Chiggers, Briars, Stink Bugs – the Price of Jam

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, Heart of Hollyhill

Hollyhill, Kentucky
July 22, 1964

Jocie Brooke here reporting from Hollyhill, Kentucky. Well, from Holly County anyway. We, Dad and Aunt Love and I, actually live outside the city limits. We don’t live on a farm exactly, but there are farms all around us. Some of those farms have plenty of blackberry bushes on them and it’s blackberry season. 
Do you like blackberries? I do. Lots, but I’m not all that crazy about picking them. But as Aunt Love is always telling me, an able bodied person who doesn’t work shouldn’t be wanting to eat. And I definitely want to eat. She says that’s somewhere in the Bible too. So if Aunt Love hands me the picking bucket and tells me to go berry picking, I go berry picking. I do love blackberry jam on a hot biscuit with butter fresh churned by one of the women out at church. 
But even though I love that jam, picking berries is not all fun and games. Blackberries grown on briars. The best berries are always in the middle of the worst briars! Blackberries are bushy and there’s no way to be absolutely certain a snake might not be lurking under those bushes. As if that’s not bad enough, what about the spiders? There are always spiderwebs in the blackberries guarding the very best berries. Those big old spiders can have those berries. I’m not putting my hand anywhere close to them! And you have June bugs. I’m not afraid of June bugs, but their major whirring noise when you scare them away from a berry can give a girl a start. Sometimes there will be three or four June bugs on the same berry. It’s like a helicopter starting up when they all take off together. 

But June bugs are better than stink bugs. When one of them gets on a berry, it’s pretty much ruined for eating off the bush. Trouble is, you can’t tell the stink bug has been there until you put the berry in your mouth. Big yuck! Then the only, the very only thing you can do after the stink bug taste is on your tongue is pop another blackberry into your mouth as quickly as possible. Of course, you have to hope the stink bug wasn’t on that one too. Don’t think I’ve ever eaten two stink bug flavored blackberries in a row and I hope I never do!! Talk about spoiling the anticipated yummy berry flavor. 

Saturday I got a gallon of berries. Took a long time. Zeb lay in the shade and whined off and on to remind me how hot it was. He was right! It was hot! Dogs don’t like blackberry jam. I’m beginning to think twice about whether I do.

When I got the berries home, I had to wash them and get them ready for Aunt Love to make the jam. Then I had to hover nearby because well, Aunt Love is getting forgetful. She puts on a pot of blackberry jam – can’t you almost smell it – and promptly forgets it. Last week she forgot to stir it and it boiled up and over the top of the pan down into the burners. What a mess! So Dad says I have to watch the blackberry jam pot boiling. That way I can either remind Aunt Love to check it or stir it myself. I hate stirring it myself. I always get burned. You see when the jam is boiling down and beginning to get thick, it pops in big ploppy circles like those pools out in Yellowstone. Those pops can land hot blackberry juice on your hand. Ouch! But that does mean it’s almost done. Aunt Love tests to see if it’s done by putting a dollop of the jam on a cold saucer and sticking it in the freezer compartment. Once it’s had a minute or two to chill, Aunt Love looks at it to see if it’s done. All I can tell is that it’s purple. But Aunt Love can tip that saucer up and tell whether to keep cooking or stop cooking by how that jam sample sits on the plate. Or doesn’t sit on the plate. At least she used to be able to do that. Now it’s anybody’s guess what she’ll remember or what she’ll forget. So far she hasn’t forgotten the first Bible verse. I guess that’s good if she didn’t always hunt some out of her memory to try to keep me in line. And after I pretended to know about jam sliding on a plate and got popped by that jam juice while helping her. If she reads this, she’ll give me a hard look and ask who plans on eating that jam.

I’ve got to go now and think about a way to stop these chiggers from itching. How about you? Did you ever get chiggers while blackberry picking?