Blackberry Rain

Occasional showers have fallen in parts of Texas, but desiccated pastures, thinning herds, drying playas, and empty stock ponds make clear the continuing need for rain.

Hidden behind such public signs of drought lie other consequences: equally troublesome, if more personal.  During a recent visit with a hill country friend, I heard a familiar sigh as I split a breakfast biscuit and reached for the dish of preserves. “That’s the last of the peach,” she said. “I’m down to apple butter now, until we see how things turn out this year. I sure hope things get better.”

For my friend, “better” means rain. Several times in the past decade drought has put an end to her vegetables and fruits. The fig trees barely produced, pears were the size of walnuts, and pecans shriveled in their shells. Even the dewberries bloomed sparsely, setting so little fruit she left it for hungry birds and animals.

The sweet, trellised blackberries that overflowed her baskets in the past withered and died, offering up only tart, unappealing berries. Without good berries the usual abundance of pies, cobblers, and sauces disappeared, not to mention the brandied berries traditionally set aside for holidays.

Dewberry blossom

“Could you have watered?” I asked. “I did,” she said, “but as the weeks went by, we decided to stop. Some people’s wells went dry, and I couldn’t risk that. I let the flower gardens go first, then the vegetables. I hated it, but there was nothing else to do, even though I didn’t get a single decent tomato.”

Life without blackberry cobbler is one thing. Life without tomatoes is something else. Like generations of women, including my own grandmother, my friend traditionally spent the summer canning uncounted quarts of  sauced, stewed, and diced tomatoes for the long winter ahead.

In my grandparents’ fruit cellar, jars shone in the dim light like jewels: tomatoes, peaches and plums; cherries suspended in burgundy syrup; jams, jellies, and marmelades; sweet corn relish, spiced apples and pears, and the translucent shimmer of pickles. My friend’s larder always had resembled that jewel-like abundance, until the scourge of drought took first her water and then the harvest that helps to sustain her family through the year.

Some of her more drought-tolerant fruits have survived the summers, although their yield was low.  Two varieties of persimmon, one a Texas native (Diospyros texana) and one the more familiar Asian (Diospyros kaki) were freely shared with a multitude of birds and squirrels, white-tailed deer, foxes, possums and raccoons.

The possum’s love of persimmons is legendary. In some regions, the creature spends so much time gorging on its fruit the tree is known as ‘possum wood.’ John James Audubon pictured the Virginia Opossum in a persimmon tree, and an old American folk-song celebrates the relationships among the Possum, the Persimmon, and the Raccoon.

Possum in a ’simmon tree, raccoon on the ground,
Raccoon said, “”You rascal, shake them ’simmons down!”

On the Gulf Coast, Atakapa Indians called persimmons piakimin. Early French settlers transformed it into plaquemine, familiar to many as the name of a Louisiana parish. Elias Wightman, a surveyor for Stephen F. Austin in the 1820s, documented persimmon groves in southeast Texas; the trees he found were the drought-resistant natives, their seedy black fruit much smaller and differently-shaped than the larger and more familiar red-orange Asian varieties. Both provide a wonderful base for an assortment of pastries and jams once the frosts reduce their astringent qualities. My first persimmon came from my friend’s hill country tree, and I was amazed by its smooth sweetness.

For pure eating pleasure from native Texas plants, you can’t do better than jams and jellies made from berries of the agarita, one of my friend’s favorites.  Because of its prickly nature, the best way to gather agarita berries is to lay a cloth on the ground and thrash the bushes, but when drought reduces the berry crop of even this hardy plant, time spent in bush-thrashing isn’t worth the return, and agarita jelly won’t be on the table.

Ripening Agarita berries

Recently, even the yield of berries from Scarlet Firethorn, or Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea), has declined somewhat.  Its beautiful red, red-orange, or yellow berries resemble tiny apples, and it’s branches often are used for decorating. My favorite bush, a large volunteer on a fenceline below my friend’s home, disappeared when the county showed up to widen and pave the road, but new shrubs always appear as seeds are spread by birds who love its tasty and nutritious fruit. In fall and winter, the berries occasionally ferment, leaving robins and waxwings staggering from the bushes, nearly unable to fly.

For years I assumed pyracantha was poisonous, but the apple-shaped berries are perfectly suitable for human consumption; boiling the fruit and straining the pulp to remove the seeds is all that’s necessary to make a fine jelly. It’s more work that I’m willing to take on, but thanks to my friend, I’ve had the opportunity to try pyracantha pancake syrup and agarita jelly: small reminders of nature’s abundance and human care.

