When I was a child growing up in northern BC, summers were short and as much work as they were fun. Life required that one start preparing for the next winter, pretty much right after the last winter finished, and a big part of August was harvesting and freezing/canning fruits,veggies and fish. Huckleberries were my favourite harvest berry growing up, but not the small red kind that grows on the coast and my island home now. No, we picked buckets of large deep blue huckleberries that grew in among the pine trees, berries that when crushed left a deep ruby red stain one couldn’t scrub off. Ever creative and with no access to makeup as a young girl, I remember carefully peeling back the skin and rubbing the ruby juice on my lips to create ” natural lipstick “, posing in the mirror quite happy with the result. ( it’s no surprise that this very unique and rich, deep, berry colour is still my favourite hue)
Fast forward many years to my arrival on the west coast…and the discovery of blackberries…
Imagine my delight to discover mounds of these incredible berries literally growing everywhere…in empty lots, in alleys, hanging along fences. I don’t recall the very first time I ate one, but I imagine it wasn’t much different than my reaction is now, every time I pop one of those lush morsels into my mouth…my eyes close involuntarily as the berry bursts on my tongue, sensory overload as the sweet and sometimes tart juice hits every taste bud….
That was the beginning of a love affair with this beautiful berry that many consider a pest for its overwhelming growth and ability to survive where not much else can. They make beautiful pies,( best served with vanilla bean ice cream), the most delicious jam, are perfect in muffins and of course, straight off the bush as the late Mary Oliver describes so beautifully in her poem above. In fact, blackberries are a good source for many critters, like this bee who landed on this juicy blackberry I had just picked and was about to eat! He took his share then flew off,never once concerned of my presence.
It is without surprise then, that this BC Day long weekend you would find me deep in a blackberry thicket alongside a country road, arms scratched as I reach to fill my bucket so I can freeze this ( free!) bounty for the dark wet days of our island winters. And for the record…blackberry juice works equally well as lip stain..😉
Wherever you are in this incredible province we call home, I hope you are enjoying the simpler things in life. Happy BC Day.