later, my husband and I were taking a grand road trip as a last hurrah before I started my PhD program.  With our compact car packed with my things for school and camping gear, we crossed the CA-OR border on HWY-101 and immediately pulled off into Harris Beach state park to find our reserved campground spot.  Imagine my delight in pulling into our campsite with 3 sides of these same shiny black caviar plants AND they were in season.  I took it as a sign of good things to come in the Pacific Northwest and was only slightly dismayed when my new colleagues informed me that they were actually highly invasive Himalayan blackberries when I related my delight sign a few days later at orientation.

Another 3 years later, I still hadn’t taken advantage of these road-side plants largely because I was often traveling in late summer.  But, when my husband’s birthday – the first we had spent together in 3 years – came along, I hatched a plan to escape the invasive 9-11 news coverage to get some peace and quiet.  I picked up take-out (advert your eyes veg*ns) BBQ ribs, strapped our baby in his car seat, and picked him up from work to drive out of the city.  40 minutes, 4 miles of dirt road, and several signs for ‘optional clothing’ beaches later, we parked at the end of the dead end road and walked onto this beautiful and deserted (and clothing required) beach.  It was a perfect Northwest September day.  I had read somewhere there might be (invasive) blackberries so I brought a couple of containers.  Indeed, there were; 12-20 ft hedges lined the beach for as long as I could see.  As my husband sat watching airplanes and the occasional ocean ship come up the channel with our delighted 10 month old son, I took in the scene while picking the blackberries.

Our nomadic, academic life means we have few traditions in my young family.  But every time we are in the PNW for my husbands’ birthday, we repeat BBQ and blackberries on the river.  This year, we were traveling until a couple of days after his birthday.  But the middle aged and preschool boys in my home were in agreement: we must prioritize making it out to the island that first week back in town.  So, it was with delight that I smiled tonight as I transferred the last of my frozen-single-layer-on-a-cookie-sheet black caviar from this years excursion into a gallon sized freezer bag and took a moment to remember the delightful memories blackberries always bring for me.

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6 responses to “Blackberry Tales

  1. mfranti September 25, 2011 at 9:18 am

    What a great story. My DH has recently discovered blackberries and loves them. He’s not a berry guy but makes an exception for blackberries. This makes me so happy as now I can make summer berry salads and yogurt granola fruit concoctions that he’ll participate in.

    Invasive? That means you can pick as many as you want, no? Woot!

  2. Nicole I September 25, 2011 at 9:46 am

    They are delicious. I love all berries, but there is something about the blackberry that hits the spot.

    Super invasive brought over from Europe in the late 1800s for their larger fruit. As in at least half the houses we looked at last year (foreclosures that had been siting for about 6 months) had their backyards overrun. They particularly love the sun provided by stream channels but they crowd out everything else and their root system is too shallow (but very wide… sometimes 30 feet wide/long) for erosion control. We constantly battle them here in the PNW. BUT they sure are yummy!

  3. mfranti September 25, 2011 at 9:49 am

    I made (and will make another batch today) a peach blackberry jam with my abundance of fruit this summer. If today’s batch turns out as good as the last one, I might send one your way. For the baby.

  4. mfranti September 25, 2011 at 10:35 am

    oh, and I wish you lived closer. I would send you home with the largest roma tomatoes you’ve ever seen, red peppers (finally starting to turn), and hubbard squash.

  5. Nicole I September 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    How do you have this much fruit? Yard? Other sources? Wish I was closer so I could share.

  6. mfranti September 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    I know someone that has peaches and berries.

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