Glancing out the window, I noticed shadows cast by trees and shrubs in the yard had grown long, finally appearing cool and friendly. Sunset was an hour away. Earlier in the day the sun had been hot and the air overly humid so I had stayed indoors. Now was my chance to comfortably enjoy my backyard.
One of the first things I wanted to do was visit my newly transplanted apple tree near the backside of my property. It made me happy to see how healthy his leaves were. I greeted him, “Hello Harold Haralson, have the deer been leaving you alone?” Several silver reflective ribbons that I’d tied to a few of his branches flapped in the breeze, glinting brightly in the late evening sunshine. As if answering a comment he’d made, I answered as I turned to continue my yard inspection, “Yes. It does look that way. Very good. Carry on.”
My next stop was my dream garden on the very backside of my lot. It was my late husband’s plan to have a lovely raspberry and strawberry bed there. We’d tilled the area and found the ground to be very rocky. Looking at the layout of the yard, I suspected that this was where the former barn driveway had been located. We had planted red and black raspberries as well as a row of June-bearing strawberries.
Weeds immediately sprang up in the freshly worked soil. I worked the soil again. More weeds promptly appeared. This scenario played out over and over. Finally, I decided to stop the fight. The weeds had won. The strawberry plants suffocated under a tall stand of thistles and quack grass. Used to more rugged conditions, the raspberry bushes valiantly struggled to coexist with the weeds.
Due to the frequent rains this summer, everything in the dream garden was growing well; weeds and raspberries alike. Plump, black raspberries glistened, begging me to start picking them.
When I had been a child, a local farmer partially logged-out his woodlot. Plants that didn’t like to grow in a dense wood began to flourish, such as blackcap raspberries. Every summer we picked pail after pail of the sweet little berries. I grew up thinking these were the only berries people found in woods.
One of the things we looked forward to Mom making with the blackcaps was something she called, holba dodgen. As I grew up watching, I learned that she made a batter as if for pancakes, pouring it into a greased, hot jelly roll pan, sprinkled a quart of berries over the batter and topping it off with a cup of sugar before replacing the pan in the hot oven for 30 minutes. It was pure heaven on earth to eat!
In my dream garden, I picked the berries slowly. The wicked thorns on the bushes would rip my skin if I hurried. Pushing aside a stand of five-foot-tall tansy, I reached in and emptied each bush. Birds in the nearby pine trees twittered. Was I taking berries they wanted to eat? Bugs buzzed in my ears and behind my glasses, prickly burn-nettle stung my legs and arms. Ah yes, this all brought back my memories of the discomforts of berry picking as a child.
My grandparents moved to Wisconsin from Germany in the 1890’s. They spoke what Daddy called “Low German”. Mom and Daddy were required to learn English in grade school. In raising their family, they did not teach any of their children to speak German. We heard small German phrases from time to time, but that was all. Our parents seemed proud to have learned to enunciate English words well and to speak without accents.
I made holba dodgen with the berries I picked that night and offered some to my daughter, Tammie. She loved it and remembered it from her childhood. She said, “I’m going to look up what the German translation is for holba dodgen.”
When the German translator didn’t work, I tried Czechoslovakian and Dutch websites. I exclaimed, “Is Low German so different from regular German? I don’t think Mom made up the words, holba dodgen! Maybe we’re mispronouncing or misspelling it.”
Looking up from the computer, Tammie said, “Using the description of your holba dodgen, I’ve found that it is similar to a dessert called German oven pancake.”
I laughed, “Of course! When I was a new bride I had a recipe for German oven pancake. The recipe was very much like our holba dodgen, except instead of topping it with berries it called for lemon juice and powdered sugar.”
Holding out her plate, Tammie asked, “May I have some more holba dodgen?”