Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 13, 2014

It is berry picking time

— — As I reached through the bushes to snag a ripe berry, a thorn scratched my arm. I didn’t pull back until I reached the dark, purple berry, standing out among the rest, begging to be picked by an eager hand. I eagerly popped it in my mouth, while scanning the bush for more of the dark, ripe jewels of summer.

It is berry-picking time in two Virginias. I couldn’t be happier. There is nothing like walking down a wooden path and discovering a patch of blackberries or raspberries. To me, it is the ultimate summer treasure hunt during the month of July. I have been waiting for weeks for the berries to ripen, to turn from a bright red to a shiny dark purple. I have a few secret berry locations, ones I return to year after year. But this summer, I have found new spots, often while running or enjoying a summer walk with my husband. The only problem is you can’t put berries in your pocket or create a bowl with a fitted tank top. The only solution is to eat the berries and then return with a bucket or bowl. With hope, returning before the birds or another eager berry picker finds your treasure.

But no spot can ever beat the one near my childhood home in Glenwood. Every  July we would grab a bowl in the kitchen and walk to the backyard. Through the fence, there were huge blackberry bushes, full of ripe berries. Together, as a family, we filled up the bowl, reaching through the thorns. By the time the last berry dropped in the bowl, my arms were scratched and my fingers were stained from the juice.

In the kitchen, we would rinse a few and then cover them in pure white sugar. Later, maybe after dinner, Mom or Dad would put a few blackberries on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream. But Mom’s specialty, one she learned from her grandmother, was a dessert called Idiot Pie. Of course, some call the recipe a cobbler. However, my great-grandmother said the three-ingredient dessert was so simple even an idiot could make it in the kitchen. Mom made it throughout the year, using canned cherries or peaches in the fall and winter. But during the summer, she would use fresh blackberries. The tart berries, buttery crust and of course, that vanilla ice cream was my favorite treat during the summer.

Blackberries were all that grew near the house in Glenwood, except for a few wild strawberries at the bottom of the hill. I had never picked blueberries until last summer at Blueberry Hill in Flat Top. It was my first experience at a farm with rows and rows of berries, all waiting to be picked by locals. It is amazing how different a fresh blueberry tastes compared to the ones bought at a grocery store. Last week, we took a quick evening trip back to the hill. Pick a few, eat a few — that’s how it usually goes when one picks berries. I don’t know anybody who can’t resist the temptation. We picked until we felt the storm, including a few drops of rain, on the hill. I guess we ended up with a few pounds. I plan to freeze some of the blueberries so I can enjoy them in the fall and winter.

 I was discussing my favorite berry recipes, with plans to make my family’s traditional Idiot Pie, with my husband. To my surprise, the man likes to eat berries plain — no sugar, no yogurt and no ice cream. Each their own, I suppose. I am just glad he likes to hunt and pick berries. I dream about planting blackberry and blueberry bushes in my backyard one day. But until then, I will enjoy hunting and discovering berries tucked away in the mountains of my hometown. It is a fun adventure as long as a snake or a swarm of bees don’t interrupt the berry party.

Jamie Null is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at jnull@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @BDTParsell.

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