Unworthy and Delighted
They beckoned to me from the side of the road. Fat black globules in clusters big as my thumb, glistening in the sun. I knew I’d have to come back.
The roads in my area generally follow the surveyed section lines, one mile apart. It’s a mostly square grid pattern, but they don’t always bridge creeks and such. This close into the city, they are almost all paved with blacktop. While some barely meet the modern definition of 8-foot lanes at a minimum, they are mostly ten-foot. Aside from a few select areas with high traffic, the asphalt simply stops at the edge. What’s beyond is typically level grass for a foot or two, then sloping down to the drainage ditch. In places it washes out regularly, requiring annual repair until the county gets tired of it and does something to make it more permanent. Other places the road cuts through the rosy sandstone hill side and you get a small rocky cliff.
It was one of these latter places where I saw them.
As these asphalt roads run at odd angles across a very wickedly hilly ridge-n-creek-bed washboard, I get lots of good hill training for my rides. I learned long ago I can’t afford to replace spokes every month, so I never ride anything except mountain bikes. I can’t remember when I was last under 200 pounds (91kg). This one is a cheap aluminum frame, but the most expensive at Wal-Mart that day. Since then I’ve slowly upgraded some of the components. Among other things, I swapped all the shifters, derailers and brake pods to Alivio stuff, changed the saddle to something which properly accommodates my wide frame, and added an aluminum rack on the back. Nobody would imagine I might race, least of all me. I ride for the sheer pleasure and some exercise.
So a sixteen mile (26km) ride is big for non-cyclists, but a warm-up for real riders. It’s just about as much as I could handle that day out in these hills, as the temperature topped 90° F (32C). At the best of times I don’t ride with any intensity, so I often scan the area just to see what’s there. That was how I spotted them on a climb. There weren’t very many, and most of them were the thin and spindly type vines, ripening way late in the season. When that sort of blackberry vine gets enough water, it makes huge clusters. Apparently this particular spot with only a few tiny patches of sandy soil between the rocky places where the road cut through a hilltop was getting just enough water. It certainly got plenty of sun, since the rock face looked south. It was a short row mixed in with other vegetation, but more productive than just about any I’ve seen this year.
That was Monday. Today I went back with my “picker-stick” — one of those extended reach devices with rubber cups on opposing fingers which squeeze together when you pull the trigger. Without looking too closely on that first pass, I figured it would offer a pint or so. Of course, I didn’t catch how many were growing behind the other bushes and tall grasses clinging to the near side of the ditch. The back wall was mostly solid sandstone, with cracks and a few standing plots of soil. The vines all grew on the back wall in these openings. It was odd seeing the majority of the berries ripened all at once. It took we quite a while to pick what I could see and reach, and I got nearly a quart.
As I turned back toward the way I had come, I spotted another patch in a more level area hidden in the tall grass. These were more mixed, in the sense some had already withered, some few still red, but most were ready. It was too many. I picked a select few of the biggest clusters and took home well more than a quart.
I matched them with the frozen berries I had meagerly plucked over the past two weeks from my usual berry haunts and dropped them in the blender. Not quite juicing them, the resulting slurry went into a sauce pan and began to simmer. Adding organic brown sugar and oatmeal, I decided to skip the lemon juice. I’ve had enough tartness for the season. The taste was pure blackberry and sweet. When it was ready, my beloved had made a fine pie crust. I added some cinnamon graham crackers to the blackberry mixture and we dumped it into the pie dish. She also made for me a crumble crust for the top, including crushed pecans (these also grow wild locally).
The result is a deep dish blackberry pie beyond describing. Thus, the title of this post: I am not worthy of such heavenly fare, but I’m delighted to have it.