8/27/2005

Blackberry Lane

You know summer's coming to an end when you can pick buckets and buckets of blackberries and still have more to pick tomorrow.

I re-discovered this not-so-rare fruit in France. Yes, they grow in West Virignia, and acutally had a patch of them down the street from my house when I was a little girl. Preparing a bowl of water and a rather large bowl of sugar, several of the neighborhood children and I would pick these black gems, diligently wash them off in the bowl of water; roll them unscrupulously in the refined white sugar and proceed to stuff ourselves. I don't remember stained figures or clothing but I'm sure my mother does.

Coming to France, I have set my body's clock to the important date of late August and early September. This is when blackberries are in wild abundance and can be found along just about every country roadside, marking off the farmer's fields from the passersby.

Since I live in farm country in southwestern France, I need only to walk down the street and find thousands of juicy berries winking at me and screaming, "EAT ME! EAT ME!" (I oblige.)

I (try to) walk my dog, Lola (daily), a 18 month old Golden Retriever, up (& then back down) an old country lane. This rutted, dirt lane takes you out to the grande cheminée (an old smoke stack from the days when they used to bake bricks there) and then beyond to nowhere. It's an excellent place to let the dog have a run off the leash because only walkers and bikers use this lane.

La Grande Cheminée has its own little tale since it can be seen for miles around. It is used as a reference point for many of the people of Coulonges, when out for a stroll, a bike or lazy car ride. "Well we must be heading back to town now because la grande cheminée is on our left now." While the grande cheminée is grand, is still almost intact and made completely out of red bricks, it looks slightly strange on the plains of the Deux Sèvres. Most of us liberated & young people refer to it as the phallic symbol that it is. Enough said!

While toying with these thoughts on my (almost) daily walk on grande cheminée lane, I am able to fill up on the plump berries, only occasionally staining the front of my usually white tee shirt.

Perhaps it sounds dreamy to walk up and down country lanes in France and plop juicy, free fruit in my mouth, I must tell you that I cannot dilly-dally much longer because the seasoned pickers have started picking the berries and soon none will be left for the oh-so-important event of making your own blackberry preserves for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Making your own jam and fruit preserves is a national sport. You couldn't find a commericalized jar of blackberry jam in France if you scoured every single grocery store and supermarket in the country! Not even found at the local, country markets. That's because EVERYONE makes their own!

Then you've got to make enough jars to be able to give them as housewarming gifts, when you're invited over to a friend's house for dinner. But homemade jam-giving is a vicious contest between women who've got the best fruits.

If you are lucky, you have a hundred year old fig tree in the back yard somewhere that's sagging with ripe figs begging to be simmered and jarred. Or you break down and buy the 5 kg of apricots and make your own apricot jam. These jams are far more valuble than the blackberry jam, unless is mid-March.

By then all rations have been diminished to zero. The jar bottoms have been scraped and re-scraped. The blackberry season seems so far off, and you can't buy them in stores. Who'd be so silly as to try and sell the most abundant free French fruit? Now the blackberry jam value has gone up tenfold. You see you can buy apricot and fig jam in the stores. They are good and suffice when there isn't any homemade ones on hand.

But blackberry jam... Well, it's got one season and one season only. And if I don't get out there and start picking them for my jam collection and stop eating them for my own pleasure, I'll end up like last year with only 6 jars, three of which had to be given away as gifts to friends (friendly jam competition). I could have had more had I watched that pot of blackberries simmering on the stove...

That is a story to be told AFTER I've picked my berries. Now I gotta get moving!

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