Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blackberry Cobbler

Where I grew up in Tennessee, wild blackberries grew in abundance. They were plumpest and juiciest in late July and August, fully ripened with the heat and the humidity. My parents, siblings and I would hike down the long lane from our little house and climb a gate into Mr. Spann's field. There in a hollow shaded by trees, the blackberry bushes formed a beautiful tangle of leaves, berries and thorns. For our equipment we had milk jugs with the tops cut off and our own two hands.

My sister Vinca was an expert at not getting pricked with the thorns. Annie and I kept up a chorus of "ouch!" the whole time. My berry-picking form was not the best in other ways, too, for I would obsessively pluck practically all the berries from a bush, no matter their size or degree of ripeness. When Dad glanced my way, he'd say, "Whoa, Hoo-doo! Leave some for the birds."

He should have added, "And some for the pail!" because many berries got eaten before they landed in our humble milk-jug pails, our fingers and mouth stained purple with the evidence. Those that made it home were destined for mom's blackberry cobbler.

To this day I have yet to find anything that could compare with my mom's blackberry cobbler. It was the culinary equivalent of heaven, but the preparation, at least to us kids, was brutal. We had to take turns stirring the blackberry, sugar and cornstarch mixture over the hot stove until it had practically formed a jam. Mom would come in to inspect every few minutes, and we'd lift the spoon wearily from the bubbling mixture for her to see, and then she'd shake her head tersely.

When she finally decided it was ready, the mixture was poured into the cobbler pan (a pan with a slightly rounded bottom that was so large we kids used it to go sledding on the rare occasion we got snow). After what seemed like an eternity, it emerged from the oven, steaming from beneath its thick golden layer of homemade pastry. We always ate the first slice warm-very warm, cooled only enough to prevent the burning of our mouths with its delicious purple filling. The taste and smell of it is something I can still conjure up in my mind and something, too, which will always embody the bountiful summers of my childhood.

I won't have that cobbler again, I imagine, but it is still my favorite dish in the world. I don't have my mom's talent with pastry dough and, sadly, I never attempted to learn it growing up. And the last time I had wild blackberries was the final summer I spent with my parents in Tennessee. My siblings had all journeyed away from our home, and it was just my dad and me braving the humidity and thorns to pluck memories from the blackberry bush.

But here's my wish for you, my friends, wherever you may be: I hope you are lucky enough to find or make for yourself your own perfect piece of berry cobbler.

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