spring is dewberry time across much of Texas.
So named because dew often covers them in the morning, dewberries
bloom in late February and early March and can stay around until May.
The berries go from green to red to a purplish blue, which means they’re
ripe. Savvy pickers usually let the berries be for about a week after
they’ve ripened before harvesting them.
Rubus trivialis, or southern dewberry, are trailing,
low-growing thorn-covered plants that grow best in disturbed soil.
Part of the rose family and common all over the usually wetter South,
dewberries like loamy or sandy soil. The plant grows along rural roads,
railroad right of way, fence lines, in draws and old fields.
Full of vitamin C, dewberries also have lesser amounts of vitamins
A and B, along with minerals. And they taste good, sweeter than their
relative, the blackberry.
a gift of nature, dewberries don’t always come cost-free. Since spring
is also when snakes are most active, a dewberry picker has to keep
an eye out for rattlesnakes and copperheads in addition to looking
for ripe berries.
“I always pick with a stick in my hand to scare off snakes,” one Bastrop
County oldtimer told me years ago. “They raise up looking for
insects and rodents and if they see your hand, their liable to strike.”
In fact, this man’s father had been bitten by a copperhead while collecting
dewberries and while he recovered from the venom, he got plenty sick.
Dewberry pickers should also wear gloves, unless you want lacerated
hands stained purple. Bramble-like, dewberry plants can scratch legs
and tear clothing if you’re note careful.
and botanists know that humans have been willing to poke around snaky,
prickly vegetation for the sweet berries for a long time. Texas Indians
not only gathered and ate the berries, they used them for medicinal
Cherokees, for instance, ingested a concoction of dewberry roots and
leaves to treat diarrhea and rheumatism. They used a similar preparation
as an external wash for hemorrhoids. For sore throats, the Indians
mixed dewberry roots and leaves with honey as a remedy. Finally, a
dewberry leaf-based preparation was used for urinary problems.
early settlers had a taste for dewberries is scientifically proven.
According to one online overview of Texas dewberries, an archeologist
analyzing soil samples from 19th century outhouse sites in Houston
unearthed ample evidence of the fruit’s popularity.
“I found thousands of dewberry seeds in samples collected from the
privies,” he wrote. “The dewberry brambles had not yet given way to
urban sprawl, and Houstonians were picking their own and enjoying
that springtime delight. They obviously enjoyed preparing and consuming
dewberries, and they left abundant deposits in their outhouses.”
Dewberries can be eaten raw, folded into cream (from low-calorie to
ice cream), cooked in cobblers or transformed into jam. The berries
also can be used to make wine, and young dewberry leaves supposedly
make a good tea.
However they may be prepared, don’t go looking for dewberries at your
local grocery store. Some farmer markets sell them, but since they
don’t store for long if not frozen, the majority of Texas’s annual
crop is harvested individually.
dewberry cobbler is a classic Texas dish. While not for dieters,
it ranks right up there with peach cobbler.
Here, collected in my interview with a long-time rural Bastrop County
family in 1976, is their recipe (with some modifications) for this
1 cup flour
½ cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup shortening
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
To make the crust, combine ingredients and mix until crumbly.
1 pint dewberries fresh or frozen
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Rinse the berries, mix with the ingredients and let filling sit
for 20 minutes. Place the filling in an eight-inch pan and pat crust
down on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until the crust
For a topping, the family cook I interviewed suggested a mix of
a quarter-cup of butter with two tablespoons of flour, sugar and
cinnamon spread over the cobbler before baking.
(A caveat: I’ve not tried this recipe, but it should work. However,
comments are welcome.)
Dewberry cobbler is not for the diet minded, but at least you get
some exercise, sunshine and fresh air when you pick them.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" -
February 27, 2013 column
by Mike Cox - Order Here