Add some dewberries to your spring menu

Published 1:32 am Saturday, April 22, 2017

When the dewberries come in you really know it is spring. I was reading an article about dewberries written about 10 years ago and the title was, “Are dewberries worth the trouble?” The dewberry picker who has just finished a morning rooting through brambles only feels like it is worth it if there is a dewberry cobbler within a few hours of picking!

Although the berry is smart enough to have survived for centuries in the wild, it cannot survive the modern fruit packing process. Dewberries are a cousin of the blackberry, and long admired for their tenacity and sweetness. The thick and thorny brambles are usually found on untended land, like the right of way along state roads and railroad tracks, and often have a healthy collection of worms, fire ants, spiders, and spittlebugs. (Add barbed wire on our farm.)

At the start of the 20th century, the berry was well known and loved. Texas began including the dewberries along with blackberries in the 1900 census, and the crop increased over the next 30 years, especially far north and along the sandy eastern counties.

During the 1940s, Texas moved almost 3.5 million quarts of the two berries each year, but the crop slowly declined when packing became more prominent after World War II. Even though the dewberry is sweeter and larger than the blackberry, the dewberry fell out of favor as supermarkets began selling frozen or canned produce, or even fresh fruit out of season.

Southern dewberries, or rubus trivialis, are often called running blackberries because their vines creep along the ground, continually replanting and regrowing without help. Although dewberries were always around, they did not begin to grow rampant on these shores until the first European settlers deforested parts of the land for pasture, clearing the way for the brambles to grow.

William Shakespeare has the first know reference to the work “dewberry” in his comedic fantasy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when the fairy queen Titania falls into a love potion-induced spell for the foolish weaver Nick Bottom, whose head –unknown to him-has been tuned into the head of an ass. “Be kind and courteous to this gentleman,” she tells her fairies. “Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes; feed him with apricocks and dewberries, with purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.”

The English did not particularly care for the dewberry. The language of flowers was a Victorian fancy in which every plant represented a different attribute combined to create a symbolic code; roses meant love and pansies meant thoughts. Dewberry brambles meant lowliness, envy or remorse—although the only real remorse comes from the lowliness and envy of not having any.

The origin of the name is unknown. Some think it is a version of “doveberry,” the traditional German name for the fruit. Others are more romantic, citing dewberries as the only berry dark enough to reflect the morning sky when covered with dew.

The only true thing that can be said of the dewberry is that it can only be enjoyed through a bit of inconvenience. So when my husband comes in hot and a little scratched up, I am ever thankful for that basket of berries. It is perhaps a rare example of country living that still exists.

We mainly eat dewberries out of the basket but sometimes with some cream. The dewberry cobbler is a treat. The season lasts about three weeks or so. We pick them fresh every day or two.




Makes 6 servings

4 tablespoons butter

4 cups dewberries

¾ cup sugar, plus ½ cup for the berries

¾ cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

¾ cup milk

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a baking dish and melt in the oven.

In a large bowl, toss dewberries with ½ cup sugar.

In a separate bowl, mix ¾ cup sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Add milk to dry ingredients and blend thoroughly. Pour into baking dish. Add fruit, but do not stir. Bake about 1 hour or until cooked. Cover baking dish with foil if top browns too quickly. Serve with cream or ice cream.