Pyracantha

As friends will do, we often spend long hours drinking coffee and talking around the table. One memorable night, a sudden rattle across the tin roof and a rush of wind signaled rain. In a country so long bereft of storms, nothing could be more comforting.  “We sure do need more of that,” someone said as the rain murmured outside the windows. Then, the chairs were pushed back and we all went off to bed, ready to enjoy the luxury of falling asleep to the sound of falling rain.

The next morning, the “more” we’d hoped for had come. Puddles dotted the caliche drive and damp yard cats huddled under the potting shed, water dripping around them. We said our farewells in drizzle and fog: a gauzy, gray coverlet tucked around the resting ridges and valleys.

An hour later, as I swung around San Antonio and headed east, more rain developed. Heavy enough to make driving a challenge and consistent enough to bring a smile, it coursed along the ditches and collected in fields. Overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, I tried, without success, to remember the last time I’d witnessed such abundance.

Passing a farmhouse, I glimpsed a man standing on his porch, just watching. A few miles down the road, I stopped for gas and coffee and found the men gathered at the front of the small store looking very much the same: hands tucked into pockets, eyes focused on the rain.

Coffee in hand, I left the store only to discover the drizzle had once again turned into a near-torrent. Standing under the awning, waiting for it to slack off before I headed to the car, I listened to the desultory talk.

“Nice,” said one fellow. “Sure enough,” said another. “Smells good, too,” said a third. And it did. It smelled clean, and fresh. It smelled like a new start, and hope, and home. It smelled sweet, like the promise of abundance.

It smelled like next year’s blackberries.

 

Comments always are welcome.

122 thoughts on “Blackberry Rain

    1. In my area, we’ve had far more than my friend. Texas is so large and its regions so varied there can be substantial differences from place to place. My friend lives about 375 miles away — a distance I just learned is greater than the length of your state!

  1. The agarita, pyracantha, and dewberry clearly made you berry happy, just as a fruitful rain did for the people who’d been enduring a drought.

    I’ve run across possum for opossum and coon for raccoon, but never ‘simmon for persimmon. All three words come from Virginia Algonquian.

    1. That early May trip was the first time I’ve found ripening agarita berries. I have photos of the flowers, and some of ripe and almost over-the-top fruit, but these were just coming on; I liked the different colors. The blueberry crop is better this year, and there are several picking farms that are open; it seems the rain we’ve had has helped in that regard.

      I’ve never heard ‘simmon’ for persimmon, either — except in poetry and song, where it can work nicely. I’ve been inside the Algonquin Hotel in NYC, and wondered if there might be a connection. Sure enough, the original name was going to be “The Puritan,” but Frank Case discovered the Algonquian tribes had been the first residents of the area and persuaded the owner to christen it “The Algonquin.”

        1. Somehow I doubt it. Besides, as interesting and amusing as the Round Table’s conversational barbs could be, the barbs on the Algonquins’ spears and arrows were more productive.

  2. This reminds me of when my mother would take us out to pick dewberries when I was a kid. And my grandmother had a few fig trees and made lots of preserves and such. This was down near the Lavaca river just north of Port Lavaca.

    1. I’m familiar with that area, and have done just a bit of dewberry picking there myself. Have you ever been to the site of Ft. Saint Louis, or visited the La Belle exhibit at the Bullock Museum? Fascinating stuff. I can’t help wondering if LaSalle’s men picked dewberries, too — or, perhaps, the survivors who lingered for a time. Living off the land was the only option for them — no HEB for those folks.

      1. I left that area when I was about 7 as my parents split up, so I don’t have tons of memories of that area. After that I lived around Port Arthur for a while. I’m vaguely familiar with what you are talking about though. Unless you like eating mosquitos, it would be a bit hard to live off the land in that area.

        1. Port Arthur’s not exactly a mosquito free zone itself. I don’t get over there very often, but I’ve always enjoyed the area. I once knew a fellow who went to high school with Janis Joplin; he certainly had some stories to tell.

          1. When I lived there, the city had these turboprop airplanes that would fly low over the city spraying for mosquitos right at dawn. Was loud but I welcomed the sound.

  3. This is a beautiful piece. Though as I read it I thought about the families who decades ago depended on their gardens to survive and how they would struggle during years with little rain. I’m sure there are families today struggling too when the gardens can’t produce, the trees have no fruit. We who can afford to shop in air conditioned stores are so lucky. But then again, nothing like a home grown tomato.

