Last week while talking with my publisher, he reminded me that my column is called “Field to Table,” not “Fish For Supper.” He said, “Next time you’re out in a field or woods, look around for something you could eat.”
Since the COVID started, the chef business has died off. I’ve been working as a ranch hand in Charlotte and DeSoto counties. I grew up where there are more cows than people, so we learned to work cattle and fence when we were kids. I’m grateful that I can fall back on that now.
While working on a fence in Desoto County, I started thinking about what my publisher and I were discussing and started looking around. First I started listening for the turkeys that I’d heard earlier in the week. They’re pretty tasty — but then I realized that spring season had already ended where I was at, so turkey wasn’t going to make it to my table until the season opens back up in the fall.
I continued to mend the fence, and when I got to a section that wasn’t shaded by oak trees, I found a berry patch. Now there’s something we can eat. Wild blackberries usually ripen between May and June in central Florida, so if you’re out wondering in the woods keep an eye out for a berry patch.
A few things to keep in mind if you discover a patch: First, you better have permission to pick them. Second, the stems have thorns, so gloves are a good idea. Also, when you’re searching for the berries, look along the ground as well as waist-high. Some plants stand tall while others tend to trail along the ground. That’s because there are a few different kinds of wild blackberries growing in central Florida.
Something that they all have in common is that the berries ripen at different times even on the same vine so if you want to get all the berries from a patch, you would have to return to that patch several times during the season. Select only the berries that have turned black. The red ones sure look inviting but just try one and I think you will find them to be sour.
Another thing to think about is that these patches tend to grow alongside of poison ivy, so take care. Many small creatures seek shelter among the thorns, and some hunters like snakes don’t mind going in after them. Insects also love both the flowers and the fruits, so you might be by yourself in the berry patch, but you’ll never be alone.
Some of the better places to look for berries are along country roadways, fencelines and pasture land. Remember, no trespassing. The birds enjoy blackberries as much as we do, so you may be in competition with them for ripe fruits. Also, I leave some of the really low ones for the gopher tortoises.
After gathering all the ripe berries that were there, I had about half a hatful. It wasn’t enough to make jam, but I figured I could still make a cobbler.
Cobblers are easy. My Grannie Eve says “It’s a cup, a cup, a cup” — meaning a cup of milk, a cup of self-rising flour and a cup of sugar. That’s the basis for any cobbler. Once you have the base made, then you add it to whatever fruit you want like peaches, guavas, pears, apples or, in this case, wild blackberries.
Actually, my cobbler never got made. As so often happens, someone ate all the berries before they got to the kitchen. What a shame. Does anyone have a toothpick?
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When I first moved to Port Charlotte, I wasn’t in town more than an hour before my friends were telling me about Fishin’ Frank’s. They told me I had to go there, and I was glad I did. That was six years ago and although several faces, me included, have come and gone, most of the faces that were still there have been there still I first came into the shop.
I started going there regularly and became friends with the pirate crew. I looked forward to going there every now and again on Sunday mornings. Usually there would be folks standing around the counter, shooting the breeze and telling fish tales.
One of the best things I saw in that shop was the love of children and getting them started in fishing. I like several others, saw a few kids’ faces light up when they got their first fishing pole — and usually it would be on the house.
I hope that we as a community rally around everyone and every business that has been affected by this tragedy and help support them reopening. So if you see Frank or Sean from SoundWorkz or any of their teams, you might offer some words of encouragement and a supportive smile.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit or call 406-580-1994.