"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres
June 2007

June Is Bustiní Out All Over

One of the  great features of June is the mere fact that it has so many features. Thereís something for everyone in June, to be doubted by nobody. It would be next to impossible to chronicle all aspects of the month. Suffice it to say, June is a slam-bang month.

That translates into cobblers, pies, jelly, jam, wine, and who knows what else--would you believe strawberry shortcake, wild style? And it all starts with wild strawberries, about Memorial Day, but certainly when June takes its bow. Depending on where one lives, a phalanx of wild berries and fruits march across the proscenium of summer and into fall. It would be difficult to find a better scenario for cooks, bakers, little old winemakers and those who adhere to other berry delights. And, it has been bandied about, that they are packed with all kinds of good things for the human body.

As the late Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley put it in Out To Old Aunt Maryís, no other pen could ever fashion such a beautiful tribute:

The jelly--the jam and the marmalade,
And the cherry and quince preserves she made!
And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear,
With cinnamon in Ďem, and all things rare!
And the more we ate was the more to spare, 
Out To Old Aunt Maryís...

Of course, the timetable will be delayed somewhat for all wild berries and fruits because the growing rays of the sun are slower to bathe the north. But keep an eye on the natural order of Mother Natureís children, and it will be a huge plus in the years to come. Take notes, if you like. 

It may be argued that the produce of nature gets its start much earlier in the spring--say March or April--with such natural food as mushrooms, asparagus, poke weed shoots, and many other greens of the weed class. That may be true. But the real producers of edible items such as berries, fruits and nuts come on the hardy shrub-types that are dormant (or nearly so) in the dead of winter. And it all is launched by the coming of the sun in June. Sure the spring equinox comes late in March, but May is history when the sun warms to its task. We saw a perfect example of that natural weather phenomenon in the weeks just past, and we could have instant replays of it.

In the Midwest wild strawberries parade of berries (they are annuals) and they are followed by the more hardy plants that survive the winter. We can, for example, pick wild strawberries (the minute scarlet gems) a week before Memorial Day. They may be with us until the first week of June. Wild black raspberries fall into line to ripen after the third week of June. Falling into line as summer progresses are dewberries, blackberries, choke cherries, red raspberries, and (as a last hurrah of the summer berry season) elderberry. After that comes the late-summer and early-fall season for  persimmons and a wealth of other fruits that have gone wild. Then come the nuts.

Actually the term berry pickiní is a bit of a misnomer. Lots of berries arenít really picked. They are sort-of twirled off the cane. You just sort-of learn to place the palm of the dominant hand under the cluster of berries  (or single), and let the thumb and index finger twirl it (or them) off and allow it (them) to fall into the palm to be placed gently into your pail. The pail, of course, is a two-pound coffee can with a heavy wire bail attached that will hook over your belt. This arrangement allows one to hold a prickly cane with one hand, and pick (twirl) with the other. When the coffee-can pail is full, the berries are transferred to a larger pail.

When berries are ripe and firm it is a good idea to rinse them in cool tap water; but one must guard against washing away natural juices of those that are dead ripe and juicy. Berries may also be frozen for later use.

Another good modus for berry pickiní when this activity becomes incidental to some other activity--say fishing--is to start your dayís activities with the not-so-popular, but very useful Bayou Billís Pail that folds to fit many pockets, but expands to become a very good container. The decorations for turning a half-gallon milk or citrus juice container into the Bayou Bill Pail (I invented it) is explained elsewhere on this web site. The search engine at the bottom of opening page will help you find the pail directions.

How important was berry pickiní to the family in years past? I lived with my parents, grandmother, an older sister, an older brother, and a younger brother. When blackberries became ripe in the vast thickets along the New Cut Road, family berry excursions were a family activity that filled 15, 20--or even 30 gallons of containers, maybe even a clean washtub.

In those days the children were not asked if they would like to pick berries on Saturday. They were told it would happen. And it did.

The rewards, of course, came in the form of blackberry pies, cobblers, jellies and jams--well over 100 jars (many quarts) when the first snow blanketed our little town. But still one of the all-time favorite desserts for poor folks in those days was a berry biscuit--buttered with creamory butter and sweetened berries poured over a leftover biscuit, especially when there had not been time to bake.

I once heard my mother (not boastfully, but certainly happy about it) tell another lady she had canned more than 100 quarts of berries that summer (mid-1930s, as I recall), not counting jelly and jam.

The Ball jars were stored as empties on grotesque frames similar to the cross-arm of utility poles with staves to hold individual jars to identify ladies of houses as canners. Each jar stored in this manner was scalded and washed before reuse, of course.

Somebody always dragged an old automobile tire tube through the dust of the New Cut Road, and circulated the story of a gigantic snake living in the thickets in an obvious, but unsuccessful attempt to scare others, but those who braved the conditions never saw the monster.

Picking berries along the edges of thicket always offered burgeoning buckets and porcelain water pails, but my dad always said: You can fill your bucket following the paths of others. But you get the biggest and sweetest berries making your own paths.

I would learn on my own hook, that shade-ripened berries are the next things to sugar. 

Olí Blackberry Time
By Bill Scifres

Talk about your favorite season, aní Iíll up and tell you mine, 
Without fancy words or phrases, Itís just . . . 
Ol' Blackberry Time!

With pail in hand, I trudge the dusty lane, 
Until the shady thicket is at hand,
Then part the brush and slip through walls of briars
Into a world of wonder--Natureís Land. 

Skeeters whine around my ear, but I dasnít ever hear,
Part the briars and slip on through, Ďtil big berries bless my view . . . 
Pick a few, and then, by gum,
Sit me down, and eat me some!

Nen I see the best of life  . . . natureís follies, and her strife . . .
Just like humans, I declare, wouldnít know Iím hiding there,
Watching lifeís most simple times . . . seeiní that its just like mine. 
Little, ol brown creeper, he, sneaks on up yon dead elm tree,

Eatiní things that you and me, never will have eyes to see.
Olí blue jay, ornery cus, kickiní up an awful fuss
Just because I found his lair in that walnut fork up there.

Fill my pail then, slip on back . . . To the road where humans live,
Dust squirts up between my toes, and I wonder, as I go 
Back to town, do others know, 'bout Blackberry Time. 

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

The toe cut off an old stocking protects forearm from briars. socj.JPG (68911 bytes)
Six dewberries--six sweet, juicy inches on any ruler. inch.JPG (21914 bytes)
Dewberries often ripen in shade of rambling, low vine. dew.JPG (47632 bytes)
Blackberries start green on the old canes, turn red, then black, stain red. redblack.JPG (17748 bytes)
With black raspberries, this photo illustrates the twirling method of pickiní.  blackrasp2.jpg (20410 bytes)

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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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