Thursday, September 10, 2009

Berry Pickin'

'Blackberry, oh blackberry, where art thou be?'
'In troves of plenty, just beyond yonder tree.
Hanging from vines, in threes, fours and fives,
take care not to injure, there be thorns in disguise.'

Last weekend, while Up North, I happened upon a vine of ripe blackberries. I didn't notice the bounty till after it lay at my feet; I had mangled the bush the berries grew from with hedge clippers in an attempt to widen the driveway.

[Our cabin is seated a quarter-mile from the road up a steep and winding self-made path, many times in between visits to the cabin the shouldering bushes and trees grow into the path. My Dad is a realist: 'I own a truck, so I drive it like a truck.' Most other folks that come up to the cabin brake their vehicles to about 1 mph while driving up the way, lest one of the low hanging branches should scrape their car. Leave your sissy car parked in the apron of the driveway, you ain't in the city no more.]

I had been trimming our property loop and the driveway for about thirty minutes, and was just about finished with my work when I made the discovery. It came as a surprise; I hadn't found edible berries on our property in over ten years. When my parents bought the place in the 80s, there were raspberry and blackberry bushes aplenty, but for some reason they now grow fewer and further between. Or maybe we just don't spend as much time up there and fail to realize the harvest.

I plucked the berries off the vine and held them in my hand, the dark purple juice staining my palms, while I forged into the thick brush to scout for more vines. To my delight, I spotted one after another. I ran to the cabin for a container to hold the berries, then ran back to do some serious picking.

Being a week removed from the event and not wanting to sound overzealous, it is difficult for me to recount the spiritual effect this moment produced. To just be within a limitless space of life and beauty is enough to make you stop with awe and appreciation; however, to also find an offering of life [sustenance] by chance, was just too cool for words. The rips, tears and scrapes of the thorns on my clothes and skin went by mostly unnoticed, but next time I go foraging I will wear gloves.

I picked and picked under a mid-day's sun. Total contentment.

I ended up filling a quart-sized container with berries, plus some. I rinsed the berries and then set them aside in a colander to dry. I wasn't quite sure what to do with them just yet. They are not the sweetest berries and they are more seeds than anything else, so I didn't foresee much interest in just snacking on them. A few, sure, but not the whole lot in a couple of days.

I decided to bake, but had no resources to do so at the cabin. A cabin seems like an appropriate place to do some baking, but since my family is rarely there, they don't see a need to keep much around except condiments and a few canned goods for emergencies. We make up for the lack of baking with a fair share of grilling. That said, we do make fudge every winter; my dad's favorite. We throw the pan of batter outside in the snowbank to thicken. And we also bake a cake every year for my mom's birthday. But that is usually of the box variety and only requires oil (or applesauce) and a couple eggs. [Dad takes her out for her annual 'walk' while the appointed baker rushes to bake and frost before they return.]

Back home I found a recipe for a blackberry tart and again rinsed and dried the berries, but this time with paper-towels in my salad spinner (helps prevent bruising). The tart was easy enough but I ended up with a bunch of leftover berries, which I decided to break down (with help from my food-processor and strainer) and cook for a coulis. The straining was really slow and messy, I need to find a better way to do this; any suggestions?

I overbaked the tart a bit (picture below), but it was necessary because I put too many berries in, which added a lot of moisture. I added lemon zest for flavor, which saved the tart in my opinion, but I think in the future I will continue baking with other berries I enjoy more!

The straining and cooking of the leftover 3 cups of berries yielded a small amount of coulis. [In the picture below, I placed the coulis next to a smallish cantaloupe for proportion.] This was pretty excellent, but I think next time I will add a little more sugar [I used the same amount I would with other, sweeter, berries] and perhaps a melon liqueur, which was recommended in a recipe I found.

Thinking of going Up North next weekend to look for the berries that weren't quite ripe enough to pick the last. I'd like to try making a jam. If you have any tips, feel free to comment.

1 comment:

  1. we had a big blackberry patch by my house when i was growing up. we would put them on ice cream.