Time cools, time clarifies; no mood can be maintained
quite unaltered through the course of hours.
Picking blackberries was not one of my favorite jobs. Why? It was in hot weather, often in a thicket of bushes with a growth of grass and weeds so thick you could not see what was underfoot. Many patches in the woods were known to be dangerous because of rattlesnakes, hornets and bees.
After a hearty breakfast, we loaded a five gallon cream can, three 3-gallon buckets and a gallon molasses pail with a handle to be tied to a leather belt around our waist. Both hands were free to pick with little exertion. We wore sunbonnets or straw hats and a man’s long sleeved shirt over our arms to protect us from being scratched and bitten by insects.
Martha, Agnes and I hitched old Tybe, a brown draft horse, to a single buggy, loaded the utensils and lunch with a gallon glass jug of water with a corncob for a stopper.
Tybe didn’t like this berry picking trip any better than we did, as he had an unwilling disposition especially when hitched to this single buggy with a woman driving. He often turned so short in the middle of a hill that he almost upset the buggy. No tugging at the lines to keep him on the road did one bit of good — he turned around and started home.
Martha hopped over the wheel, caught his bit and turned him back on the trail. This venture might happen two or three times before we got to the berry patch.
We knew why. He was tied under a shade tree, awaiting our many returns with berries until the cream can and buckets were filled. Flies and mosquitoes, or bott bees often kept his head in steady motion to ward them off. He whinnied each time we returned. I’m sure he was saying, “Let’s go home.”
There was no SureJell then so we picked a few green berries in a special pail to supply the pectin needed to make this stiff, glossy jelly.
We knew it was noon by the sun being directly overhead. We tried to get home for dinner. We were tired, hot and happy to feel the breeze as Tybe galloped all the way home.
My mother had all the quart, pint and jelly glasses washed and in the copper wash boiler ready to preserve the berries. Sauce was made first with a syrup of 2 cups of water, 1 cup sugar boiled, about ten minutes “open kettle” method. Each jar was sealed with a jar ring and a Mason jar lid. How pretty the jars looked with the berries floating in this deep red juice. The berries were served in a small dish with homemade bread as a dessert after a meal or for a treat after an evening visit with neighbors.
The jelly-bag was waiting to strain the juice as it hung from a stand draining into a large dishpan. The juice was boiled about ten minutes, equal parts sugar and juice. It continued to boil until two tablespoons tried in a saucer shows signs of congealing. Jelly glasses were filled with 1/8 inch of paraffin added to seal the jelly. Jars without lids were sealed with brown heavy paper pasted with a beaten egg white. It always worked but must be put where mice could not damage it.
The summer kitchen was the scene of this canning. The ceiling was low and the old Windsor (Montgomery Ward) range fired full blast served as a very warm place to preserve such goodies.
The larder in the cellar often had more than one hundred quarts of blackberries. A tasty cobbler was often made with a generous amount of berries on cold winter days.
We never complained but awaited the next berry picking as a way to have extra treats. We had no worry of sprays that would be poisonous. Without refrigeration, we preserved foods that made our lives healthy and happy.
How great it would be to have one more day of picking blackberries, then counting the jars as we shelved them in our cellar. Calories were not counted so the one hundred pound sack of sugar was used freely.
The City Saturday market has berries, but we could hardly estimate on our computer what that buggy load of berries and the one hundred pounds of sugar would cost — it was nature’s gift to us.
The Grand Opera House