Monday, May 8, 2017

Cold Snap and Blackberry Winter

Ask almost any Southerner why it is so unseasonably chilly right now in May (it was 31 degrees here this morning) and most of them would respond, "Well it's Blackberry Winter, of course."  Most of us learned this phrase as children.  After warm shirtsleeve days, we awoke to find the house chilly and we pulled out a sweater or sweatshirt instead of a tee shirt.  Upon asking why it was so cold we were invariably told it was because of blackberry winter.

The blooming of the blackberries  (rubus fruticosus) in the South coincides with a weather pattern that occurs each Spring.  Simply put, the air flow in the upper atmosphere is blocked over the Arctic, thus diverting the cold air over the Southern United States.  This is an annual weather event and the timing may be early to late May.  The blackberries bloom for three to four weeks, so invariably a cold snap will occur sometime during that time frame.  Southern logic says: the blackberries are blooming and the weather turns cold.  Obviously the two must be related and we have blackberry winter.

Throughout Appalachia (and in many other areas of the country) blackberries grow wild in abundance.  A drive along any mountain road this time of year brings sights of the lovely blackberry plants in full bloom.  Native Americans used blackberries for centuries before the early pioneers moved westward.  Blackberries were an important seasonal food for the pioneers who ate the fruit but also used many parts of the plants for other purposes.  To this day, blackberries are used by herbalists and others to make natural remedies.  Roots are used as astringents to treat mouth ulcers and sore throats.  The leaves can be crushed and used to treat thrush.  Crushed blackberries, along with bits of the root are mixed with honey to make a soothing cough syrup.  Tea made with the berries, roots and leaves can be used to treat diarrhea and bladder infections.  The roots and leaves can be made into a poultice and placed on wounds to help stop bleeding.  All parts of the blackberry plant contain a lot of tannin which seems to be the primary medicinal "active ingredient."

[NOTE:  I am in no way advocating the use of blackberries to treat illness or disorders of any kind.  I do however, strongly advocate a big serving of blackberry cobbler to treat your soul.]

These photographs were taken of blackberry bushes grown right along the roadside at Looking Glass Falls in our county.  Just a step off the sidewalk.
Visitors pick them as soon as they ripen.

Notice that there are five petals on each blossom

The green center of each blossom will continue to grow and ripen into a blackberry.

As a food source, blackberries are quite nutritious.  They are rich in Vitamins C and E, have antioxident properties, and are a good source of fiber.

Nowadays I buy fresh blackberries from our local produce stand.  But I went berry pickin' many a day in my childhood.  My mother paid my brother and me a dime for each Karo Syrup can full of ripe blackberries we picked for her.  She was quite a taskmaster and would penalize us for rejects such as green ones or leaves in with the ripe berries.  Each pail held three quarts of berries and they had to be filled flush with the brim.  We picked several pails of berries three times a week while the berries were ripe.

This photograph is from Pinterest displaying antique items
And yes, I do feel old when I see things common to my childhood classified as antique
Even before my time, these pails were used as lunch buckets for rural children.

Blackberry picking is hard work even for children.  They ripen in the hot summer sun.  We encountered the stinkbugs and other insects and the occasional snake.  Not to mention the typical childhood quarrels and berry smashing each other.  Since I am so old much of my youth pre-dates sunscreen so we came home not only scratched and bleeding from the blackberry thorns but also with sunburn on all exposed skin.  But all that was forgotten once inside the house where we got our dimes, washed up and enjoyed a dish of blackberries with cream and sugar.  And best of all, Mom would bake some blackberry cobbler for dessert after dinner.  You might think we would be tired of blackberries by then since we had eaten them all day but you would be wrong.

I do remember asking my mother why the blackberries didn't get ripe in blackberry winter when the berry picking weather would be nicer.  She gave me one of her common phrases, "In God's own time, honey.  In God's own time."

My paternal grandfather had yet another use for blackberries.  He made blackberry wine while the women put up the jams, jellies, and preserves.  He thought that was the best medicine of all.


Vicki Lane said...

Brr! It's been chilly here too. And a lovely show of blackberry blossoms promise good eating later in the year.

The Bug said...

Well of course you were willing to have cobbler after eating blackberries all day - when you add sugar it turns into an entirely different (and delicious!) food!

Nance said...

Lovely post. I highly recommend blackberries in general for the soul. And raspberries, too.

Arkansas Patti said...

Never heard that expression but it makes sense. My blackberry bushes by my driveway are now setting fruit. My neighbor who does extra things for me I let claim the majority when they fruit. He loves blackberry cobbler.
I too remember picking the wild fruit as a child. I only got paid in cobbler though.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

I have never picked blackberries, but do enjoy them in season as well as raspberries.

KB said...

What wonderful memories! I'd never heard the term "blackberry winter". We used to live on the west coast in a place where there were copious blackberry bushes. On every evening walk, we'd make a 15 minute stop to pick blackberries. I think that the dogs ate as many as we picked. Wonderful memories!

Anonymous said...

I love reading this post. It captures such a wonderful summertime, young and full of delicious promise. Blackberries grow all over the place here on the north coast. It's invasive and a nuisance, but oh those berries. Suddenly I want a piece of pie! Thank you for writing this all down.

joared said...

My Mom in Ohio who grew up on a farm often described various weather conditions including "blackberry winters". She mad the best blackberry cobbler which I love to this day. During the few years I lived in the south I recall picking wild blackberries by the bucketful. I wrote about the experience years ago at TGB's storytime, or whatever it's called, then posted it later on my blog as I recall. I got into a bed of minuscule seed ticks I discovered later. Years later I recall a driving trip from Southern California up the coast, mostly off the freeways, to Seattle, Washington. In Northern California there was an an area with wild blackberries all along the roadside.

NCmountainwoman said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Vicky - They are blooming in profusion here as well.

Bug - Amen

Nance - I agree.

Patti - Nice to let the neighbors have most of the berries. I'm sure you have enough for yourself.

Beatrice - I'm also a lover of all berries. We're getting some great strawberries from nearby SC so the berry season begins.

KB - Lots of dogs love the berries and don't seem to mind the thorns

Robin - Oh, those were the days, weren't they? I'm so glad to have those memories.

Joared - Thanks for dropping by. Oh, yes. I forgot about the ticks and chiggers. Our mother always checked us closely for ticks when we came in.

Lowcarb team member said...

Lovely to read your post ... it took me back to my youth and blackberry picking with my parents, we also had some very good blackberry bushes in the garden.

All the best Jan