Wild thing! You make my heart sing!

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.

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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.

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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!

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Comments

Wild thing! You make my heart sing! — 20 Comments

  1. I have never had Blackberry Dumplings but I am eager to see your recipe when you find it. A Native staple around here at tribal gatherings is grape dumplings and it’s one of my favorite desserts. I’m not sure how it came to be such a traditional dish since grapes aren’t exactly a native grown food source here but I suspect it began as a huckleberry or blackberry dumpling recipe and merged into a grape dumpling recipe when the commodity program was introduced and grape juice was more readily available than the fruits.

    • Tara, I’ve made them before, but there are a couple different ways. One is from scratch, of course, and the other uses Jiffy Quick Biscuit Mix. I am going to stick with an original, native recipe, though, from my mother-in-law. You’ve mentioned the grape dumplings before, and I’m sure you’re right about commodities replacing the berries, sadly. Maybe I’ll do some research and learn more about the history of your dumplings along the way. But I suspect you hit the nail on the head!

      • Perhaps it was muscadine grapes. I bet I spelled that wrong! My sons fence line is covered with those things and they sit there and rot. He doesn’t care for them and we don’t use jams & jellies enough to can them.

        I love dewberry/blackberry dumplings. Mom makes them with flour tortillas. Yummy!! I have several pints already in the freezer too.

        • Oh, I love muscadine jelly. LilSis and I made some when we evacuated up there for the hurricanes in 2008. If you look up that story, you’ll see photos of the grapes, and that will confirm to you whether or not what’s on your son’s fence are muscadines!!! If you don’t eat much jelly, then it surely would be a lot of work for nothing!!!

          • They are definitely muscadines. The fence row is about 400′ long too. He also has wild plums (makes the best jelly), berries, polk salad and a lot of chiggers! They live in the country about 10 miles from town.

  2. I have always liked dewberries better than the regular blackberries. On the north shore their numbers didn’t seem to be as common as the regular blackberries – which were everywhere. Hopefully there will be some berries left when I get there!

    • Kim, I can’t say that I’ve ever actually seen wild blackberries. If any came close, it was this patch that I found late last week. That one large berry was the exception, as most of them were small like dewberries. And the vines ran along the ground. Someone recently gave me a pot with a berry plant in it with the flowered stalks sticking straight up. I hope the flowers turn into fruit and I get to harvest some blackberries later in the spring! I hope you get to find some berries when you get down here. Let me know when that it, okay?

  3. I didn’t grow up with dewberries – we had blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries and mulberries. Farther north, there were blueberries in Minnesota, and some really exotic varieties like elderberries. Our blackberries were huge, in a good year – as much as an inch long.

    Cobblers and pies were our favorites – and the preserves. I’ve never heard of fruit dumplings – I’m really curious about that. Of course, our dumplings bore absolutely no resemblance to what they call “dumplings” here in Texas. I don’t call something that’s flat and cut into squares anything but a noodle! REAL dumplings are light and fluffy and dropped into a hot, bubbling liquid. I’m talking myself into some right now….

    • Yes ma’am–REAL dumplings are light and fluffy and dropped into a hot, bubbling liquid!!! That’s what I’m talking about! I just hope mine turn out light and fluffy for the blog post! In the past, I’ve used a sauce pan, but this time I’m going to do things just a little differently. We shall see . . . .

      • I guess I didn’t realize Linda was from Minnesota. She seems to be such a traveler to me, that I’ve forgotten where she’s really from! Regardless, she’s another great lady you would get along grandly with!

    • Ooh, doesn’t that just burn you up? The Captain mowed over my Narcissus and Snow Bells before they could bloom this year. AND he tore up the riding mower AGAIN, so he’s banned from mowing grass any more. Never again. Over the 16 years that we’ve lived here he’s mowed down four coral honeysuckle, four thornless blackberry bushes, a patch of purple coneflowers, a patch of spider lilies, and only God knows what else. So, I understand your frustration.

      • It is a conspiracy by the men to make us do the mowing!! I have lost more plants to the mower than I could ever remember and I wasn’t pushing the mower at the time. He even mowed down the hydrangea we brought here after his mother passed. I mow around the flower beds now while he sits on the porch and sips a soda.

  4. I checked a piece of the fence row in Ms. last week and found very few this year and they weren’t ripe yet. We’re planning to go back on Mon. and I will have a bucket handy. I’ve never had the Dumplings, but I love my Cobbler warm with a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream.

  5. Cultivating my neighbors muscadine vines over my fence… 🙂 They’re coming along nicely!! I was thinking of making wine…
    Guess I’d have to hide it from the revenuers, dry county. 🙂

  6. I pick black raspberries in Michigan in early july but the other ones that look like dewberries riped 2 or 3 weeks later

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