too many words by laura lemay

Blackberry season

There is a Henry James quote, I think, that says the two most beautiful words in the english language are Summer Afternoon.

I’d have to agree with that. But I think the second most beautiful words in the english language are Blackberry Season.

Yesterday was my first blackberry pick of the season, and it came a bit late because we had a late wet spring and apricot season overlapped with plum season and there’s been too much fruit to handle. And so when I ventured up the road to the blackberry grove with my basket, armed with long sleeves and tick repellent, the blackberries were especially ripe and juicy and heavy, hanging in deep purple bunches on the vine, hundreds of breathtaking blackberries the size of your thumb.

Picking blackberries with a purpose is a problem. My goal for these berries was a pie. Other blackberries will be bound for tarts and jams and hand-turned ice cream. But once I get out there into the bushes somehow its easy to forget that there was a goal in mind, to not just sit and pop berry after berry into my mouth. If I manage a two for the pot and one for the stomach ratio, I’m doing OK.

You can tell a perfect blackberry just by feel, by the way it gives just lightly under your fingertips right at the top of the berry. Too firm and the seeds will be light purple or even green and too tart for eating. Too squishy and they’re perfect for berries ‘n’ cream (or just for snacking) but no good for cooking. But that’s OK. Those are the ones that maintain the 2 to 1 ratio.

The easy pickings around the edge of the bushes go quickly. But there always seems to be some sort of great nature joke that the best blackberries, the ripest blackberries, the biggest berries in the largest clusters, are the ones nestled in the center of the thicket at the top of the thickest, tallest, thorniest canes. How many times have I leaned over the bushes, twisted every which way to avoid the nastiest thorns, closer, and closer, with thorns and stickers I missed digging in my side, in my hair, wiggling seemingly on thier own up my pants legs and into my ankles, with some kind of angry beetle buzzing at my face, while that one monster berry that I just have to have dangles just an inch out of reach?

Oh Lord lead me not into temptation, for I will get scratched all to hell.

But at the end of the day, sweaty, with nasty red marks all up and down my forearms and forehead, with blackberry hair in my hair and stuck to my face, and with the fingers on both hands and my lips and teeth stained purple with juice, I will rinse eight cups of blackberries in the sink, clean up and start rolling out crust for the pie.

And I don’t think there’s any better way to spend a summer afternoon than that.