Besides the notoriety of that "you can't make this stuff up" movie called Bernie, East Texas offers a bucket load of sights and offerings for the local and visitor alike. The piney woods and Caddo Lake are a nature lover's delight; good southern eats like fried catfish and grits abound (and squirrel if you're so inclined); history rests behind every corner; and that red dirt has spawned more than one American icon including the likes of George Jones, Janis Joplin, and Matthew McConaughey (sigh...).
On a recent visit to see my two sons attending school in Tyler, Texas, we had a couple of free days to dip our toes in the East Texas swamp of things to do and decided upon one berry fine way to spend an afternoon... picking berries, of course!
I adore anything berry, and there's nothing like a bowl full of summer beauties bathed in cold whipped cream to tickle the tummy. Major yum. So the opportunity to get my hands stained with some fresh-picked berry juice sounded divine. Fortunately, both sons were game for that, as well. Not that the promise of home-made cobbler made any difference, I'm sure.
A nice country drive dotted with happy patches of grazing cattle backdropped by emerald pastures lead us to the tiny community of Edom, about 30 minutes east of Tyler. Boasting 375 residents, this hamlet is tucked quietly away in the pine curtain and certainly qualifies for sleepy. A handful of small shops and an art gallery or two line the brief Main Street, along with one home-style cafe (more on that
The destination -- Blueberry Hill Farms. And you betcha' we had hopes to find our thrill there on this fine summer day!
Established as a "you pick 'em" farm in 1999 (where you can "Pick n' Edom"), Chuck and Sherry Arena offer a huge expanse of mostly blueberry bushes, a nice section of blackberry vines, and a great Country Store that offers up an huge array of goodies such as jams, salsas, syrups, mustards, and other assorted berry related items.
And a bakery. A really fabulous bakery.
As we entered the friendly red barn building, an enticing aroma from that aforementioned bakery met our nostrils, furthering the desire to walk away with overflowing buckets of black and blue fruit. I made my way to the counter and asked the smiling young clerk what we needed to do to pick our selves silly.
She pointed to a quite large metal arrow hanging from the ceiling and said, "See that? Meet me there." Doing as we were were told, directions came quickly on where to pick blackberries:
"Follow the path along the road to the little white house. The bushes start there, so begin in that area and work your in. Don't pick red ones -- someone thought they were raspberries one time and they were really disappointed!"
She placed a light weight wooden bucket lined with a plastic grocery sack in our hands, then warned that this year's blueberry crop was pretty scrawny due to a late freeze, so just focus on blackberries.
I won't deny I was disappointed at that news flash, but optimistically replaced my visions of fresh baked blueberry muffins bursting with purple-y juices mingling with melted butter with a revised version of overflowing baskets of blackberries on their way to crispy golden cobbler crowned with Blue Bell Ice Cream dollops of vanilla creaminess.
"Y'all have fun!"
"Thanks (wiping drool from my chin) -- we sure will!"
We marched purposefully to the border of the little white house and promptly clued in that we were late for the task. Too late. As in the early birds really do get the worms...and the berries. Remaining hopeful, we bent and crept and pushed aside thorny vine as we doggedly searched for the blessed sight of rich purple-blue clusters ready for plucking.
About 40 minutes into it with a grand total of maybe 15 berries in my forlorn bucket, elder son and I decided to call it quits and head for the shaded porch. Younger son had disappeared and continued his quest for quite some time, accruing a nice pint or so.
As we sat and cooled ourselves at one of the picnic tables placed under the nice fan-cooled covering, we enjoyed the views while sipping a Dixie cup of cool water the owners graciously provide. All was not well, however; that seducing aroma wafting from the bakery had infiltrated our nostrils and was making direct contact with our stomachs.
"Want to go in and check out the bakery?"
"Ummm, sure, Mom... if you want to."
Now fully emboldened by such raw encouragement, I entered and veered directly to the bakery case. The aroma took on tangible form -- muffins the size of softballs, lattice work pies, rich blackberry crumble, puffy turnovers...oh my. Opting for a slice of the crumble, the "ooooo's" and "ahhhhhh's" slipped out between scrumptious bites. After all, just think of all the calories we'd burned laboring over the vines, right??
Despite not finding fruition in the quest for copious amounts of black and blueberries, the couple of hours spent at Blueberry Hill Berry Farm were absolutely worth it. Time under a cotton ball cloud sky on a warm June day, bird song floating through the air while a gentle breeze stirs and cools a sweaty brow is not a half bad way to commune with the natural beauties this world offers. And more importantly, spending simple, sweet time with my sons -- well, ya can't put a price tag...or compare a bucket of berries...to the value of that!
The farm does offer already picked berries, and obviously they were up early enough to fill quite a few flats with the biggest, plumpest, prettiest blackberries I've ever seen. And...they use no pesticides on the berries - yay! - even if they're not officially certified organic. As Chuck Arena says on the website, "My family eats the berries right off the bush." Good enough for me and the gallon of blackberries that drove away with us.
There are numerous berry farms in East Texas and June seems prime time for optimal picking. Blueberry Hill is a great one, the staff is friendly, the amenities are nice, and the berries are pretty dang awesome. Just get there early if you want to fill those buckets, kids!
Once you've worked up an appetite, despite sampling that array of baked berry delights, make your way just a half mile or so down the road to a classic small town cafe known as The Shed.
Opened in 1967, it offers up just about every Southern delectable your sweet little heart could ask for, along with a selection of pies that I'm still dreaming about. However, we didn't have room to woof any of them down due to the fully stuffed condition we arose from the quaint wooden table with.
The Shed's a friendly place filled with a good sprinkling of area folks, as well as the passing through tourist types, and staffed with those down to earth sweet gals who should have names like Flo, Marge, and Mabel. Our tea glasses stayed full and we heard "Doin' okay, honey?" just enough to feel taken care of but not hen-pecked.
Aunt Bea would've most certainly told Andy and Opie to "Get fed at the Shed" had it existed in Mayberry, I am certain.
I've added a few photos from in and around Edom...
If you've still got some energy left, head on back towards Tyler -- destination Tyler Jr. College.
I’d checked online for “Things to do in Tyler”, and the TJC’s Center for Earth & Space Science Education popped up. Evidently they host traveling exhibits in addition to their hands-on children’s section and planetarium type domed theatre.
We chanced upon a fascinating exhibit featuring scale models of the mastro Leonardo’s inventions...Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion…which also happened to be hands-on for us big kids who like to play with the toys. It was a fascinating collection, and left me with renewed astonishment at the incredible mind of Signor da Vinci.
The museum runs an almost hourly array of movies in the domed theatre, so we caught one on coral reefs, then took a double dip for another on Google X’s race to the moon. Both were very well done and enjoyable…and educational so you can dupe the kids into some "fun" that'll learn em' a thing or two.
TJC also houses The Tyler Museum of Art, but our day ran out before we could make it to their door. However, we made a little of our own "art"...or not.
Paula A. Reynolds
Traveler or Tourist?