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Grandpa's Pie

Picking blackberries brings back memories of carefree childhood summers - and one special dessert.

It's blackberry season in Maryland and I just brought home a bucket of freshly picked berries.  Despite a healthy dose of soap and water, my fingernails are stained purple.  Looking at my hands, I can't help but think of childhood summers spent with my grandparents. One memory always makes me smile.

***

The heat was oppressive, rising up from the ground in swells. My arms glistened with sweat as soon as I left the cabin. The vegetation was so thick, the sky looked green. The air was live with the sound of insects and birds and I heard the occasional rat-a-tat of a woodpecker. I stood just outside the screened porch and waited for my grandfather.

Grandpa built his small wood-framed clubhouse when my mother was just a girl. The olive-green cabin sat at the edge of a forest, near a clearing. I was lucky enough to spend my summers there, under the oak and hickory trees, just a trail in the woods away from the river. 

But on this day Grandpa and I walked in the opposite direction, into the clearing where the landlord, a farmer, raised his cows.  Near the cabin, multiflora rose grew in patches so dense that the cows couldn’t feed. There was no obvious path through the thorny rose bushes and the walk was tiring. Despite my noxious coating of bug spray, I still caught the occasional whiff of a fresh “cow pie” and I tried not to step in the piles of dung in my Grandma’s rubber overshoes.

Finally, we reached the blackberry brambles. Decades before, these bushes were maintained by the farmer who owned this land. Now the bushes were abandoned, with branches bent low to the ground and filled with ripe, dark berries. I held my metal bucket with one hand and reached gingerly into the bush with the other, carefully minding the thorns and bees.

When the buckets were full, Grandpa and I took them back to the cabin. Our arms were covered with scratches and our fingers were purple with berry juice. We passed by Grandma as she weeded the pole beans in the garden. She gave us a concerned look. Grandpa and I scarcely noticed as we proudly took our buckets inside. We congratulated ourselves on our haul, placed our buckets on the kitchen table and discussed what to do with our bounty. 

Grandpa decided that he should bake a pie. Of all the summers that I spent with my grandparents, I only remember one pie. Grandpa threw himself into the task of baking with wild abandon. I can still see the flour, dusting every surface of the kitchen. It is only now, over thirty years later as I write this, that I understand why Grandma gave him that frown.

***

Create your own memories of picking blackberries!  You can find the thornless variety at these local pick-your-own farms:

• , 22200 Davis Mill Road in Germantown
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, closed Mondays
Price: $2.49 per pound; bring your own bucket or purchase one there

Homestead Farm, 15604 Sugarland Road in Poolesville
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (fields close at 5:30 p.m.)
Price: $2.49 per pound; bring your own bucket or purchase one there

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