Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dining Out - HIcks Style

Well, Memorial Weekend is here again, bringing with it my husband’s birthday, Stars and Stripes displayed proudly on the front porch and hot dogs on the grill… oh, and blackberry cobbler!

The upright blackberry bushes that Dale and Patrick rescued from a friend’s farm have taken hold and flourished along the white picket fence in front of our house. We have a bumper crop this year. The trailing vines filled with the sweet dark berries in our pasture have kept the children busy again this year. The trailing vines ripen earlier than the upright bushes along the fence. This bodes well for actually getting enough to use to make cobblers or preserves.

The children have discovered that for the price of a little poking around in the brambles, they can fill their bellies with as many of the ripe little nuggets as they can find. Even my three year-old knows how to tell ripe berries from those that are “not ready yet,” as she turns earnest green eyes up at me and tells me in all seriousness. Though while in the pasture, they have to be mindful of the 1200 pound Irish Setter following them around, nosing them and hunting for his cut of the take. Topper, my elderly Tennessee Walking Horse, loves blackberry picking with the family. He knows there will always be someone willing to dole out a handful of berries to him.

The figs are also ripe, and the children have decimated the first crop with the kind of single-minded determination one would expect from a swarm of locusts. For the first time, we have a substantial crop of plums and peaches… if the children will leave them on the trees long enough to ripen. Dale informed me with a twinkle in his eye that it was doubtful I’d get enough plums to make any jam.

The pears won’t be ready until the children start back to school, thus ensuring that the crop is more than adequate for canning – but I’ll be too busy with the back-to-school bustle to put them up in a timely manner. Topper the horse and Tika the dog appreciate that fact every year.

The muscadine grapes are loaded again, but I doubt that by the time the tiny little grapes ripen that I have enough to put up. Again, the children have figured out how to tell when they get ripe, and we’ve also noticed the clever little Tika cropping grapes from the vine when she thinks no one is looking.

This year we have a single mulberry on the young tree, and one of our young apple trees has finally borne fruit – two tiny green apples growing slowly bigger week by week.

We usually find pecans scattered across the property in November, just in time for pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And last of all, the Satsuma orange tree is full. I can only hope the children leave those on the tree until the first frost has the chance to sweeten the fruit – this past year, we ended up with a bumper crop of sour Satsumas picked the day before the freeze that would have performed Nature’s magic and brought out the sweetness of the fruit.

You see, every time my children set foot out the door, they look for something somewhere they can eat. It’s our version of ‘dining out.’ During the summer months, there aren’t a lot of store bought cookies or sweets. My children snack on Nature’s bounty and they wouldn’t have it any other way. When their friends confide that they have no fruit trees or berry bushes, my children feel sorry for them, as though they are somehow deprived. Perhaps, in a way, they are.

My great-uncle Don spoke to me of growing up on the farm he owns and still works to this day. “We always took fresh fruit and fresh baked bread in our lunches at school. The city kids thought we were rich because of that. I guess, looking back, that we were richer than we realized.”

I hope when my children are older, they will feel the same.

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