April 15, 2014 | by Mark McDonald
Dewberries: Mother Nature’s Gift of Spring

With apologies to the harp players at CBS Sports, the Masters is not a “tradition like no other,” as the TV voice claims. Instead, it is the March and April flowering of scruffy vines growing close to the ground.

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Ripe dewberries taste just grand when baked in a cobbler, sprinkled on ice cream — or eaten fresh off the vine.

From these sticker-stacks come small white blossoms, followed by small green berries which grow red then ripen to a deep purple. This, friends, you will recognize as … I savor just writing the word … the dewberry.

For those of you blessed to have grown up in the South, especially in the southern half of Texas where it actually rains, the dewberry is a first kiss, a delicious promise that can mean great things to come.

The annual emergence of this wild berry signals the start of baseball season … family picnics … catching bluegills on a cane pole. The dewberry means Easter egg hunts, soon followed by the end of school … sunburn … lotion on skeeters … cold watermelon.

For some kids, the ones who never quite grow up, picking these little jewels is a timeless movie, shot in black and white for emphasis, to be viewed in slow motion. Wealthy is the man or woman who has venison in the freezer and a bowl of dewberries in the fridge. Having air in both your bicycle tires is nice, too.

So go ahead, you’ve got time. Treat yourself to a dewberry. It’s on the house. Mother Nature’s house.

Reach down and pluck one. Pop it in your mouth.

What follows is a full-on frontal assault of the taste buds. Dewberries taste better than a pay raise.

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Green gives way to red, to dark blue, then to purple. Heaven can wait — but not long.

Thing is, it has been proven through generations of intense research that no human can eat just one. Once you get started, it’s like Congress spending your money. There’s no stopping it.

Dewberries make a delightful topping for vanilla ice cream, or baked in a cobbler. The more diligent kitchen patrollers use the fruit to make a jam that will make your mouth pucker, and your heart sing.

Largest wild berries I ever saw grew totally ignored in the strangest place, clinging to the side of my late grandfather’s rickety wooden garage in Oakland, Calif. The vines responded to the partial shade and mild climate with purple globes nearly the size of ping-pong balls. For a wide-eyed 10-year-old this manna from heaven was a startling revelation.

In Harris County outside of Houston, Tommy Evans and other neighborhood buddies and I used to park our bikes and spend hours digging through scratchy brambles, ever watchful for the hidden jaws of hairy tarantulas and poisonous fangs of slithering copperheads. Two places we didn’t go barefooted — the dewberry patch and church.

For us kids, this break from playing Whiffle ball and kick-the-can was a rite of spring, a joyful trade-off, our young epidermis in exchange for a bag full of dewberries. It took dozens of dewberries just to glorify a bowl of Cheerios, whole milk, of course.

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These dewberry vines, growing wild in a pasture in Williamson County, Texas, just outside Austin, are 2-3 weeks from their full glory.

Ironically, the plump berries growing on my grandfolks’ garage wall were something a mirage. Gorgeous and almost devoid of seeds, those berries didn’t taste near as good as the tart explosions of flavor from my Texas home. All that glitters is not gold?

Maybe Mother Nature was teaching a life lesson. It just took this kid decades to learn it. Slow study, it seems.

 

 

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