    1. You’re absolutely right about those tomatoes. Fresh from the vine (or fresh from the tree) always is better. Even many of the expensive organic fruits and veggies can’t compare; I find it hard to buy a tomato in the store, no matter how pretty.

      Unfortunately, inflation is closing the gap between drought-stricken gardeners and grocery store patrons. Lessons my parents taught about economics, nutrition, and frugality has become increasingly relevant.

  4. Good morning Linda, This is such a relatable post. To hear that their wells were starting to run dry. Scary stuff! Felt like I was tagging along like a little mouse in your purse on this one. Loved every minute of it! DM

    1. One detail you’ll appreciate about the wells: in the rocky hill country, wells aren’t always as deep as they might be in your area, or they might be even deeper. They can range from 60′ in some parts of the state to 1,250′ — depending on a number of factors. My friend’s well’s a little shallower than some in the area because they chose to drill less deeply when putting it in. It’s one of those things that seems like a wise decision at the time, and then the law of unintended consequences shows up. A lot of us knew almost nothing about water rights and hydrology, but we’re learning.

    1. What will happen, ultimately? I have no idea. What I know with certainty is that life here is cyclic; the same friend who’s watching her garden shrivel now has spent days “watered in” on her ridge by unending rains and flooding.

      The dunes at one of my favorite Gulf beaches were scrubbed clean of vegetation by a hurricane in 2020; today, the grasses are back, the dunes are rebuilding, and flowers are blooming again. Looking farther back, the primary port of Texas, Indianola, was wiped out by a hurricane in 1875; they began rebuilding and were doing well until another hurricane removed them from the map in 1886, when Galveston took over as the primary Texas port. Then, of course, the Great Storm of 1900 took out Galveston.

      I know I’m more sanguine about some of these issues than many, but a combination of age, fifty years in Texas, and experience of flood, hurricane, drought, and freeze has taught me what even the earliest Texas settlers knew. What comes around, goes around, and the land will outlast us all.

  5. Canning and preserving fruits and vegetables appear to be things of the past, where people can buy them in our supermarkets. But what will they do, if the supply system breaks down, as we have seen in part during the Covid crisis? I hope your friend will soon have some rain.

    1. With my tongue just slightly in cheek, I’ll suggest that at least some people will learn how to — as my grandparents and parents said — “make do.” They’ll learn some new skills, and perhaps even learn how to live more cooperatively. Some might even learn that depending on the government to supply all of their needs isn’t necessarily a good thing; self-reliance and interdependence might come back into vogue.

  6. I wish I could send Texas some our rain. It’s raining right now and will be off and on all week. But instead of being annoyed I look at it with a more appreciative eye after reading this post. We take our abundance of water for granted up here in The Great Lakes.

    I’ve never tasted persimmons.

    1. I’m not a huge fan of persimmons, but I’ve only had our native variety, and I’ve been told that Asian varieties are sweeter and generally more palatable. With cherries, apples, peaches, plums, and various berries to choose from, I’ve just never expanded into persimmons.

      We’ve got another hot and dry week ahead of us, but of course that offers some advantages to us outdoor workers. I’d be pleased to get my current job finished up before any rain moves in. As the saying goes, when the rain flows, the cash doesn’t.

  7. Oh my how I enjoyed this, Linda. It hits a nerve especially for us farther west and I will share your document. Bountiful land and the ways of all who live upon it. Change is happening, and it’s hard going. Your piece reflects it all well.

    1. Thank you so much. Learning to live with the land as well as on the land is a lesson too many have yet to learn. Of course, having to think about food and water in ways other than choosing between Uber Eats and Door Dash may help to focus the attention of some. We’ll see. In the meantime, all my best to you. I have Jack’s new book on my reading list, and I’m looking forward to that creative peek into your part of the world.

    1. The Panhandle and Big Bend regions, as well as areas farther west, are suffering, too: I suspect even more than the hill country. It’s going to be a tough week, heatwise, and it really would be good if that heat could be broken with some storms. For now, there’s nothing for it but to brew some tea and seek shade when we can.

  8. My friend Patricia McCarthy recommended this blog to me. I grew up in Baytown, TX, not all that far from Shoreacres.

    1. I’m smiling, because not many people know the connection to Shoreacres, TX. In fact, when I began my blog and had to come up with a screen name, I chose ‘shoreacres’ because I loved both the ocean and the hill country, and decided the name could contain both. At the time, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of Shoreacres-the-community. It was quite a surprise when I came across it!

