Monday, April 28, 2008

Eating locally - Dewberry pickin'

As I've mentioned before, I expanded my eating locally experiment in March to include fruit. Let's just say my timing could have been a little better. Other than the Texas grown blueberries and watermelon that my Dad brought over a few weeks back and the 4 asian pears that I cheated with (see post) because my Dad was so sweet to bring them to me, I have been eating nothing but grapefruit since mid-March. Now, I really do like grapefruit, but enough is enough. This week, I was rescued.

Not only were there dewberries at the farmers market this past weekend, my Dad's farm was covered with them!  We headed out of town towards my Dad's place (about a 20 minute drive) after lunch on Sunday under some greatly unexpected conditions:  it was 60 degrees, had just rained and was windy (I'm sure sounds ok to many of you, but this is Texas and it was in the 80's yesterday!) Despite wandering around in shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops yesterday, today I was chilled in jeans, a turtleneck and a light jacket. Brrr. It was the dampness that got me, I think. I suppose I could have worn gloves, but I had some serious berry picking in mind and the gloves would only get in the way. 

We arrived at the farm and drove past some of the cows in the front pasture, the old milk barn, some geese wandering around the front tank, and drove on up to the house to visit with my Dad for a few minutes and also to deliver some homemade rye bread and a few of the sweets from this weekend's party (more on the party tomorrow, I promise). To my delight, my Dad decided to join us. It was here with my Dad when I did my last harvest. As kids we collected grapes along the fence-line to make the most wonderful wild grape jelly. It's been a long time since those grape picking days.  They are good memories and I've come back to make a few more of those memories with my Dad and Dave.

As we left the farmhouse to head for the jeep, Dave was surrounded by geese.  With every move he made, the geese followed (that's Dave in the photo above playing Mother Goose). It turns out, my Dad always feeds the geese when he comes outdoors and when they spotted Dave, they just assumed he had grub so they stalked him until Dad came out with some bread. 

My uncle had been picking berries with his kids on Saturday and had easily nabbed about 4 gallons and insisted millions remained, so directed by my father in the back seat, we wound the jeep around the field to the back tank, behind where an old orchard once stood (we used to ride horses back here when we were kids - lots more memories). We were armed with several grocery sacks, and a large rubbermaid tub (it's free food, I wasn't going to be caught short).  We each took a sack (I also had a large stick in case a black snake decided to say "hello") and spread out. Berries were EVERYWHERE!  And many of them we couldn't yet pick because they weren't ripe. We could pick berries for the next two weeks and I promise we could never get all of them.  We were probably out in the fields walking and picking for about an hour (that's my Dad and I in the photo next to the jeep) before our sore backs and splintered fingers told us it was time to call it quits. Only an hour. It made me think about all the people who do this for a living or for whom foraging is their only source of food. Wow, do we have it easy! We did, however, have a lot to show for that one hour. We ended up with 8 quarts of berries and of course Daddy said we could always come back for more!

We packed up our berries and got back in the jeep. Dad hollered out a couple of times for us to stop and we'd jump out and grab more berries that he'd spotted while we were driving. Once back at the farmhouse, we cleaned up as best as possible in hopes that we wouldn't be covered in poison oak or ivy by nighttime (so far, so good) and spent the next couple hours hanging out with my Dad and step-Mom, who had returned while we were out.  The four of us sat around the kitchen table, shared stories about family and work, talked about all the new and wonderful things going on in our lives, laughed and joked, and pretty much just had a really nice time being together. 

As soon as Dave and I got home, we stripped down, threw everything into the laundry, showered, and then delved into the berries once more. I washed up about a quart to eat this week and the rest we set out to dry and freeze (the photo you seeing here is only about 1/2 of the berries. The rest are still sitting in the green tub). These berries will play a huge part in my getting through late fall and winter months when fruit around here will be scarce. Planning ahead has never been so much fun!

I had such a great day!  It's been a long time since I've spend so much time with my Dad and step-Mom, a long time since Dave and I have left the city behind and had nature adventure together, and it felt good to play an intimate and active part in the food we'll be eating for months to come. We'll definitely be doing this again!  In the meantime, I'm content here in berry heaven.


Anonymous said...

I would love to go hunter-gatherer for a little while, just to see if I had the skills to do so. Dewberrys sound good!
The only experience that I've had with Texas fruit was picking prickly pear when I was in the Army. Dewberries certainly sound more user-friendly:)
-J (of N. & J)

sharli said...

Dewberries can be a little prickly...but not too just have to watch out for the snakes! But, they are SO yummy!

Anonymous said...

Sounds delicious! Reminds me of picking raspberries from the wild bramble at my grandparents' place...haven't done that in years.

Marius said...

I think I see you doing this in the little photo (the photo is a bit small!), but are you freezing them on a cookie sheet? Works great for freezing all manner of berry: freeze on a cookie sheet, then dump individually frozen berries into a zip-loc.

Heather said...

I've done the berry freezing before, but not this time. There were just too many of them and with a side by side fridge/freezer (only very narrow/small trays will fit inside), it would have taken me forever to freeze them all.

Since I'll probably take out a whole bag at a time anyway, I just dried them on the trays in the open air and bagged them. We'll see how it goes.

I do my cookie dough that way for sure. I make a big batch of chocolate chip cookies. Roll them into balls, freeze them on mini jelly roll pans (the ones that fit in the toaster oven fit just perfectly in our freezer) and then put them in a large container so Dave can easily pull out a 1/2 doz and bake cookies anytime he gets a craving. It has worked really well!

CindyW said...

Are dewberries like blackberries? I lived in Texas for almost 10 years, mostly in Houston, some in Austin. Sadly I spent little time discovering the more rural part of Texas. Sigh. Guess it did not click for me yet. Your post reminds me of the best watermelons I had in Texas though. With its long season of fruit in California, Texas still has a long leg up in its melon-yumminess.

Heather said...

Dewberries are very much like blackberries, but are more purple and, I think, more tart. They're super delicious!

My dad came by with a watermelon last night from South Texas. It's huge! Needless to say all the berries went in the freezer. It'll take me two weeks to eat that melon, but I'm not complaining (he he)! said...

Forgive me if this sounds a bit forward but my friends and I are planning on brewing a beer with local ingredients and thought that we would try adding dewberries. After searching relentlessly for the past few weeks at different farmers markets we found nothing, then today I came across your blog. (1)Are the berries still as bountiful as you describe here AND (2) if so, can we make arrangements to pick some berries?

Heather said...

The Bryan Farmers market on Saturday has had them for the last few weeks.

Another option is Lake Bryan - a friend of mine has been picking them there.

And I just found out from the dairy I buy from (Sand Creek Farm) that if you pick your own and pay them with 25% of the berries, you can go to their farm and pick. That's in Cameron. Their web address is

They have a contact us page where you can email them for specifics. Hope this helps!