Tag Archives: blackberries

Blackberries to Cure What Ails You

In Pvt. Erasmus Anderson’s last letter home, he mentioned blackberries. In fact he even made a little joke.

The blackberries is getting ripe here and in Ohio they are not in blossom yet.  You are behind time up there ain’t you.


Photo by Martin LaBar, from Flickr. Used with Creative Commons license.

Having a chat with friends over some wine and snacks, I wondered aloud what housewives during the Civil War would do with blackberries–besides just eat them out of hand.

I know that the few times I was fortunate enough to go blackberry picking, it was hard to pick them faster than we ate them as they dropped into the bucket, all warm and juicy and sweet from the sun.

And of course we could make a slump, or a grunt, or a cobbler or one of those other typically American fruit desserts, or a pie–but haven’t we done enough of those desserts?

One of my friends took a sip of her wine and said, “How about blackberry wine?”  Perfect!  Although I don’t have any handed-down terrific recipes (someone promised me one, but she has not come through yet)…I dove into the Internet to see what I could come up with. Surely all those grandmothers and greats and great-greats made blackberry wine or blackberry cordial at one time or another.

How complicated is it? And what is the difference between wine and cordial? And since I live in Arizona with no blackberry bushes between the prickly pears behind my house, will I ever have enough blackberries to turn into Booze?


Blackberry Cordial Medicine

Blackberry Cordial as a Patented Medicine that could cure about anything.

The book Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book, yield a medicinal use for Blackberry Syrup, published in 1860. “A Tablespoon for a child or a wineglass for an adult is a dose.”

Blackberry Syrup After boiling a pound of sugar to a pint of water, add to “expressed juice” of blackberries (same amount as sugar). Add half a nutmeg grated for each quart of syrup, boil for 15-20 minutes, then add half a gill (1/4 cup) of brandy for each quart of syrup.  Let cool, then bottle.

Borden Condensed Milk

Ad1898. The pitch had not changed in thirty-eight years. From Wikipedia. In the public domain

According to a note in the Godey’s recipe book, Union hospitals treated sick and wounded soldiers in hospitals with the same recipe, except it used condensed milk instead of water.

Condensed milk had been recently invented by Gail Borden, who marketed it as New York Condensed Milk (Later Borden’s Eagle Brand). Evaporated milk with sugar added was canned and could withstand the heat of the South. The Union army bought all the Borden factory in New York could make to ensure a supply for their soldiers.

A Non-Medicinal Recipe

I really like the looks of this recipe that I have slightly adapted (but not yet tried) from Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Cookbook & Field Guide. His introduction says this is an old British recipe. It does become an alcoholic drink with aging, although the alcohol content will vary from batch to gatch. He describes it as thick and dark. (The same recipe can be used for rasberry cordial.)

Backberry Cordial

  • 2 quarts fresh blackberries
  • 2 Cups boiling water
  • 2 cups Sugar

1. Crush the berries well and put them into a small stoneware crock.  Add water.

2. Cover crock with cheesecloth and set in a warm place for 24 hours. Stir occasionally.

3. Push the berries and their liquid through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. Reserve jucie and discard pulp.

4.  Add sugar to the berry liquid.

5. Stir again every 15 minutes for one hour. (Five times.)

6.  Strain mixture through dampened cheesecloth.

7. Bottle cordial and cork bottles.

8. Place bottles on their sides and keep them in a cool, dark place for four months. Decant before using. Makes two quarts.

Photo Credits

(To see the original source of each photo, click on the picture).

Blackberries: Identified in the caption.

Blackberry Cordial: Johnathan Brown from Flickr, used with Creative Commons license.

Borden’s Condensed Milk Advertisement: From Wikipedia, who got it from the site it is linked to–an image of the back cover of a guide book for travelers to Alaska and the Klondike during the gold rush of the 1890s.


Billie Joe Tatum’s book is out of print, but may be available from used book sellers on the Internet.

Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book can be purchased on Amazon in hard copy or as an e-book by clicking on the title here.

Wild Foods: Berry Foraging in Field and Forest

Foraging Out on the Farm

People in small farm communities up through the 1950s or 60s were not far from our hunter/gatherer ancestors.  We’ll talk about the hunting part on another day, but today I’m thinking in two articles about the gathering wild foods.   Yesterday Grandma Vera Anderson and I went to the woods for mushrooms.  But we could find plenty of other edibles out in the woods or the abandoned fields of the farms. Bre'r Rabbit book coverOf course the wild foods included blackberries and raspberries hiding shyly underneath Br’er Rabbits bramble bushes.  And I’m pretty sure that my Daddy would have wanted to read me a story about Br’er Rabbit as a preface to berry hunting.  I remember going out on the Anderson farm with my Uncle Bill and Uncle Herb and my Dad and some other folks and coming back with berries for cobbler and pie. My brother remembers a different berry hunting story.

Foraging to Earn a Pie of Grass

Contributed by Bro Kaser

My father, Paul Kaser, never believed my mother made enough pies. Once when we lived in a rural area, a neighbor woman came to borrow a rolling pin. I distinctly remember my mother saying as she handed over the implement, “I can’t tell you how many hundreds of pies I’ve made with that.” I remember it distinctly because of what my father said when the woman had gone on down the road, “Oh, Harriette, shame on you. You told that poor innocent country woman you’ve made hundreds of pies and she believed you. What did you do with all those hundreds of pies? I never saw them.”

Foraging for Blackberries

Photo by Memphis CVB at the Jones Orchard

Once, when we had a blackberry bramble patch out back, Mom said to my pie-starved father, “If you and Billy go out there and fill these five cartons with berries, I’ll make you berry pies.” We went out, I’m sure with the best of intentions. If you’ve ever picked blackberries on a hot day, you know that it’s as sticky, jaggy experience that leaves your hands red and itchy. But a berry pie is a soothing reward. We picked until our fingers were anointed with stains and our hands were red with scratches. We picked and picked, but we could not get enough to fill the last two cartons. Finally my father said, “If you want that pie, you’d better do what I do.” He stuffed his last carton with grass and covered the top with a layer of berries. I filled my last box similarly, figuring we would show them, then sneak them away while she made the pies from the full baskets. My mother took away all five cartons before we could pull the switch. That night two pies were presented. “The one over there is for you and Billy,” she said coolly to Dad. “I didn’t have enough berries for that one and had to supplement with the grass you picked by accident.”

A Berry, Berry Good BLACKBERRY Pie

Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook 1953 Although Mother Would not have needed a recipe, this is the way she would have made her blackberry pie. If you have more blackberries than grass in your bucket after picking wild foods, you may want to try this pie. This recipe is adapted from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook,1953 first edition, a relic of her home economics teaching days. Even the reproduction issue of this edition is now out of print and available only through independent sources. This recipe includes the finishing detail of how mother glazed her fruit pie crust for a beautiful crust.

Berry Pie

  • 2/3-1 C sugar
  • 4 T flour
  • 3 C fresh berries
  • pastry for pie crust
  • 3 T milk (for crust)
  • 2 tsp sugar (for crust)

Mix flour and sugar, clean berries, pour sugar/flour mixture over berries. Put pastry in bottom of pie pan, fill with berry mixture. Cut slots in top pie crust and put over berries. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water, and seal the top crust to the bottom crust around the edge. Brush top crust lightly with milk and sprinkle sugar on top for a sparkly glaze.

For those who would prefer their wild foods a little tangier instead of the sweetness of pie–read about digging up weeds.