Every spring, my mom and dad trot off like spring chickens into a thick field, big empty baskets in hand, to pick a sweet fruit that has become a part of our family.
Soon after, the house is filled with the divine smell of brewing Southern dewberries and friends and family are happily enjoying a delicious Mason-jar-housed treat on biscuits and toast. I’ll let mom tell you, though. She tells the story of the dewberry best…
As the days begin to warm from the chill of winter, small soft white flowers appear oddly out of place in their surroundings. Fragile circles of rose-like petals, tinged with pink, pop up among the craggy vines and brown grasses. Anchored low to the ground, the blossoms flutter gently in the breezes. The message is simple. Spring is not far away; the dewberries are blooming. But the message is also rich and vivid, interlaced with memories of wild dewberry patches of the past, the carefree abandon of childhood, and the traditions making cobbler and jam.
Growing up in the South, we picked dewberries every spring. The southern dewberry, Rubus trivialis, is a member of the rose family and a close relative of the blackberry. Abounding with tiny thorns, the low trailing vines intertwine and entangle themselves and everything that grows among them. As the flowers fade, the hard green berries begin to appear. Over the next month, they turn red and tart, finally swelling quickly as they ripen into a shiny deep black burgundy. Although commonly referred to as blackberries, dewberries usually ripen several weeks earlier in May, and are larger, juicier and sweeter. Eaten by birds that spread their seeds, they grow wild along the roadways, in fields and empty lots, almost anywhere. The naked berry is picked by rolling it slightly away from the stem, keeping it from being crushed and leaving the bud stem on the vine. You can count on having purple tattooed fingertips and the lingering sting of tiny thorns. A just picked dewberry, musty and sweet, and warm from the sun releases a burst of juice and a flood of memories.
When I pick the berries, I think of my dad. One of seven children and the son of an Alabama sharecropper, he delighted in the local gifts of nature – scuppernongs, huckleberries, mayhaws and dewberries. I can hear his voice warning me to watch out for snakes. “You know that the snakes wait for the birds that come to eat the berries.” Although I have never seen a snake in the berry patch, I still heed his advice. He taught me to carry a stick and make some noise in the vines – a prelude warning of our presence. We would move about slowly and cautiously, not only to avoid a surprise snake sighting, but quick movements in the low thorny vines could painfully ensnare an ankle. With itchy stained hands, bug bitten and sunburned, we quickly forgot these hazards as we proudly admired our baskets of shiny berries.
My mother’s cobbler in the oven filled the house with fragrant drafts of warm, sweet dewberries baking under a blanket of tender spoon crust. Another supper dessert would be fresh berries and whipped cream – simple, elegant, perfect. And of course, there was jam, lots of jam. Tricky to make with just the right consistency, not too thin and not too firm, the jam was allowed to thicken naturally. A mixture of ripe and under ripe red berries and an entire chopped lemon would provide the needed natural pectin. Sealed in hot glass jars, stacked and beautiful, the sweet dewberries would last throughout the year.
It is that comforting ritual of jam and cobbler making that I continue in my kitchen today. From the sightings of the first blooms, to the memories of past berry patches, the dewberry, gleaned with both fear and pleasure transforms me to the vestiges of my childhood. The vivid memories of the past blend with the present. As a child in the dewberry patch, I’m still there. I never left.
Our pantry eagerly awaits new jars of dewberry jam from mom every year. When Ari was deployed, the sweet little dewberry even made it’s way to Iraq in a care page or two! If Ari and I ever did a vow renewal, you can guess what would be a part of our celebration. There are dozens of empty Mason jars lining our cabinets now, all still ripe with memories of each season we enjoyed their contents. If you saw a Mason jar on my wedding tables, this story would go right along with them. There is a history that makes my heart sing! There is a “meaning behind the Mason”.
There is nothing I love more in a wedding than seeing an authentic love story come to life through every photograph – from the love in the couples’ eyes to the special details that reflect their unique path. No random pretties just because they are pretty. No details just for detail sake. Not to pick on the poor Mason jar, but we see them too often used as… here come my least favorite words… a wedding “trend” with no meaning. Southern brides, you know what I mean! Mason jars aren’t “vintage”, they are part of our history. Our aunts and grandmothers and great grandmothers spent long hours in the kitchen canning to preserve the harvest crop through winter. What a delightful history that little jar has! When a wedding is infused with history, tradition and special meaning behind those little touches, your love is center-stage. Magic happens on the big day! Your guests are transported, inspired and you become closer to your nearest and dearest through the celebration of your wedding. Your wedding tells your authentic love story and you create memories that you will never ever forget. [P.S. – if anyone knows where that lovely photo above is from, can you let me know? I would love to credit this beauty!]
So, what is your love story and how are you telling it in your special details? Perhaps it’s as simple as using the same flower variety that your mother had in her bouquet or having your maids in Carolina Blue for your alma mater where you and your sweetie spent your first years of courtship. Perhaps it’s a little photo locket tied to your bouquet with pics of those closest to your heart, cupcakes baked from your aunt’s favorite recipe, a favorite fabric you found on a romantic weekend trip to Savannah with your man (that special trip when he first said the three special words… I love you!) on your cake table or a special love quote on your programs that your grandmother always echoed. Perhaps it’s the simple Mason jar… the same jars that were once filled with the poetic and perfect dewberry that are now filled with daffodils from your mother’s garden. Whatever it is, tell your beautiful love story in the details. Have fun with it and you may even get to know something new about your fiance and families in the process! [photo above source]
GIVEAWAY: Sound off! Tell us about some of your special wedding details and the meaning behind them. One lucky commenter will win a beautiful Ring Bearer Bowl from Paloma’s Nest! This beautiful bowl is sure to become a family heirloom that you can pass to your kids one day, too!
P.S. Congrats to the last post’s Father of the Bride gushfest winner Courtney Christian. All of your comments made my heart melt… OK OK!… there were some tears shed, too! Email us your mailing address, Courtney, and we’ll get your prize right to you.