Picking dewberries is a wonderful warm-day pastime. When I was young, my friends and I would march out to the wilder parts of my suburban Houston neighborhood—such as the bayou, vacant lots or the rough patch next to the golf course—and brave water moccasins, thorns and poison ivy to score some of these black orbs, warm from the sun and ready to pop in your mouth.
Usually, we’d eat them straight from the bush, smearing our t-shirts and shorts with the dark, sticky juice. But sometimes we’d be more organized and bring a container so we could pick them and then take them home to our parents so they could make dewberry cobbler for dessert.
Spending plenty of time on a farm, I know that when you venture into a bramble you need to wear strong boots filled with sulfur to keep those chiggers at bay. But what was cool at the farm was not cool in Houston, and so we’d usually be wearing at best tennis shoes and at worst flip flops as we made our way through the berry patch. Needless to say, you can get scuffed up something ugly after a bout of picking dewberries if you’re not properly clothed. But no matter—the joy of finding food in the wild mitigated any cosmetic damage done to our legs.
Between my mom’s organic garden in the backyard and my family’s farms, I had plenty of experience with food coming out of the ground. But there was something special about dewberries. Perhaps it was because we suffered greatly to get to them. Or perhaps it was because there were never any grown-ups involved in our foraging adventures. Or perhaps it was just because this wild food tasted so darn good.
Some argue that blackberries and dewberries are one and the same. I don’t know the answer to this. And sadly, I haven’t seen dewberries growing in any New York City vacant lots or in Central Park (though if there are dewberries here, please let me know!) so I can’t do an immediate taste comparison. But we do have blackberries and they are a decent substitute for dewberries.
I like to make a cobbler with my berries, though they could also be made into jam, juice or tarts. What do you make with yours?
And don’t get me wrong—a blackberry cobbler is nothing to sniff at. But I know that it would taste even better if I had made it with berries I had picked myself, berries still glistening with the morning’s mist that gives the berry its proper name—dewberry.
4 cups dewberries or blackberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 stick of butter
1 cup of flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup of buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Place the rinsed berries in a large cast-iron skillet or 9-inch round cake pan, and toss the berries with the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon juice. Let them macerate for 20 minutes.
To make the crust, melt the butter on low in a pan, and then stir in the flour, sugar, baking powder, buttermilk, and salt. The dough will be slightly sticky, moist yet pliable.
Pat out the dough and place it over the berries.
Bake 40 minutes or until light brown and bubbling.
Yield: 6-8 servings