Blackberries for pickin'

One of my favorite children's books is called “Summer.” It’s a rhyming book, and begins,”I like the things the summer brings. It brings the heat. It brings us treats. It brings us lots of good things to eat.” Those words started me thinking about one of my favorite experiences of summer as a child, that of picking and eating blackberries.

As children, my brother and I were fortunate to go on a summer vacation to the Russian River in California. There we swam, made sand castles and skipped rocks. But the most delicious discovery we made was that of blackberries. We would walk up a long road in the mornings with our grandfather. One time, after going farther than usual, we discovered a little horse pasture and in and around it were Blackberries. My grandfather, a country “boy” himself, knew just what to do. With his leadership all three of us figured out how to crawl through, under and over that fence. We started to pick and eat and slurp and ooze and pick some more of those blackberries. After having our fill, we vowed to come back the next day with our buckets.

Coming from a city, it was “magic” to have fruit at my fingertips. When the berries were out of reach, my grandfather used his cane and showed us how to “be taller” and “reach higher.” With his cane we were “fearless pickers” and became more skillful and successful at our task. We all derived great pleasure when we returned home with our valuable “contribution” to our food supply.

Soon there were blackberries on our cereal, and on our ice cream and our clothes. In picking blackberries I discovered “my hunting and gathering instincts” waking up. There was the delight and satisfaction of the “perfect” berry, and the tangible rewards of my picking efforts as the basket filled before my eyes.

If one of our goals as parents is to provide our children with positive experiences that accumulate into a strong sense of their being capable and lovable people, then I believe that picking blackberries can go on the list of desirable activities.

I carried this tradition forward with my children and you can, too. On Whidbey Island picking and eating blackberries is something everyone in your family can enjoy. There are berries at the beaches, and on the roads, so it’s not necessary to “own” your own patch, although many of us have our favorite patches already scoped out. We walk or drive by those ‘secret” places watching the progress of “our” berries as they plump up and ripen almost before our eyes, until that magic moment when we know they are ready to pick.

That time is right Now. Recently I have seen neighbors in clusters heading out with their yogurt containers, and baskets and buckets to get their berries. I’ve been out getting mine too, and making jam, and contemplating berry pies and crisps and muffins.

So plan your summer-family outing soon before the berries are over-ripe or it rains, and those tastey morsels begin to mold. You only need a few supplies: Hats and sunscreen are important for the “exposed” body parts, a generous supply of pails, cartons, or baskets (remember each child needs their own), coverings for your arms and legs to avoid scratching (although some of us like to display our “battle scars” from our hunt for the berry), lots of water to drink while picking, and a promise of something really yummy to eat soon after you arrive home. Bathing suits and towels and beach supplies may also be added depending upon the location of your “patch”.

Best of all, bring songs, and family stories to share as you are picking, bring friends along and perhaps a camera to record all of you engaged in a favorite, summer, family ritual. And remember, for all those “hard-to-remove” berry stains, just boil water, stretch the stained garment over a bowl, raise the pot or kettle 12 to 18” above the stain and pour the hot water slowly onto the spot and watch the stain disappear. Enjoy!

Mully Mullally is a member of the Family Support Alliance. She is also the Director of the South Whidbey Children’s Center, the Parent Educator for the South Whidbey Co-Op Preschool, and an Early Learning Specialist for ESD 189. Mully lives in Langley where there are plenty of blackberries.

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