One of my earliest memories recently came to mind, brought to the surface by the abundance of rain in our area of the Texas Hill Country this year. As a country girl, I grew up about about eighty-five miles southeast of where I live now, almost within seeing distance of the Guadalupe River, well known for its frequent flooding. Some memories are always with me: my daddy and his brothers and cousins on horses, herding up the cattle and getting them to higher ground; the year’s crops (and income) washed away by marauding waters; and getting my toes nipped by crawdads in the wading pool of the flood’s edge.
That same river still wreaks havoc all along its 230-mile length, but it was a gentler memory the rain brought to mind, one not concerning flooding waters at all. What I recalled was dewberry-picking with my grandmother. If you are unfamiliar with dewberries, they are small, blackberry-like fruits that grow on long runners covered with tiny thorns that break off at the softest touch to embed themselves in tender flesh. Native to Texas, dewberry vines are tough, able to survive in the worst drought but needing nourishing rain to produce their fruit. Dewberries like to grow on old fence rows along country roads. I have never seen a dewberry plant for sale in a nursery, and as a frequent buyer in nurseries, I would have found one had it been there.
Like a lot of good things, the wild vines have no value to the unenlightened. That’s because the unenlightened never ate my grandma’s dewberry cobbler. It was a once-a-year treat, one made more delicious by the hard work required to get the main ingredient. Grandma, who didn’t drive, must have employed dewberry scouts to report when it was “pickin’ time.” In turn, she’d notify her two sisters and my mother, and we’d all pile into a car and drive to the designated picking area. I never knew (or thought about until recently) whether we had the landowner’s permission to pick the fruit or if we just stole it. We never crossed any fences to pick berries on the other side so maybe legality wasn’t an issue.
Ripe dewberries are deep purple in color, almost black, and unripe ones are reddish. I always sneaked a few red ones into my sack because I liked the color, but the adults invariably caught me and fussed at my rebellion. I’d like to say I obeyed their directive to quit picking the red ones, but I didn’t. I just got a little sneakier. We all wore long sleeves to protect our arms from the thorny vines, and I’m pretty sure my mother started me off with a pair of gloves. I’m just as sure I shucked the gloves as soon as her back was turned. (To this day I can’t garden in gloves–or sew on a button using a thimble. Just two of my numerous failings!) When we picked all the berries in one place, we climbed back in the car and drove slowly along, looking for another patch to plunder.
We’d spend a couple of hours driving and picking, picking and driving, and sneaking a few berries into our mouths when we thought nobody was looking. At some point my grandmother and her sisters announced they’d “had enough” (whether of dewberries, thorns, or aching backs, I never thought to ask), and we’d pile back into the car for the drive home.
The next day we’d convene at my grandparents’ house for fresh-baked dewberry cobbler, and suddenly my thorn-infested fingertips and vine-scratched extremities didn’t matter. We’d sit down to big bowls of the best pastry-layered, sweet-tart treat ever, topped with sugar-sprinkled, latticed strips of golden pie crust. We didn’t even need ice cream. It was that good. And if I looked hard enough, I’d always find a few of my unripe berries, turned a soft maroon by the purple juice of their riper cousins, proving to me that a little rebellion never hurt anything.