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Pickin' time: Blackberries are ripe in Caledonia -- get them while they last


Rissa Lawrence picks plump, ripe Kiowa blackberries at her Victorian Place Garden in Caledonia Saturday. Customers can also pick their own from the near 500 plants she maintains. The harvest is expected to last through next week.

Rissa Lawrence picks plump, ripe Kiowa blackberries at her Victorian Place Garden in Caledonia Saturday. Customers can also pick their own from the near 500 plants she maintains. The harvest is expected to last through next week. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


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Lawrence makes and sells pure blackberry jelly.

Lawrence makes and sells pure blackberry jelly.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff



Jan Swoope



Summer days begin early for Rissa Lawrence of Caledonia, especially when her near 500 Kiowa blackberry plants come into their full glory. That's when the retired educator opens her Victorian Place Garden for pick-your-own enthusiasts to enjoy the harvest. Those who don't have time to stroll up and down the rows aren't left out; Lawrence has some quarts ready to go. But the days are numbered: This year's crop is expected to last only through the first week of July.  


Yes, 'tis the season of homemade blackberry cobblers, jellies, muffins and crumbles. Of salads, smoothies, cereals and angel food cake dressed up with the fruit, of cheese trays decorated with dark, sweet-tart berries. And don't overlook the down-home pleasure of eating a few plucked fresh from the plant -- like some of us used to do on our grandparents' farms. 


"A lot of people bring their children out. Most have never experienced picking blackberries," said Lawrence, who used to grow daylilies. "They have a good time, and some end up with blackberry juice all over them." 




A good pick 


All of Lawrence's plants are the Kiowa variety, a high-yielding thorny cultivar developed by the University of Arkansas in 1996. It's thought to be one of the biggest blackberries in the world, with a prized sweet-tart flavor. 


They're a sumptuous choice for cobblers and jellies. Lawrence makes both. 


"Oh my goodness ... the cobbler is just wonderful when it comes out of the oven. You smell the cinnamon and sugar; you can't wait to get it out," smiled the good cook. "And if you have homemade ice cream, it just makes it that much better." 


Her pure blackberry jelly -- with no seeds, and no water added -- is also a hit.  




Putting in the work 


All that homegrown goodness doesn't come without its share of toil and sweat.  


"Blackberries are unique in that all those plants will soon have to be cut flat to the ground and taken to the bonfire once they quit producing," Lawrence explained. When new growth appears, she will select the two strongest primocanes (stems) at each plant, training them onto trellised wires running parallel to the ground. In the months that follow, she'll keep the hundreds of plants well-trimmed, and add pine straw mulch in the fall.  


The work is pretty intense this time of year, in the weeks the sun-loving crop peaks and bright, aromatic fruit falls into the hand with a slight touch. But the former S.D. Lee High and Columbus High School teacher knows the end product is a direct result of the effort invested. 


When she's not busy with her crop and other projects, she contributes her time as a Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board member, and supports her husband, Bill, who serves as Caledonia's mayor. 


But right now, there is fruit to be juiced for jelly, pick-your-own enthusiasts to assist, plants to be tended, a harvest to reap. It's blackberry season at Victorian Place Garden. 


Editor's note: Lawrence's garden is open Wednesday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. You-pick blackberries are $5 per quart (fifth quart is free). Jelly is $5 per 10-ounce jar. Contact Victorian Place Garden, 201 Lawrence Road, Caledonia, at 662-574-4119. 








For the crust: 


2 cups all-purpose flour 


1/2 teaspoon salt 


1 teaspoon sugar 


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small pieces 


5 tablespoons ice water 




For the filling: 


4 to 5 cups fresh or frozen blackberries (cut berries in half if they are very large) 


2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 


1 cup sugar 


5 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces 




Sprinkle this on crust before baking: 


1 tablespoon sugar 


1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 


  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. For the crust, place flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a steel blade and mix.  


  • Add cold butter, one piece at a time, using the pulse button, until mixture resembles cornmeal. Add ice water in drops until pastry comes together. Pat out into a round, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 30 minutes. 


  • Rinse and drain the berries (cut in half, if desired), and place in a bowl. Mix flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 cup of sugar together, and sprinkle over berries and toss gently. On a lightly floured board, roll out half of the dough and cut into dumplings. Add a little of the berry mixture to the bottom of your baking dish and put dumplings on top. (I like to use a 4-by-8-inch diameter baking dish.) 


  • Alternate berries and dumplings to fill what you are going to bake your cobbler in. (You can add about a cup of the blackberry simple syrup if you like lots of juice.) Top with the 5 tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces.  


  • Roll out remaining dough, and lay over filling. Pinch sides to seal. Cut slits in the top of crust to vent during baking. Sprinkle a mixture of 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon over the top of the dough.(You may not need all of the sugar/cinnamon mixture if your baking dish is small in diameter like mine.) Bake for 35 minutes until crust is golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream. 


    (Source: Rissa Lawrence) 






    4 cups sugar 


    4 cups water 


    1 cup blackberry juice 




  • This is great to add to cobbler or to make blackberry tea; just use the syrup to sweeten your tea. Mix ingredients together and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and pour into pint jars (makes 8 pints). (My canner will only hold 7, so I process 7 and just keep one in the refrigerator.) Seal with hot lids and rings. Process sealed jars in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. 


    (Source: Rissa Lawrence)


  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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