Sometimes the serendipitous adventures are best — well, at least it was last Sunday as my husband Bert and I took a leisurely ride through Halls (North Knoxville) just looking at all the new developments and changes out that way.
Have you ever been to The Fruit and Berry Patch? I asked.
Can’t say that I have, he answered — and that’s when we took the country road up to the farm of Dr. Dennis Fox.
Former botany professor at UT, Dr. Fox is an affable, knowledgeable, committed-to-sharing farmer who’s here almost seven days a week at this heavenly pick-your-own site. He spends quality time with city slickers like us, telling us what’s ripe and where to find not-yet-picked-over bushes. We saw a young man holding a bucket ready to hit the fields of blueberries, but we were pretty sure we couldn’t stand the 100-degree heat that afternoon just for a few berries!
So, we looked around the place.
We spotted fresh honey (and there’s lots more to come since Dr. Fox has recently bought all the honey one local beekeeper can harvest).
And preserves and apple butter made locally from his fruit.
Gallons of apple cider.
And fried pies, too. Peach, fresh apple, blueberry, strawberry — some made from old family recipes, some new. (Strawberry’s my choice, but Bert ALWAYS picks apple desserts in any form!)
The place has a sense of humor, too, in a country sort of way.
But really, we had no intention of picking. That is, until Dr. Fox showed us a map of the farm, how close the blueberries were to the shop, and the location of the “berriest” bushes that hadn’t been over-picked! It’s been a tough summer for blueberries — we just haven’t had any rain to speak of, he told us. But you can still find them, if you look.
Then he handed us a bucket. How could we resist?
So, with no hat, sunscreen, or appropriate clothing, we were off on our berry pickin’ adventure.
We met up with this family — and listened to them one row over as we all picked in the silence of the fields. Look for the big, fat blue ones, the mother told her child. And I could just imagine little pickers intent on learning the craft by grabbing not only blue but also green berries, twigs, leaves and all — anything to fill a bucket! Happens, I suppose!
But we were off in search of big fat blue ones, ourselves. The berries we found were beautiful — or so we thought — until one man passed by and said, I know everyone thinks they’ve found just the right spot, but really, if you go down to the end of that row (and he pointed left and down), you’ll find some bushes that are just loaded. He was right.
That’s the fun of picking! You hunt for the bushes with the best berries — down the lane, around the corner, up and down. Even when your bucket is full. Just a few more, you say to yourself! It’s the hunt as much as it is the harvest!
We were quite fortunate that young man came along, because the journey to find the best blueberries had a side benefit: we were squarely in front of the neighboring blackberry patch — and that’s a whole ‘nother story. We hadn’t even thought of blackberries, yet here they were: huge blackberries ripe for the pickin’. Well, mostly. Lots more red ones this trip — waiting to turn black after summer storms like the ones we’ve had this week. (Maybe if you go now, you can get the ones we left behind!)
Life lessons abound, I suppose, through experiences like this, and my English teacher mind couldn’t help but find symbolism in the simple act of picking blackberries: the search for something desirable, the joy of finding it– even if the find is based on happenstance and spare at best. Then the reach –careful, of course, to avoid tangles or an encounter with a stinging creature. And the fun of bounty hunting — God’s perfect (and sometimes imperfect) berries in an idyllic farm in Halls on a hot afternoon! Simple summer pleasures, for sure.
We brought back our bucketfuls for Dr. Fox to weigh.
And then plunked down extra money for bottled water and a fried pie — rewards for a job well done!
If you want to go, call ahead first and listen to Dr. Fox’s daily message. At this writing, here are the latest announcements: 1) Blueberries, blackberries, and peaches are ready to pick, but 2) The Fruit and Berry Patch will close if the temperature hits 94 degrees. (Good plan!)
My advice? Go early — and that’s not just to beat the heat. After all, it’s the other pickers you’re really racing against! Here’s the number to call: 865-922-3779.
So, what did we do with all those gorgeous blackberries? Make a cobbler, of course!
Here’s an easy recipe from the Knox Heritage Summer Suppers cookbook for Foundry’s Blackberry Cobbler. If you’re not familiar with the Summer Supper program that offers Southern meals in great settings — like farms, historic homes, etc. — just click here for more information. We love these events!
And now for the recipe for this cobbler that was served at Strong Stock Farm in 2009.
Foundry’s Blackberry Cobbler
1/2 cup butter
3 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup milk
24 oz. blackberries
Melt butter in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Mix together 1 1/2 cups sugar, flour, and baking powder. Add milk and lightly whisk. Pour batter on top of melted butter in baking dish. On medium heat, cook blackberries and remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar until mixture begins to boil. Add blackberry mixture to top of batter and bake at 350 degrees until batter browns. Cool and top with vanilla ice cream.
If you want to go to The Fruit and Berry Patch (Please do!), here’s what we suggest:
- Call ahead to see what’s available and in what abundance: 865-922-3779.
- Dress appropriately — cool clothing, sunscreen, hat.
- You don’t have to bring your own container unless you’re planning to pick a lot. Buckets and cardboard trays are available.
- Be prepared to buy something else — the apple cider, fried pies, honey, and preserves are hard to resist!
Enjoy the day!
The Fruit and Berry Patch
Owners: Dennis and Judie Fox
Co-owners: Jeff and Sandy Fox
4407 McCloud Road
Knoxville, TN 37938