One 103 degree day out of the blue last week, a new friend and neighbor called me up and asked if I wanted to go blackberry picking. I didn't think twice.
"Of course I do!" I replied, because who can pass up a chance to pick berries, even in horrific heat? "Can T. come too" I asked, because I knew T. wouldn't want to pass up on that chance, either.
We suited up accordingly: long pants, socks, bug spray, hats, thick gloves (blackberry bushes are prickly). I think we made a pretty picture: three girls out with sun hats and baskets. My friend took us to a patch she'd spotted by car on her way to and from work and we wasted no time pulling the heavy dark berries from the bushes. The red berries are easy to spot from the road, but you have to look hard to see the ripe berries. My friend knows that patch well. During the week, she told me, drivers hawk the bushes from their cars. Come the weekend they descend on the patch and pick it clean of the ripe berries.
We picked and talked and filled our baskets, while around us cars whizzed by--people going to and from work, maybe, and envying us our hats and berries, and good time (or, conversely, pitying us--it was 103 degrees). We swapped stories from our childhoods, and T. filled in the conversation with stories of her own. My friend told me about the hottest day she remembers from her childhood--a day when her granddad took her out to pick elderberries and she could scarcely believe--with a child's amazement--how it could be any hotter. I told her my hottest day story: I must have been six or seven, and wedged into a crowd in the tiny white-washed church near my grandparents' apartment. I thought I would collapse from lack of air and a mixture of awe and anxiety and I pressed myself close to my grandfather's legs, and tried not to breathe in the heavy, cloying smell of the incense, mixed in with perfume and sweat and tobacco.
As we walked back to my friend's truck, baskets swinging from our hands, fingers stained with berry juice, sweat pouring down our backs, I wondered if years from now T. would remember this day--the day she picked berries on a hill with her Mama and a good friend--as the hottest day ever.
Of course, if you have a basketful of ripe, fresh blackberries, there's an unwritten rule out there that you have to make a cobbler. I've made cobblers with all kinds of fruit before, but never with blackberries. After a little research on the internet, I found this recipe, which I followed faithfully, but adapted to include crushed pecans. If you knead the pecans into the crumb batter before you spread it onto the bottom of the pan, you'll get a wonderful crunchy, golden cobbler crust.
The cobbler was a cinch to make and as luck would have it, I'd made a batch of fresh vanilla ice cream the day before. Maybe I was imagining things, but I really think there was something extra sweet, and extra soul-satisfyingly summery about a cobbler made with blackberries picked with your own hands, on the hottest day ever.