It was an early summer ritual.
Donning jeans and heavy long-sleeved shirts on a 90-degree day, then pulling up our tallest boots, grabbing empty 5-gallon buckets and gloves, and sneaking off like thieves in the middle of a hot afternoon.
On a lonely Webster Parish blacktop, we’d pull off, look carefully both ways, and traipse into the thorny embrace of a dewberry patch.
We’d pick and sweat, sweat and pick, prying the brambles back for a shot at the fat, deep purple berries. Unlike regular blackberry bushes, whose arms reach up, dewberry bushes creep along the ground or up fence posts. There’s lots of stooping involved in dewberry picking. And a lot of thorns. Despite our layers of protection, we’d come back with long red scratches on all of our appendages.
But, oh, the reward. Deeply sweet, warmed-from-the-sun fruit, like an older, more mature blackberry. They’re good on their own, but also make a delicious jam, syrup, cobbler, pancakes, pie … the list goes on. Wherever you can use blackberries, you can use dewberries.
My mother would freeze them in gallon milk jugs for making cobblers in the winter, when we needed a taste of summer. We’d also have them fresh for breakfast, sprinkled with sugar and splashed with milk.
When we moved to Baton Rouge, I was overjoyed to find the patch of woods next to our apartment complex was lousy with them. Morning after morning,
I trooped outside with my largest mixing bowl and would fill it to the top. About the third day, a group of children approached, wondering what I was doing. I told them I was picking dewberries and, after swishing the just-picked berries in water, let them have a taste. They raced off and reappeared with their own bowls, which we quickly filled. From that morning, I never had to pick alone.
One of the children’s mothers showed up one day and asked me for a recipe. I gave her a classic one that’s easy enough for little hands to help — Bisquick cobbler.
Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at bcolvin@the advocate.com.