Picking Blueberries In East Texas by Bonnie and Bill Neely

My friends invited me to go with them to pick blueberries near our hometown, Paris, TX. I knew I would enjoy the company and the early summer drive through this ranch and farming countryside in the delightful late spring weather with birds singing, bright sunny skies, and Queen Anne’s lace and yellow daisies blooming by the thousands. However, secretly, I was dreading the actual “picking.” As a city dweller, my limited experiences with picking anything were anything but pleasurable! When I was a child my parents took me on a hot summer evening to pick peaches in South Carolina. I picked some of the ripe, pink and yellow globes, delighting in the sweet smells that made my mouth water. We enjoyed eating a few peel-it-yourself delicious peaches beneath the trees, and then we kids tired of the labor and resorted to tumbling and playing hide-and-seek in the orchard. The peach fuzz stuck to our hot, sweaty little arms and legs, and I began to itch fiercely all over. It felt as if I had rolled in angel hair or steel wool! I couldn’t get to a bathtub fast enough, and I refused all other invitations to pick peaches.

My next “picking” venture was as a young mother taking my two pre-school children to pick blackberries on a steaming hot day in broiling sun… NOT a good idea on many fronts! First, we had to go through tall weeds to get to the steep embankment where the wild blackberries grew in profusion. I had heard that if you make a lot of noise and brush the grass with your boots it would scare the snakes away leaving your path clear. I carried the kids through the weeds, hoping no snake would get me, then we perched ourselves on the bank’s edge to gather berries. First my son scraped his hand on the thorns and started to cry as he saw the blood. Then my daughter thought she saw a snake in the blackberry bush (and she very well may have) and refused to pick another berry. I persuaded them to wait for me to pick just a few for them to enjoy on the way home, and I gave up on the idea of blackberry pies for the freezer. We waded through the tall grass and back into the hot car and headed home, when we all started itching. At first we scratched a few little places. Then we were all clawing ourselves frantically… Instead of GETTING juicy morsels, we had BECOME juicy morsels for the CHIGGERS, whose home happened to be that blackberry bramble!

My other determined “picking” venture began quite enthusiastically as a teaching experience for my young children. We drove to the countryside where acres of cucumbers were being picked for pickles. The scene was like cotton picking days in the Old South. We trudged up and down a few rows and discovered that picking cucumbers is not only back-breaking in the hot sun but also cucumbers are covered with sharp, fuzzy spines that really hurt fingers. Well the ones in the supermarket for salads are all slick and shiney! Our hands were almost bleeding after about fifteen minutes, and we had no gloves, so that venture ended in agony, and the kids exclaimed, “We don’t even like cucumbers or pickles! Why did you make us do this?” (Although strawberries do not have prickly coverings to cause agony, our experience in the knee-wrenching venture with those ended equally as enthusiastically and quickly.)
So, for blueberry picking I was simply along for the ride…so I thought! But what a delightful surprise!
Late May and early June in early mornings are very pleasant temperatures in East Texas, so the ride was lovely. We arrived at the Kiomatia Blueberry Farm in northwest Red River County, where three acres of perfectly manicured land are planted with hundreds of rows of mature blueberry bushes, including high bush and rabbiteye varieties.
We didn’t need gloves because there were no thorns, no weeds, no snakes, no varmints…just a lovely grove with about twenty people picking berries for their own use. The one and two gallon buckets the owners provided hung easily on our arms and, to my great surprise and delight, I had one filled in ten minutes with practically no effort at all! At that time the price we paid in a super market for about a cup of blueberries was $4, and for just $10 we picked the gallon! The price, of course, varies by the crop each year.

The owners,Judy and Kenneth Short, told us how to clean and freeze the berries so we could enjoy them all year until next picking time. They even shared some wonderful recipes with us for blueberry pie and blueberry smoothies. They hope soon to have a machine to make and sell smoothies on the spot for pickers to enjoy. This is a perfect “picking” experience for you and your family, and you’ll enjoy the fruit all year. We had our last blueberry pie last night and can hardly wait for the farm to open to pickers this year! Kiomatia Bluberry Farm is about thirty minutes from either Paris or Clarksville, Texas, on FM Highway 410. The owners urge you to call before you come to be sure they are open for picking, since weather can alter things: 903 674 2477.