      I often take 146 north when I’m off to east Texas, or heading farther north to visit relatives. I think the Hartman Bridge rivals anything in the country, Golden Gate included. Thanks for stopping by — I’ll think of you the next time I pass through Baytown.

    1. Thank you, Becky. I was pleased with that ending myself. It reminded me of the farmers I grew up among, who now and then were forced to say, “Well, we’ll have to try again next year.”

  9. Reading this made the corners of my mouth lift high; my heart galloped. I sat up straighter. Thank you.

        1. Did you get some of the recent rain? Here in my part of League City, we received about .75″ – and every bit of it soaked in without runoff.

          1. Yes! It is still blessedly cool from that storm. Am just as thankful for your rain. I prayed no one complained lest the rain gods heard and thought us ungrateful. Be well.

    1. Thanks, Sheila! I’m afraid this won’t be the week for showers — we’re headed straight into hot, hot days as much as 36C. We’ll hope for some clouds, though!

  10. Linda, I imagine nobody appreciates rain more than those who don’t get enough of it. Here in the Midwest, we’re blessed at having several hot and dry days, followed by a nice thundershower to cool things off and start the cycle over again. Inconvenient? Only for those who refuse to acknowledge our dependence on food for living! Here’s hoping the parts of Texas that need rain can get some soon (and without the need for a hurricane to bring it!)

    1. That cycle you describe is very much our summer cycle, too: heat, thunderstorms, cooling, more heat. There’s nothing prettier to watch in the sky than the sight of cumulus clouds building, even if they don’t always bring rain. Of course, at this point we’re so dry there’s no a cloud in the forecast after this morning’s bits disappear. I guess it’s time to give the rain stick another twist or two!

  11. A very sweet post, just like the best, most ripe blackberries. I gave my SIL my blackberry vine, she has more sun than I do and she’s produced a little harvest this year. We’re dryer overall this year, but have had some rain recently. I just spent about 9 days in New Mexico. They’re suffering a severe drought and extreme fire conditions. Unfortunately, that awaits us as well, maybe not tomorrow, but in the future.

    1. I’ve read a bit about the fires in New Mexico, and the drought there. I trust you had a good time in spite of it. Of course, you’re in for a few days of heat, too. We hovered around 90 today, but we’re always a little cooler here at the coast. We’ve had a bit of rain — an inch or two, depending — but a few areas had even more.

      I thought of you today when I spotted some basket-flowers in a place where I’ve found them before. They still were in bud; I can’t quite figure out why yours always are earlier than ours. At least I spotted some!

  12. Yesterday it rained here, not a common event, but fortunately river water is available for the gardens. Since I arrived, A few weeks ago, it has rained more than in the past three years. The roads are impassable for my van if wet….A ploy to keep me here longer?
    Childhood memories of picking wild blackberries, even now in my travels I keep an eye out for them.
    As for the persimmon, recently we were given a bag of those gorgeous orange baubles. Superb!
    I lived through drought in the 1980’s, but it was the locusts that broke my heart and garden. They did leave the tomatoes though.

    1. What kind of roads do you have? Dirt, with a good bit of clay or laterite? I well remember what the rainy season could do to upcountry Liberian roads; they had some truly high quality (and deep) mud. The same friend I mentioned in this post lives atop a ridge, and when heavy rains come, she becomes what they call being ‘watered in.’ There’s no getting off the ridge until the water from the flash flooding recedes.

      Do you know why the locusts left the tomatoes alone? That seems a little mysterious to me. I suppose every creature has its particular tastes — like the caterpillars that ate the stamens from the flowers. I’m going to have to try one of our non-native persimmons; from what I’ve heard and read, they’re much sweeter.

      1. I believe tomato leaves are highly toxic, and the locusts were smart enough to know it.
        The roads are mostly dirt, that is, with no gravel base, so the mud can be very deep.

  13. The smell of rain on dry earth is a wondrous aroma, much like the smell of rain on alfalfa–sweet, pungent, earthy–Nature’s spices. This post is another dandy, especially your childhood memories of twinkling jars of berries/cherries in your mother’s pantry contrasted with your adult memories.

    All of us who have been caught in a Texas downpour can appreciate your wisdom in stopping a bit and waiting for a break. As you wrote, sometimes that break is very short.

    I did not know that pyracantha berries were NOT poisonous. Glad you are fact-checking these days.

    1. Your last comment made me grin. I always fact-check, at least to the best of my ability. Sometimes I get something wrong, but I’ve been lucky enough to have sharp readers who are comfortable pointing out the errors.

