If piles of bright orange boiled crawfish aren’t indication enough of the arrival of spring down the bayou, then just open up your eyes and take a look around. The signs are everywhere.
Like along fences where dewberries are ripening earlier than they have in several years. Since we didn’t have much of a winter here, it didn’t surprise me when I recently found enough dewberries ready to pick for a lip smacking dish of dewberry cobbler.
The debate continues as to whether these are really blackberries or dewberries. This particular patch are growing wild, spreading out over an old home site. An easy way to determine that these are wild dewberries is the fact that the vines run along the ground and do not stand upright like the more cultivated blackberry. Of course, there are hundreds of types of blackberries, and the wild dewberry is considered one type. According to one botanical site, a dewberry can be called a wild blackberry, but a true blackberry cannot be called a dewberry. Well, maybe it takes a botanist to understand that one, but looking at the difference will help us sort it out.
One difference, readily observed, is that dewberries ripen to a deep, dark purple color, while blackberries almost appear to be black when ripe. Another obvious difference is in the number and size of the of the drupelets. Drupelets are the little tiny berries, multiples of which make up one edible “berry”. The photo above displays a dewberry about as big as you will find. Blackberries, on the other hand, are often much larger with many more drupelets.
The last way to determine if those multi-colored gems on stems are dewberries is in the taste. Dewberries are often more tart than blackberries, and they are a little bit tougher, too. And chances are, if you come across these beauties in the spring, they are indeed genuine dewberries, as blackberries ripen in late spring or early summer.
No matter what the name, these vine-dwelling sumptuous gifts of Nature abound on the bayou, and can be put to use in any kitchen—bayou or urban. Cobbler is just one way bayou cooks use them. The more old fashioned bayou cooks make something called “Blackberry Dumplings” with their wild gathering. Another way my family enjoys them is preserved. Hopefully this year our pantry shelves will once again be graced with the rich, dark pink color of this delicious preserve.
Whether you live down the bayou or in a subdivision, if you live in the south, you should be able to find these berry vines stretching out over any kind of field, ditch, or along a fence line. Grab yourself a plastic ice cream bucket and a partner and head out on a berry-picking adventure. Be sure and wear long sleeves to keep the vines from pricking your arms, wear closed-toe shoes for obvious reasons, and a hat to block the sun. Lastly, and most importantly, bring a big stick, shovel, or hoe to scare away snakes and other critters as you go. Now, you go pick berries while I gather the best Blackberry Dumpling recipe I can find!
Happy berry picking!