31 Mar Blackberry winter
Story and photos by Linda Henderson
If you are Southern born, most likely you have heard the old expression, looks like a blackberry winter. What is a blackberry winter? Blackberry winter refers to a brief period of cold, wintery weather in the spring.
April is the month most probable to be called a blackberry winter. It has earned this reputation because the attractive Arkansas spring can revert to a blustery winter at the drop of a hat. Fortunately, a brief period of frigid weather does not harm the blackberry blooms that are just popping out in mid-April to early May.
Blackberries are indigenous to Arkansas. The berry would have been a source of sustenance to the early pioneers and to the native people who inhabited the state. Most Arkansans who are over 50 years of age likely have a story to tell about blackberries. Many of us remember grandma’s blackberry pie, jelly, jam, or cobbler. If they do not remember the good things that come from blackberries, they may recall memories of getting chigger bites or ticks while picking them along a county road. Some may have even come eye to eye with a snake while picking wild berries in a ditch bank. Others will have stories of being bloody and bruised from the thorns of wild bushes.
Blackberries are perennial plants. They are easy to grow, and they produce an abundance of harvest in early to mid-June. If you want to grow them in your backyard, they will require trimming the “canes” that come up from the root system. If you do not keep them cut back, they do tend to take over the space in which they are planted. A great investment would be the plants developed by the University of Arkansas. They have cultivated thornless versions of the blackberry plant. Not only are there no prickly thorns to deal with, but the berries are much larger and sweeter than the wild variety.
In 2019, my husband and I planted eight blackberry vines in our backyard. We planted them in the fall, and by the next spring we were blessed with a bountiful amount of the sweet, luscious fruit.
I love blackberry jam and cobbler, but my favorite way to eat blackberries is my Grandma Hoggard’s blackberry dumplings. It has been one of my favorites since childhood. I can remember my grandma making blackberry dumplings with wild blackberries we had picked from the roadside or from around the edge of their farmland.
Blackberry dumplings are made simply by adding water and sugar to a pot of blackberries. Cook the berries until they give up their juice and pulp. Strain the berries using a sieve or cheesecloth. After the berries are juiced, discard the seeds and remaining pulp. Pour the juice into a pot, and bring it to boil on the stove. Cut refrigerated, canned biscuits into four pieces and drop them into the boiling juice. Cook for about five minutes, or until the biscuit dough is no longer raw. Serve warm with ice cream.
Picking or planting blackberries is always worth the effort. If you choose to pick wild berries, be sure to wear long sleeves, jeans, and boots. Remember to tuck your jeans into your boots, and spray your clothes with bug spray. Be careful of the brambles and critters that might be living in the bushes, and remember if we have a blackberry winter in April, then the berries will be sweeter in June.