      A lot of people don’t realize that approaching rain has a fragrance as well as a sound. And, as you say, when it mixes with earth, the smell is nearly indescribable. You might remember one of the best ‘rain songs’ ever — it’s old, but perfectly descriptive.

  14. Most of the persimmons I’ve eaten have been the astringent sort. Not so blackberries, I’ve been picking them since I was 5 or 6, I love wild berries.
    I’ve never been one for canning. My vegetable garden has just enough tomatoes for salads through the summer. I have fond memories of my mother’s pickles and pickled beans, and even fonder ones of her fermented berry compote, heaven on ice cream.
    Thanks so much for your post! I’m thinking of the smell of rain on the earth.

    1. There’s something exceptionally satisfying about hand-picked fruit or veggies. It’s more than the flavor of naturally ripened produce; the act of picking is part of the pleasure. Whenever I come across a patch of nice dewberries, I can’t help having a few, still warm from the sun.

      Fresh tomatoes have been hard to come by down here, but I’m hoping to find a few, especially if we get some rain and cooler temperatures. I’d never waste a homegrown tomato in a salad — those are for sandwiches, whether BLTs or just plain tomatoes on homemade bread with mayo. Who says you can’t hold on to summer? Holding a sandwich like that does it for me.

    1. By the time we get our next nice, soaking rain, I suspect we’ll be feeling especially blessed. Hot and humid is the forecast: a little taste of August in June.

        1. A lot of those stories about an early storm season are overblown. People pick one computer model, predict ‘phantom storms’ 12 or 15 days out, and post their ‘findings’ to social media. The hurricane experts have a word of advice: ignore them.

          I did just notice something interesting. Today’s the 21st anniversary of the devastating Houston area flood event from the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison. In my area, we got 25 inches of rain. Feast or famine down here!

  15. Living our air-conditioned, central heated, full service supermarket lives, we forget how close to the land people still live. For all but the last hundred years or so of human history, a failure of rain could mean literal starvation for a whole population. We’ve gotten a taste of it with the supply chain issues and price gouging we’ve been experiencing, but there are still places where it’s all too real.

    1. You’re right about that. It’s easy to forget the parts of the globe that also are without rain, but out of sight, out of mind always applies. If it’s not on the news, it doesn’t count for most people, and if the media decide ‘this’ or ‘that’ isn’t important, it disappears. It’s not necessarily insensitivity on our part, it’s just an old, old phenomenon writ large. It was the same in my grandparents’ time. If it happened in their town, they knew about it. If it happened fifty miles down the road? Probably not.

  16. Oh, horrors! The thought of summer with no ‘maters! I could possibly get by without the various fruits and berries, the jams, jellies, cobblers, etc. It would be hard, and not the same as your home grown or wild harvest, but I could get by with what the grocer carries.

    But no Kitchen Sink Tomato sandwiches? (So messy, you have to lean over the kitchen sink to eat ’em.)

    I can picture all those folks just standing and watching the rain. I’ve seen my grandfather and other male relatives do the same. Farmers and backyard gardeners, all.

    It does smell good, doesn’t it?

    1. I’m with you on the Kitchen Sink sandwiches. I’m quite fond of BTs — the traditional BLT sans the lettuce — but a plain tomato sandwich will do just as well. A variety of circumstances have kept me from my picking farm so far this year, but I’m hoping to remedy that in the near future. Of course, our weather hasn’t exactly encouraged their growth.

      Sometimes I laugh at the weather forecasts that are produced around here. They’re clearly produced for commuters and office workers, rather than for people intimately involved with the water or the land. They almost never include wind speed conditions or projections, for example — critical for fishermen and varnishers! And for short-term forecasting? I’ll take those farmers and gardeners, every time: especially if they’ve been standing and watching for a few decades.

  17. I totally get how wonderful it is to watch the rain after a drought. We often go weeks, even months without these recent years and it always feels like a blessing when a good down pour arrives. Oh how I feel for your friend. You just can’t beat foraging, there are so many edibles out there.xxx

    1. Even minus a drought, a good rain is cause for celebration. It’s not really a surprise that rain figures in so many wonderful songs; some sad, some celebratory, many nostalgic. Autumn rain might be my favorite, especially when it combines with the earthy smell of autumn leaves. But we have a way to go before we get to that time again — a little summer rain first would be a good thing.

  18. I’m not a fan of any of nature’s disasters, but droughts are among the worst, I think. They drag on and on, and we have to watch everything slowly wither and die. And just think how much worse it was back when people had no ability to get food flown in from other, wetter, parts of the country! I’m so glad you got some much-needed rain, and I sincerely hope you get more.

