It started with blackberries that grew by the railroad track in Geneva, Alabama, just down the street from my grandparent’s house in the Cotton Mill Village. I spent a lot of time during the summer with my grandparents in that little southeastern Alabama town. Summer in the South means insufferable heat but it also means blackberries.
As a small child, I would pick blackberries for Granny to make cobblers, pies, and jelly. She’d arm me with a bucket and an admonition.
“Be particular for snakes, Shug.”
During the 1960’s in small town America, you could get away with sending little children alone to pick blackberries next to the railroad track among snakes, chiggers, and thorns the size of nickels. The bushes grew thick and the thorns were protective of the berries. Occasionally, a train would come along. I would stop picking, count the cars and wave to the engineer on the caboose.
Blackberry summers began my love affair with food that’s lasted almost six decades. I’m not sure what part of it I actually enjoyed. Was it the freedom of being responsible enough to have a job as important as picking the berries that Granny would turn into delicious cobblers and jelly? Was it the challenge of seeing how quickly I could fill up my bucket? Or was it simply that I loved the smell of the berries as they cooked away in Granny’s little kitchen knowing what the end result would be?
One thing for sure, I learned to appreciate the connection between self-sufficiency, food, and memories. The pride I felt in bringing home a full bucket of berries joined forces with the anticipation of the goodness that was soon to come out of my Granny’s kitchen to produce one little girl who was just about to burst at the seams. I remember the sweet, fruity wine-like aroma that wafted throughout the house as Granny cooked the berries into jelly and cobblers. I thought the scratches from the thorns and the occasional chiggers were worth it all. But most of all, it was worth it hearing Granny sing her hymns as she went about her work in her modest kitchen. It was a happy time. Blackberries are the one food most closely tied to my earliest fond food memories.
I never get tired of looking at them. Seeing blackberries ready for the picking is a gift to my sense of overall well-being. It just makes me happy. I don’t have a railroad track running through my backyard, so I can’t recreate the whole blackberry summer memory. Besides, trains no longer have cabooses and the engineers don’t seem as friendly now.
Blackberry summers are the reason the blog Syrup and Biscuits exists. The association I made between blackberry picking and goodness soon spread to various other Southern food creations that came out of my Granny’s kitchen. At an early age, I was keenly aware of the power unleashed when people shared good food. Granny’s affinity for wanting to feed people infected me. If there’s a cure for this infection, I hope I never find it. The love of feeding people is a gift from God that came by way of Granny. I felt like I needed to write about it.
Granny singing, the aroma of blackberries cooking away, and the promise of cobblers and jelly: that’s what heaven will be like. Amen.
Having something that tastes unbelievably good that’s easy and quick to make is a prize. In fact, this cobbler won me a prize: a Blue Ribbon. No kidding.
If you’re picking blackberries (or having your granddaughter pick them down by the railroad track), then grab a handful of red ones, too. The tartness of the red berries accentuates the flavor of the cobbler. If you can’t get red ones, then add a tablespoon of lemon juice.
1 stick unsalted butter
4 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen without sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cups self-rising flour
2 cups milk
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, optional
Melt butter in 9X13 baking pan.
Place berries, sugar, and water in a pot and bring to a quick boil. If the berries are particularly sweet, you might not need the full cup of sugar in the berry mixture. If you’re using lemon juice instead of red berries, add it to the berry mixture.
While berries are coming to a boil, mix 2 cups sugar and flour in a large bowl. Add in milk and stir well until smooth.
Pour batter over melted butter. Add hot berry mixture to the pan. Don’t stir. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes until mixture is bubbly and top has started to brown. The center will be somewhat jiggly but not loose. Let cool 15 minutes before serving. Yeah, right. That’s a big joke. But in order for my recipe to be technically correct, I had to tell y’all to do that.