The best blackberries I ever had came from the woods of my Grandma Edith’s farm.
And today, at Brentwood’s Whole Foods Market, I found some picked just miles from there. I was surprised to see them, the little blackberries from tiny Vandalia, Illinois, next to the monstrous ripe organic offerings from Driscoll’s California fields.
And even more shocked at the price–$3.99 for a half-pint. But I had to have them.
I’d been feeling nostalgic, a bit like a soft-shelled crab, all day. Fitting for the day in which Jupiter in Cancer hit the zodiac point making the summer’s Grand Trine in Water exact once again. Cancer is the sign of home, mother, ancestors and nostalgia. Jupiter expands. I was at the mercy of those blackberries.
My Grandma Edith never bought a blackberry in her life. She gathered wild blackberries by the buckets full. She ranged over the farm’s steep hillsides and through dense underbrush. She wore a long-sleeved shirt against the blackberry brambles, picking early in the morning to avoid the worst heat of blackberry season.
I sometimes picked with her, panting a little from the climb and the heat. We were walking hills so steep I wouldn’t have put my pony up or down them. But that was the only way to get the sweet, juicy wild blackberries. She didn’t plant them in her garden. Why waste garden space on something that nature so abundantly provided?
Nature has been providing blackberries for millenia. The seeds were found in the stomach of a Neolithic man dug up in Essex. I doubt he was the first to eat them. The blackberry seems to be native in one form or another to most temperate zones in Europe, North and South America, and Asia. The plant is so successful it’s even considered a noxious weed in areas of New Zealand and North America’s Pacific Northwest. My sister has a landscaping business in Seattle. Battles to free yards from thickets of blackberry vines have ruined her appreciation for the berries themselves.
Which is sad, because she loved the blackberry dumplings my grandmother would make. Back at the house after picking, berries that had not traveled immediately from vine to hungry mouths were washed clean. Some were frozen in pie-sized batches. Others went into blackberry dumplings. I haven’t had those since we lost access to the abundant hillsides of blackberries when the farm was sold. Dumplings take a quart or more of blackberries—and at current market prices, that would be an expensive dessert.
And most blackberries I’ve bought in the past few years are expensive disappointments. Even the ones I buy at farmer’s markets usually are a variety bred for impressive size, not flavor. They’re often picked before they hit their peak of sweetness. Small, sweet, wild blackberries are a rarity.
I do not know if these I bought today were picked wild or garden grown. But I do recognize the flavor. These are the sweet blackberries of my childhood. These are to be eaten individually, savored. If I were to mix them with a dash of milk, they’d be a perfect offering to Brigid. Blackberries are sacred to her. They also are beloved by the fey, and my household fey would likely be angry not to get some of these summer wonders. Cerridwen, too, claims the blackberry, but I think a dark, sweet blackberry wine would be a better offering for Her. As the seed-filled berry is obviously feminine, I think any Goddess would be pleased to be offered it.
Some sources say the Ogham rune Muin, or vine, should be bramble, and the blackberry would be the bramble to which it refers. Muin is a rune of prophecy and inspiration. It also has uses invoking fertility, regeneration, expansion and continuation. I think it would be appropriate to use in a blackberry ritual or spellwork. For extra punch, it could be written (along with any other magical intentions) in blackberry ink.
Expansion would key right in with the Jupiter energy of the moment. However, the plant itself is considered Venusian by planetary energy. The berry can be used in spell craft for abundance, attraction, love, sexuality and prosperity.
Who knows—perhaps the blackberries blessed Grandma Edith with those qualities over the long years she spent loving them. She was widowed young, but her thrifty husband left her with enough money to support her comfortably. She kept her hair black, her clothes stylish, and her laugh ready. She had plenty of suitors, and broke up with more than one country gentleman because he had the audacity to expect her to save all her dances for him. No one told her who she could and couldn’t dance with, she said. When she was 72, she settled down for the second time. With a 56-year-old truck driver.
And yes, he loved her blackberry dumplings.
Sadly, my Grandma Edith did not leave her blackberry dumpling recipe. I doubt she had one. Her basic instructions were something like this:
Fill a big pot with blackberries, halfway up. Add enough water to cover them, and as much sugar as you like. Keep an eye on them, and add more water if you need to. While you wait for them to boil, make the dumplings on the Bisquick box. Let the berries come to a good boil, or the dumplings will fall apart. Drop the dough in by spoonfuls. Wait til the dumplings bubble to the top for a while. Pull one out and cut it open to see if they’re done.
This recipe from Food.com is adapted from an old Kentucky one, and likely comes close to replicating the taste I remember.