    1. It’s true. I’ve always thought of droughts as slow-motion disasters. Tornadoes rip through, and tropical systems generally move on fairly quickly. Eventually it stops snowing, and even hailstorms move on, but those sneaky little droughts are so quiet they’re hardly noticed until everyone looks around and says, “Uh, oh.” Of course longer-term ones, like those in the west, insist on making their presence felt, but even a month without rain can make its reappearance a reason for celebration.

  19. What a lovely story, weaving in the history and the personal experiences. Very few blackberries this year as we moved our plants to a different area this year. I had enough to throw into some vanilla ice cream which was plenty enough to bide me until next year.

    1. I really prefer blueberries, so fewer blackberries isn’t a problem for me. But a lack of tomatoes? That’s a problem. Our favorite summer supper always was sweet corn, tomatoes, and potato salad, with fresh cherry or apple pie for dessert. Of course, my grandmother believed pie was an acceptable breakfast food, so apple pie with a couple of slices of sharp cheddar often was on the table!

    1. What kind comments, Tanya. I’m glad the piece appealed to you. I don’t think it’s any mistake that one of the most popular cooking magazines still extant is called A Taste of Home. Memories of growing, preserving, cooking, and sharing food in our early years resonate in a way that the fanciest meal in a high-class restaurant can’t hope to rival. We may enjoy those meals, but I suspect many of us don’t cherish them in the same way.

        1. There still are certain of my grandmother’s recipes I make every Christmas, just as I have to have pickled herring and oyster stew on Christmas eve. Can’t you hear Tevye singing, “Tradition!”?

  20. What a wonderful feeling is that generous downpour after a long season of drought. We do that here, too, stand there and watch it come down, inhaling deeply that new rain smell.

    1. The marine layer is one thing, but real rain is quite another. I can imagine your roses and such sighing with pleasure after rainfall; they surely long for it as much as we do.

  21. Beautiful post, Linda – no surprise, you always coax us along with a poetic narrative! I believe you, but I was always warned – and never questioned – that pyracantha was poisonous! Now I want to roll back the years and harvest buckets of berries and try them in cobblers and jellies and even juices! Wow.
    ‘Blackberry Rain’ sounds like a great title for a song..

    1. I’m not sure how pyracantha would do for cobblers and pies, since the berries have to be so heavily processed, but they certainly do well for jellies and syrups. I wonder, too, if there’s a difference in taste between the natives and various cultivars — but that’s a kind of exploration I’ll leave to others.

      It took me a while to tease it from memory, but finally I did. “Blackberry Rain” as a song title reminds me of “Kentucky Rain”. I still prefer the Eddie Rabbitt version to Elvis’s.

  22. Thanks for the exposure to these Texan fruits! I am sorry for this dry season. Things here are looking quite lovely although we have had winds strong enough to do some serious damage to trees. I loved the description of your family’s canning. I have strong memories of the cellar on our farm in the fall, full of canned goods. We still can tomatoes, peaches, dill pickles, beet pickles, and strawberry jam. I used to can sauerkraut but have taken to freezing it.

    1. I thought you must be having a good season when I read your Three Sisters poem; it sounded as though they were thriving, to say the least. When I think of canning, I think first of the pressure cookers. Their whistle was perhaps the shrillest sound I’ve ever heard. I was surprised by your mention of freezing sauerkraut. That’s a food I don’t favor, so finding a way to keep it isn’t high on my list, but freezing certainly sounds easier!

  23. This is a lovely post that makes me smile. Rain = next year’s blackberries. A balanced way to look at it. We had a persimmon tree on this property when we first moved here. It had fruit on it but we left it for the birds and squirrels. The tree eventually died, but it was interesting to watch.

    1. On your most recent post, I mentioned our Blue Bell creameries Southern Blackberry cobbler as one of my favorite ice cream flavors. They somehow managed to get the flavor of actual berries into it, along with bits of crisp cobbler-like topping — perfection in the summer.

      I’ve learned a good bit about which trees various birds favor. Mockingbirds adore figs, and squirrels like early pears. As my friend says, the trick is to grow enough for critters and people alike.

  24. I hope the berries and all the fruits come through for you this season. I know last year, the climate was rough on our Michigan cherries — and those are my favorites. And I saw very few strawberries. My grandparents sound much like yours, growing many things and canning them, making jam and such. Good reminders. You have fruits there I’ve never heard of!

