Every mid-summer when I was a kid, my dad would say, "You wanna go pick some blackcaps?" Blackcaps, I didn't know then, were black raspberries, and picking blackcaps with my dad, pails in hand, is one of my fondest childhood memories. I don't remember where we found them, he seemed to have some secret blackcap spot. What I do remember was hanging out with my father, getting scratched up by thorns, and arriving home with pails full of fruit. My mother was not so enthusiastic. Upon our return she would demand I sit with her and look at each and every berry before later processing into pies or jam or freezing. We were looking for worms. Apparently my mom had a bad blackcap experience once, worm-wise.
In any case, when I moved into my current house I discovered a small blackcap bush in the back yard. I was delighted and nursed the little bush through several summers until it managed to produce maybe 15 berries, which I picked and gulped down, never having enough to do anything other than sprinkling a few on my cereal. Not long after moving in I hired a local fellow, just a kid then, named Riley Webster who has a magic gardening thumb and was willing to spend hours in my overgrown yard pulling weeds and planting flowers. One day during his first week of work I went outside and, horrified, saw that he'd yanked my little blackcap bush out of the ground and thrown it onto a pile of brambles. Poor Riley, I screamed and demanded he replant it (I'm surprised he didn't quit on the spot). "But...but...it's a weed!" he told me. "Not in this yard, it's not!" I announced. Bless his heart, he was determined to convince me the blackcap bush was garbage growth, but replant he did.Nature is such a strange thing. The little blackcap bush keeled over that summer and still today has never really come back right. The berries are puny and awkward-looking. But Nature, in its strangeness, must have known how important blackcaps are to me because now my back yard has become overrun with bushes that are bursting with the black raspberries. They're climbing the fence, they're choking out the peonies, they're wrapping themselves around the rose bush. They've even jumped the fence and are now growing next to the carriage house and opposite the driveway steps. Every morning for the past week I've gone outside and picked a half a quart. My freezer is stuffed with blackcaps and don't ask me what I'm going to do with them all. I gotta say, though, when I walk into my house and dump the berries into the strainer for washing, and then pile them into freezer bags, I am completely elated. I'm thinking about my dad and our foraging. I'm thinking about my mom and her stern finger-wagging about searching for creatures in the little blackcap cup (sorry, Mom, I don't do a worm search these days). I picture the sunny kitchen of my youth and spending special moments with my parents. It's a lovely thing, and rather amazing that a little black berry can transport me so instantaneously to simpler times.
As for Riley, well he isn't working in my yard anymore, though he did work here for several summers after what we've come to call "The Blackcap Incident." He's in college and is working elsewhere this summer, no doubt making more money, though he stops by now and then and can't help but pull a weed when he sees one...a real weed. We haven't talked much about the berry bush overgrowth, though he knows they're there. And I don't say the word "blackcap" to him. I'm afraid his memories won't be quite so fond as mine. Maybe I'll make him a blackcap pie this Christmas as a peace offering.