spring is dewberry time across much of Texas.
named because dew often covers them in the morning, dewberries bloom in late February
and early March and can stay around until May. The berries go from green to red
to a purplish blue, which means they’re ripe. Savvy pickers usually let the berries
be for about a week after they’ve ripened before harvesting them.
trivialis, or southern dewberry, are trailing, low-growing thorn-covered
plants that grow best in disturbed soil. Part of the rose family and common all
over the usually wetter South, dewberries like loamy or sandy soil. The plant
grows along rural roads, railroad right of way, fence lines, in draws and old
Full of vitamin C, dewberries also have lesser amounts of vitamins
A and B, along with minerals. And they taste good, sweeter than their relative,
a gift of nature, dewberries don’t always come cost-free. Since spring is also
when snakes are most active, a dewberry picker has to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes
and copperheads in addition to looking for ripe berries.
“I always pick
with a stick in my hand to scare off snakes,” one Bastrop County oldtimer told
me years ago. “They raise up looking for insects and rodents and if they see your
hand, their liable to strike.”
In fact, this man’s father had been bitten
by a copperhead while collecting dewberries and while he recovered from the venom,
he got plenty sick.
Dewberry pickers should also wear gloves, unless you
want lacerated hands stained purple. Bramble-like, dewberry plants can scratch
legs and tear clothing if you’re note careful.
and botanists know that humans have been willing to poke around snaky, prickly
vegetation for the sweet berries for a long time. Texas Indians not only gathered
and ate the berries, they used them for medicinal purposes.
for instance, ingested a concoction of dewberry roots and leaves to treat diarrhea
and rheumatism. They used a similar preparation as an external wash for hemorrhoids.
For sore throats, the Indians mixed dewberry roots and leaves with honey as a
remedy. Finally, a dewberry leaf-based preparation was used for urinary problems.
early settlers had a taste for dewberries is scientifically proven. According
to one online overview of Texas dewberries, an archeologist analyzing soil samples
from 19th century outhouse sites in Houston unearthed ample evidence of the fruit’s
“I found thousands of dewberry seeds in samples collected
from the privies,” he wrote. “The dewberry brambles had not yet given way to urban
sprawl, and Houstonians were picking their own and enjoying that springtime delight.
They obviously enjoyed preparing and consuming dewberries, and they left abundant
deposits in their outhouses.”
Dewberries can be eaten raw, folded into
cream (from low-calorie to ice cream), cooked in cobblers or transformed into
jam. The berries also can be used to make wine, and young dewberry leaves supposedly
make a good tea.
However they may be prepared, don’t go looking for dewberries
at your local grocery store. Some farmer markets sell them, but since they don’t
store for long if not frozen, the majority of Texas’s annual crop is harvested
dewberry cobbler is a classic Texas dish. While not for dieters, it ranks right
up there with peach cobbler.
Here, collected in my interview with a long-time
rural Bastrop County family in 1976, is their recipe (with some modifications)
for this tasty treat:
1 cup flour
½ cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2 teaspoons baking
½ teaspoon salt
To make the crust, combine ingredients and
mix until crumbly.
1 pint dewberries
fresh or frozen
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Rinse the berries, mix with the ingredients
and let filling sit for 20 minutes. Place the filling in an eight-inch pan and
pat crust down on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until the crust is
For a topping, the family cook I interviewed suggested a mix of
a quarter-cup of butter with two tablespoons of flour, sugar and cinnamon spread
over the cobbler before baking.
(A caveat: I’ve not tried this recipe,
but it should work. However, comments are welcome.)
Dewberry cobbler is
not for the diet minded, but at least you get some exercise, sunshine and fresh
air when you pick them.
Cox - February 27, 2013 column
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