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Dewberry time on the ranch

Rebecca Bearden dewberries-Alabama-rebecca-bearden-ranch-1-a.jpg
The ones on our ranch were left “wild” for the sole purpose of dewberry cultivation.

Kentucky Derby weekend has long been a seasonal marker in our family, and while “betting” on our favorite horse (halfway through the race never counted, Sis) and watching commercials geared toward investment bankers never ceased to entertain, the real reason we loved Derby Day weekend was the arrival of the dewberries.

Related to the blackberry, this much sweeter species demanded our full attention each May. Though some of you might enjoy well-groomed fencerows, the ones on our ranch were left “wild” for the sole purpose of dewberry cultivation. OK, so maybe that’s a stretch, but at least it was a valid excuse to avoid more bush-hogging.

That wild, sweet, grainy, sun-kissed goodness had to be worth it, especially considering the cuts your hands endured to pick them. If the prickles on those red vines weren’t enough to deter you, the rusty barbed wire might, or better yet the fire ants that always seemed to set up shop near the most fruitful clusters.

Even still, on a good year, I could pick and eat my weight in dewberries. The goal was to pluck enough to bring back and share with Mama. A cobbler was always in the future.

Naturally, Daddy found the ripe ones first. After filling his torn, button-down Oxford shirt pockets full, he would then default to whatever vessel might be full of fence staples or clips. Those were usually dumped somewhere that you forgot about anyway so having them full of dewberries was a significant promotion. They were also slightly cleaner than the 5-gallon buckets that may or may not have contained diesel fluid or tractor oil at one point in their lives.


Credit: Rebecca Bearden

Of course, we weren’t the only consumers that enjoyed the spring feast. Beating the birds to the good spots was a constant battle. Tough decisions had to be made when determining the source of those white specks on the biggest, juiciest ones.

Any livestock bold enough to endure the scraped noses were also competition. One year, our feeder steer Chuck nearly cleaned up the entire front trap. Our blue heeler Bella still holds the title as the furriest berry picker on the place.

Knowing which ones to keep and which ones to leave comes with experience. Though you may risk an almost ripe one to herbivory, the cost of chomping down on a sour one will set you back a minute. Likewise with the sundried ones that feature a flavor akin to grocery store Merlot.


Credit: Rebecca Bearden

It only took one to convince my nephew JB that they were worth the effort. The obligatory ant bites might have generated a few tears last spring but having a face dripping in red dewberry juice is a rite of passage that he now refuses to miss.

Yesterday my neighbor and her little girl pulled up beside me after I’d hopped out to open the front gate, SUV door wide open, majorly distracted by the few ripe ones that were starting to turn.

“We’ve been watching and waiting for them to be ready,” she said as I handed her the small result of my post-work pick.

Her little girl jumped into the front seat smiling. “Berries!” she squealed.

“Looks like we’ll be picking our way home,” her mom laughed.

I eyeballed the fence line. “A cobbler is coming.”

TAGS: Livestock Beef
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