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Alyce Faye Bragg: Hoping for a blackberry summer

Summer begins, and she blows her hot breath through our hills, bringing steamy, humid days and sudden, violent thunderstorms that roll across the sky. Sun-loving wildflowers flourish, such as the orange day lilies and Black-eyed Susan’s, and the common daisies are fading. The land already has a midsummer look, with the leaves on the trees full and lush. Frothy flowers of Queen Anne’s lace appear along the roadsides.

Legend tells us that this lacy flower got its name from Queen Anne of London, who was doing needlework when she pricked her finger and a drop of blood landed on the lace in her lap. If you look close, right in the center of this blossom appears a dark spot. I’ll never forget what grandson Reuben said one time when he pulled up the whole plant. “Look,” he said excitedly. “It has a flower on one end and a wild carrot on the other!”

It’s true that it is also a wild carrot, and whether it evolved from our garden-type carrot is questionable. More likely, our carrots probably evolved from the wild type. It can be eaten, although it gets tough and stringy as it ages. My sources say that flower clusters can be French-fried for an attractive and carrot flavored dish. That sounds interesting! There are many medicinal uses for this plant, and it has been used for ages for different ailments.

Tea made from wild carrot leaves has been recommended, particularly for urine/kidney problems. It is also used for the treatment of kidney stones, and other ailments. (I wonder if I should stew up some for son Matthew, who is plagued frequently with kidney stones?) The plant is harvested in July and dried for later use.

There should be great care taken to distinguish wild carrot from poison hemlock, which can be deadly. They resemble each other a lot, but there are ways to test them. The stem of wild carrot is hairy, while poison hemlock stems are smooth. If you rub wild carrot leaves between your fingers, it smells just like carrots. Poison hemlock smells nasty. Be very sure before using wild carrot for any use. I remember someone bringing me a stalk of poison hemlock, thinking it was dill. Yes, it pays to be very careful.

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I hope we do have a blackberry summer. Son Andy says they are hanging thick on their briers, and it looks as if there will be a good crop. I found out that rain on the second day of June is the indication of a poor crop, but I can’t remember if it rained. I looked in my daily journal, but I hadn’t recorded that day.

Dewberries, which ripen on vines along the ground, are usually the first to ripen. We used to scour the road bank for these early berries, sometimes gleaning a cupful for our breakfast cereal. Dewberries will ever be remembered for scratched legs, summer sun and childhood. Wild raspberries will be ripening soon — soft, luscious blackcaps that melt in your mouth. For those folks fortunate enough to find more than a handful, these delicate berries make the most delicious jam. Store-bought jams and jellies can never compare with the delectable spreads made from the wild berries that grow in our own hills.

We always looked forward to the “quick jam” made from the first blackberries that we picked. Quick jam is well-sweetened berries thickened with cornstarch, and eaten hot with butter and biscuits. We had yellow “cow butter” in ours, and we ate gallons of it. We called it “flummery” and it was one of our favorite foods for breakfast.

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One downside of summer are the fierce thunderstorms that follow hot, humid days. Although I revel in an approaching storm, they can be dangerous and threatening. I love to sit on the front porch and watch a display of God’s power, until the rain blows in and drives me indoors. Lightning struck a tall oak tree right outside the windows at Hagar School when I was a kid. It thoroughly shocked all of us, and for years we would hold a pillow over our heads when a storm blew in.

Somewhere we got the idea that feathers would repel lightning, so we gathered around Mom with feather pillows. When a thunderstorm came in the middle of the night, we almost smothered when we buried down in the bed.

Now when one approaches, I can witness the awesome power of God when He strides the heavens. The first black thunderclouds roll up across the sky, and streaks of lightning begin far away. Then thunder gets louder, and lightning splits the sky in jagged, brilliant light. Sheets of rain moves in then, and wind blows the tree branches wildly. It is a spectacle worth watching. I am so glad that I got over my fear of lightning.

Summertime is ideal for youngsters. My great grandkids enjoy doing the same things that we did as kids. It’s such fun to catch lightning bugs (fireflies) at dusk and put them in a glass jar to make a flashlight, and wade along the creek or edge of the river to capture tadpoles. The river ones are bigger, and sometimes are developing little legs. We caught crawdads and sometimes minnows, which we placed in a large crack in the rock that held water. It was our own personal aquarium.

Summertime brings food from the garden, but with so much rain this spring, ours is late. The first new potatoes, graveled from a crack in the hill, are one of the finest foods you can eat. We called them “creamed potatoes,” and Mom really creamed them with rich cow cream, thick and sweet. Thickened with cornstarch, and a lump of yellow butter added, it was delicious. Sometimes she threw in a handful of fresh peas, which made them doubly good.

Our earliest food was tender young lettuce, fixed with green onions and a bacon-grease vinegar dressing. This, along with the creamed potatoes and some homemade cottage cheese, made summertime worthwhile. We may have lived in an unpainted Jenny Lind house, with a tarpaper roof and a Johnny house outside, but we ate well and never went hungry. I am thankful for the childhood I had — I wouldn’t change a thing!

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Well, I had a happy ending to my day. You will be glad to know that the wild raspberries are getting ripe. My granddaughter Taylor brought me a cupful to put on my breakfast cereal. I couldn’t wait — I ate them with cream and sugar.

So simmer on, sweet summertime!

Contact Alyce Faye Bragg at

alycefaye@citlink.net or write to 2556 Ovapa Road, Ovapa, WV 25164.

Funerals for Saturday, August 24, 2019

Barron, Dennis - 11 a.m., Airborne Church, Martinsburg.
Baylor, Elizabeth - 1 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.
Bonds Jr., Patrick - 1 p.m., King of Glory International Ministries, Charleston.
Burgess, Corey - 5 p.m., Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Burns, Helen - 11 a.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation, Inc., Grantsville.
Caldwell, Gary - 6 p.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.
Casto, Carroll - 1 p.m., Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor.
Casto, Roger - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Winfield.
Duty, Fred - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.
Fisher, Bernard - 2 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.
Gwinn, Lloyd - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Habjan, Nathan - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay. 
Hall, Daniel - Noon, Witcher Baptist Church.
Hinkle, Ethel - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Hoffman, Bruce - 2 p.m., Foglesong - Casto Funeral Home, Mason.  
Kinder, Siegel - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.
Kyler, Virgil - 11 a.m., Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Reedy.
Palmer, William - 1 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston. 
Raynes Sr., Steven - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.
Truman, James - 2 p.m., Newton Baptist Church, Newton.
Turner, Keith - Noon, Full Gospel Assembly,  Huntington. 
Webb, Antoinette - 11 a.m., SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Oak Hill.
Wilson, Greg - Noon, Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.
Withrow, James - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.