Thanks for the memories, blackberries


BlackberriesI WAS inspired by my mother to plant cultivated blackberries. They may be her favorite food. For sure they are her favorite fruit.


In 1964, I won first place in a 4–H milk-cow-judging contest. I competed against 180-some 4–Hers, 13 to 18 years old, from all over the state of Virginia. The first prize was a 1-gallon aluminum calf-feeding bucket.


It also happened to be the ideal bucket for picking blackberries, because the handle could be easily looped on the inside of my belt in such a way that both hands were free to pick blackberries. When filled or almost full, it was not too heavy and cumbersome.


There was one prime wild blackberry picking area on my dad’s farm and another on an additional 100 acres adjoining us that he used for “free grazing” in exchange for cleaning up the property. This property looped around our farm from the RF&P Railroad to the National Battlefield Park along Lee Drive.


The part that the RF&P (CSX today) owned had been a racetrack for horses. It had numerous outhouses upon it. My dad moved the best three outhouses onto our property and made chicken houses out of them for me. The racetrack area today would be located between M&M Auto and State Route 3 in the Fredericksburg Industrial Park. The prime blackberry picking spot was located in a low-lying area where the City Shop is now located across Tyler Street to the Rappahannock Roofing area.


That particular area was known as “the Buckner place.” The Buckners had lived on a hill (currently the Julian Bly location) overlooking the meadow where the blackberries grew. Back then, the house was dilapidated but still standing. The only evidence now that a house was ever there is the wisteria (that at one time grew in the Buckners’ yard) that grows wild along Belman Road.


The prime wild blackberry-picking area on my dad’s farm was the “new land field.” We now call it the “lower meadow.” It was a 5-acre piece of land that he cleared between milkings and planted into pasture the winter after I was born. I always figured he would rather be pulling stumps and clearing brush than listening to a newborn cry.


When bushhogging the pastures, once a year, he would drive it around the blackberries because it would help promote their growth. After a few years, there were half a dozen “islands” of wild blackberries in each field. They naturally grew and proliferated in spots in the field that suited them the best.


This made excellent habitat for rabbits, quail, songbirds and wild bees. These “islands” offered breeding grounds and sanctuary from predators. The open meadow area offered clover and grass for animals and wildflowers for bees.


The islands also came in handy during the winter. There were many blizzards back in the 1960s. The milk cows got fed in the milk barn and in the tramp shed out of the weather. However, the replacement heifers only had a lean-to available to them to be out of the weather. My dad and I hauled hay out to pastures using a hay wagon and an International Super M tractor. The only thing visible during and after an 18-inch snowstorm would be these islands. The heifers would be standing on these islands and I would throw pitchforks full of hay to them as my dad drove the tractor by.


Blackberries are biennial and this “rough treatment” during harsh winters acted as a natural way of pruning and thinning. The best crop of large wild blackberries were after a harsh winter.


My goal was to pick 1 gallon of blackberries per day during the wild blackberry season. I would do this after the morning milking as soon as the dew dried off and before it got real hot. I was always able to finish in time for lunch. I remember picking 12 gallons that summer. My dad said the blackberries were worth 25 cents a quart.


At that time I was delivering produce and eggs to Braehead Woods subdivision on my bicycle. I was selling pullet eggs for 35 cents a dozen, asparagus for 25 cents a bunch and strawberries for 35 cents a quart.


I gave all the blackberries to my mother.




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