    1. We had a good strawberry season — they’ve essentially come and gone, but of course we started picking in January/February. Now, there are blueberries, and we may get some peaches. It’s hard to say at this point: que sera, sera, applies!

      I tried to figure out what you hadn’t heard of, and decided that the agarita had to be one. People get confused when they hear us talking about making jelly or syrup from ‘tunas,’ too. Those aren’t fish; they’re the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.

  25. You have evoked fond memories of helping my Dad’s mother in northwest Florida and my Mother’s mother in southern Mississippi at canning time. Of course, since I was a youngster, my “help” was mostly performing “quality control”.

    Rain. We cuss when it makes us drive slower or makes it inconvenient to walk from the car to the store. When it stays away too long, we pray for it. When it arrives after those prayers, we are thankful.

    Now that you have said “blackberries” and “persimmons” out loud, I am compelled to go shopping.

    Biscuits. There will be biscuits.

    1. Quality control is a critical aspect of any production process. Without your help, who knows what the final product would have been like? Not everyone can stay focused through a peck of peaches or a crate of tomatoes!

      We’re not the only ones who delight in rain. Yesterday, I was hosing down a boat when some mallards showed up on the dock. I send a gentle spray in their direction, and you would have thought the heavens had opened. Such preening, drinking, and general feather-fluffing you’ve never seen. They were so clearly enjoying it, I had a hard time getting back to business.

    1. Thanks so much for your good wishes. The nice thing is that we have two garden seasons down here, and the arrival of some well-timed rain may mean abundant fall gardens. There’s nothing to do but wait and see.

  26. I hope you get the rain you need. It is a problem here some summers, but not to the same extent. We have lots of wild blackberries around and a cultivated one in the garden. The cultivated one has beautiful cut leaves and no thorns – not so much fruit yet. Maybe I need to keep it watered!

    1. The picking farm where I’ve gotten blackberries in the past grows three or four varieties, including one that’s thornless. They trellis them all, and it certainly does make picking easier. My personal taste test suggests the thornless are less flavorful than the others, but that could have as much to do with my taste buds as the fruit itself.

      They do keep their vines watered. They installed a nifty drip irrigation system that keeps the water where it belongs — on the plants, and not running down the gullies between the trellises.

      1. That may be true about the flavour -I haven’t been very impressed with ours yet but have found that other fruits do improve as the plant gets established.

  27. When we left Oregon at the beginning of April, Linda, we were convinced that Southern Oregon was facing another year of drought. May turned out to be one of the wettest in a long time, however. Once again the lakes are full and the salmon are heading up the rivers. Our black berries may even be back. Last year when our friend Tom came up to harvest black berries for his vodka liquor, we had to head down to the river to find any. There was closed to nothing on our bushes.
    And isn’t the smell of fresh rain always a delight! –Curt

    1. This week was the 21st anniversary of one of the worst floods Houston has experienced: Tropical Storm Allison. Despite never reaching hurricane status, she dumped over 20 inches of rain over a huge area, and more in places. The cycles are a part of life here, like tornadoes and hailstorms in Kansas.

      Here’s to some nice, well-behaved weather for us both. As we like to say down here, we need rain without a name.

      1. I like ‘we need rain without a name.” Sort of sums up global warming. Used to be, I could plan travels with a fair amount of accuracy in terms of weather. Any more, all bets are off.

  28. There’s so much drought happening out your way and elsewhere in the west. Locally we have stretches of little rain but then a few good showers and a downpour here and there so any talk of drought here is hyperbole… for now. Shame about your friend’s struggles with her fruit harvest.

    Many years ago I shared a co-op living arrangement with several folks in an old farmhouse. We did some gardening together but I was the only one willing to brave the blackberry thorns to harvest from the large bushes in the backyard. Making that jam filled the house with fruity scent and the jelly we made was better than any I have had since.

    1. At least our weather’s not boring. Thinking about it, I realized I’ve been through sixteen hurricanes and tropical storms since 1983. That’s roughly one every two and a half years. There were dozens and dozens of storms in the state during that period, of course, and it’s interesting to read through the list and note the number of reports that say, “The storm provided beneficial rains after a period of drought.” That’s just the way it is here, with the occasional freeze or Saharan dust storm to keep things interesting.

      I mentioned to someone else that the picking farm where I’ve gotten blackberries in the past has both thornless and thorny varieties. The thornless are easier to pick (although all are trellised), but the other varieties are tastier. Now I want a blackberry jam/cream cheese sandwich.

