Agriculture: Blackberries, a summertime treat, arrive in southern Virginia Beach

Farmer Robbie Vaughan of Vaughan Farm’s Produce shows off one of the you-pick berries at the family farm in southern Virginia Beach. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Ed. — From the Sunday, July 4, print edition.

Jane Bloodworth Rowe [Courtesy]

PUNGO — Sweet, succulent blackberries have been a constant in local summers for generations.  Like many of my generation, my first experience with them was picking them in the woods as a child. 

Those wild blackberry vines were covered in thorns, but I don’t think that anyone minded that too much back then. 

Like most county kids, I was always bug-bitten, sunburned, scratched and either dusty or muddy on summer days, anyway. A few more thorns didn’t matter much if the reward was sweet berries.

The biggest challenge back then was finding the berries. You usually had to hunt for them in a clearing near a patch of trees. The picking could be sparse, and most of the berries that you did find were usually eaten on the walk home.

Now, there’s no need to deal with either the thorns or the sparse picking. Blackberries are available pre-picked at local farm stands, and Henley Farms and Vaughan Farm’s Produce are also offering pick-your-own for those who, like me, think that part of the joy of fruit is in the picking.

On one recent day, I grabbed my basket and headed to Henley’s Charity Neck Road farm, where there’s an orchard of thornless blackberries ripe for the picking. There were only a handful of other pickers in the field, and I quickly found enough ripe berries for a cobbler. I marveled at the number of red berries which, with a few more days of warm sun, would be plump, ripe and bursting with flavor.

“They’re good this year,” said farmer Winky Henley, who added that he expects that peak season will begin in early July and last at least throughout the month.  

“Blackberries need some rain,” Henley said, “and we’ve had the rain this year.”

One trick to picking blackberries is to remove your sunglasses so that you can more clearly see the berry’s color. A ripe blackberry will be very, very black and quite plump, and it will come off easily in your hand. Make sure that you take your time and examine the berry carefully before you pick it.  Like strawberries, blackberries sometimes have one spot that’s not quite ripe, and this will prevent the berry from having its full flavor and juicy texture.

Blackberries are wonderful eaten as snacks or with ice cream, and they can be made into jams or baked into pies or cobblers.  Farmer Robbie Vaughan of Vaughan Farm’s Produce said that he enjoys snacking on them in the late afternoons, and he’s had two blackberry cobblers already this year that were both “to die for.”

“They’re very addictive,” Vaughan said, “and I have to do the quality control.”

So now you can enjoy picking blackberries without having to deal with thorns or walking for miles through muddy woods.

Still if you’re just not into pick-your-own, Flanagan Farms is also growing blackberries to sell pre-picked at their Pungo stand.  Farmer Roy Flanagan said that, while the triple crown berries that they grow are a later variety, they already are available this month. And, he added, this year’s crop looks as if it will be abundant.

For those who want to pick, growers recommend that you call before you come out to the farm. Vaughan Farm’s Produce is available at (757) 615-4888. Reach Henley Farm Market at (757) 426-7501.

Dark, ripe berry are pre-picked at Henley Farms in Pungo, or you can pick them yourself in the fields. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
A dark, ripe blackberry awaits picking while in the company of bright not-yet-ripe red berries. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

The author is a contributor to The Independent News. Her journalism has also appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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