June 26, 2013 11:08:49 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
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.
BLACKBERRY COBBLER WITH BUTTER CRUST
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
(Source: Rissa Lawrence)
BLACKBERRY SIMPLE SYRUP
4 cups sugar
4 cups water
1 cup blackberry juice
(Source: Rissa Lawrence)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.