    1. Thanks, Michael. Just today, I visited one of my favorite picking farms, and the tomatoes and cucumbers were in, along with some squash. The peaches didn’t do well this year, but there’s always next — and the rain will show up eventually. Of that, I am sure.

    1. Some families argue politics. Some argue religion, and some argue over spending habits. In our family, there was an on-going argument over how to top the cobbler. Some favored ice cream, while others demanded whipped cream. Obviously, the answer had to be both: serve up the cobbler, hot out of that oven, and let people choose. Some chose both — even though that demanded two servings of cobbler!

  29. So glad you received that rain. Would that we would receive some here as I am rationed to watering very little. I remember in another state, in another time, picking a large bucket full of wild blackberries each season. Oh, and the cobbler Mom made — lusciously delicious. A dollop of vanilla ice cream on top sometimes for a change.

    1. After a quick glance at the headlines this morning, I couldn’t help a wry smile; Yellowstone National Park is temporarily closed because of too much rain. Clearly, nature doesn’t always operate by the wisdom that advises moderation in all things. We’re back to hot and dry now, but I have fresh tomatoes, picked just this weekend. Even though the peach trees and blackberries didn’t produce as usual, we’ll not starve — and there’s always blueberry cobbler.

    1. Climate change aside, it’s always been interesting to me how different the smells (and sounds) of summer are in different places. An Iowa summer smells different from a Texas coastal summer, and mountain air has a different fragrance than the sea-salt ‘flavor’ of the coast. It’s those differences that are part of the delight of the season.

      1. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. The summer smells at the SF Bay area, where we lived for years are immensely different than those here in New England. My favorite summer smell though may be at Lake Tahoe. HeavenScent (and Heaven Sent).

        1. I’ve only been to Tahoe once, but it was in winter. I’d love to experience it in summer. I lived in the SF Bay area myself for a few years, and you’re right that it has its own distinctive aroma. I think the summer fog is one reason.

          1. Oh, I swoon with the fog. I’m not a snow/winter person, so my favorite time in Tahoe is in the summer, hiking and rafting down the Truckee River (well, I did in those years when there was no drought!)

  30. Glorious ending!

    And I am SO interested about the pyracantha, it being one of those rare plants I’ve known about since I was a child, and the branches full of berries hung outside my bedroom window, shading it thickly. When the birds were feasting, they did indeed get drunk and frequently crash against the window.

    Nowadays, there are pyracantha bushes down by the creek where I walk. They back up to residential back yards and probably get some indirect irrigation from them even in dry seasons and years. From now on I will keep in mind the potential food source as I walk that way.

    1. At last! The weekend, and time to catch up. One caution about the pyracantha. If you gather some for your own consumption, be sure to wash it very well, or gather it away from peoples’ yards. Pesticide and other chemical contamination — like fertilizers — can be problematic. I had to watch that when I was gathering fresh dandelions for the pet squirrel. Those from most yards were chemical laden. I looked for them in areas that clearly hadn’t been tended.

      But they’re worth the trouble, if you’re given to such things as jelly making. Beyond that, I always feel a bit like Martha Stewart when I find some for table decorations in the fall.

  31. I don’t know why, but this post brought tears to my eyes. So many people dependent on the “whim” of Mother Nature… I didn’t know about possums & raccoons and persimmons! My aunt makes a wonderful persimmon “pudding” each Thanksgiving – now I’m already looking forward to it!

    1. I found this to be an emotionally moving piece to write, too, and not only because I happened to include one of my best friends. Whatever the reason, my response and your comment brought to mind that famous line from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader; no surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Maybe you can surprise your aunt with the possum/raccoon/persimmon connection this Thanksgiving.

  32. Rain is so needed in CA these days! We are in severe drought and everything is dry and sparse.
    So glad to hear you guys got some rain. Writing is beautiful as always and enjoyed the pictures of the fruits along with the writing. Never made jam but applaud people who do this. It’s a beautiful part of nature.

    1. Despite falling behind in my commenting, the delay means I can report — rain! Granted, my area received only .01″ last night over a period of five minutes, but rain is rain. Other areas got as much as an inch or two, and more is predicted for the rest of the week. We’ll see.

      Whenever I have a good jam, I always think of the fancy sandwiches my mother made for her bridge club. We’d cut them into fancy shapes, and then add a spread. Cream cheese and jam was my favorite.

      1. Rain is rain, in any amount!! I hope there’s more rain in the forecast for you soon.
        I’ve never had cream cheese and jam sandwich but I love a good pb&j. That was my staple food in graduate school,

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