Archive for fruit

On Blackberries (and Creme de Blackberry recipe)

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Before I planted blackberries in the garden, I used to go forage for them. They grow all over the place, tenaciously clinging to their chosen spot and taking over the neighborhood: the clump expands rapidly and any cane that touches the ground roots to produce yet another plant. They are ferocious too with long hard and sharp thorns that will draw blood as you gingerly try to pluck a berry. It takes quite a while to pick a gallon of wild blackberries

But not the plants I have: they are thornless with large and flavorful berries. Labels have -  of course -  been lost, but at least one of them (based on its behavior) is “Triple Crown”, the other might be “Apache” and “Navaho”.  They are beautiful in bloom and mesmerizing in fruit. Last winter, I did not prune them. I mean, I meant to prune them, but it never happened. And that Triple Crown took full advantage of it,  pushing itself over the timid raspberries, flinging its 10-ft long canes in the asparagus bed, and blocking all the paths around it. On the bright side, it’s producing lots of berries. Which for now need to be picked every other days, but soon, it’ll be every day.

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Harvest every other days … and it’s only the beginning of the season.

And so I have to do something with them. Here are some ideas:

- the fastest: eat them. But there is only so many you can eat, right?

- so, next, the easiest: dump them in freezer bags and freeze. If you have room, that’s perfect. You can worry about them later, let’s say in January when there is no local fresh fruit to get excited about.

- Any cobbler recipe works for blackberries. Until recently, based on an unfortunate past experience, I was convinced that blackberries yielded seedy little blobs when baked and therefore would not made good cobblers. What was I thinking? Blackberries are delicious cooked! Cobbler is one of the easiest baking you can do: 10 minutes to assemble, 20-30 minutes in the oven, and the most enticing aroma of cooking blackberries fills the kitchen. I just did not realize that blackberries would taste so much better after they were cooked! I see a lot more baking using blackberries in the future

- Frozen desserts: while  ice-cream and sorbet require some time to make (but not a whole lot of it), a mix of fresh & cooked blackberries in cooked and lightly sweetened blackberry puree  really liven up apple sauce, yogurt – or if you want some luxury – barely whipped cream. Add some toasted oats, drizzle some real honey and you aren’t far from that classic Scot dessert, the cranacan (don’t forget a shot of bourbon).

- canning: because I have limited freezer space, and encourage by the blackberry cobbler, I am canning blackberries this year, with a tiny bit of sugar and using the low pasteurization method, i.e. a longer water-bath at 185-190 ° F, instead of a shorter boiling one. The berries keep their shape and color much better that way!

- jamming – I am making both jams (weight sugar is 80% of the weight of berries) & spreads & sauces  (weight of sugar varies between 10 and 30% of the weight of berries)

- liquoring. I have a weakness for steeping fruit & botanicals  in alcohol, but I wanted more than just blackberry liquor, where the fruit is steeped is strong alcohol. I adore creme de cassis, and wanted to see if you could make a creme de mures, with a similar unctuous quality. Yes, I can, and so I share what I did with you.

Creme de Blackberry

Ready to sip. It is voluptuous.

Ready to sip. It is voluptuous.

A sumptuous very sweet drink. Sip lightly.

While some of the alcohol evaporates, there is residual alcohol in the beverage, so serve it accordingly.  Adding brandy further fortifies the drink and makes it less sweet. Use wisely.

Choose a pleasant drinking wine. Nothing fancy is required. In fact, I have been known to use left over wine from a party. A local red would be perfect, wouldn’t it?

  • 2 quart perfectly ripe recently picked blackberries
  • 1 bottle (750 m) red table wine
  • sugar
  • brandy or rum (optional)

Pick through the berries. Wash gently if necessary. Put them in a 1/2 gallon glass jar, crushing them as you go. Then add the wine. It should totally cover the berries. if it does not, crush some more. Cover the jar with a clean towel.

Let rest a room temperature for 2 days. Pass the whole thing through the food mill, set up at the smallest-size mesh.

Measure the juice and pour in a non-reactive thick-bottomed pan. For every quart, add 3 slightly heaping cups of sugar (i.e for every liter, add 625 g of sugar). Gently bring to a low boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer (on bare simmer) for 5 minutes. Do not overcook, as you want a syrup, not a jelly!

Remove from heat and funnel into hot sterilized heat-proof bottles. Cap; let cool and refrigerate. Alternatively, for long term storage, funnel into warm heat-proof bottles, seal and process in a hot-water bath at 180-185 F (82-85 C) for 30 minutes – not hotter as you only want to pasteurize the creme, but not set the pectin in the fruit.  Believe me: jelly in a bottle is no fun!

Canned & ready for the pantry!

Pasteurized & ready for the pantry!


A Black Currant Streusel Cake With Black Currant Compote

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So far, it’s been a good year for berries! A cold winter and abundant spring rains have given the plants what they want.  You will not hear me complain about the past winter nor about the rains (yet, at least…)

I am actually harvesting red raspberries… thanks to a bout of happy garden laziness. The raspberry canes that fruited last year should have been cut down at the end of the winter. For a number of reasons – none of them very good – I never cleaned the patch. And what’s the result? Raspberries  in June! Not something to do every year as the patch would rapidly becoming an awful mess, but every  2  years, or every year on half the patch alternating which half is cut in March. Remains to be seen, however, if the fall harvest is as abundant as before. Still raspberries in June is pretty nice.

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I have written before before about my fondness for red currants. I simply adore their brilliant tartness, when mixed with other berries, or by themselves with a light sprinkle of sugar, or in the easiest jelly in the world, one I make every year.

This year, I am also harvesting black currants. When I planted them, I had cassis on my mind, the syrupy dark purple liquor from Burgundy that’s also made in the Ile d’Orlean, in Quebec. I somehow imagines that the berries have the same flavors. Not so. Certainly not raw.

Black currants needs to be cooked for that haunting flavor. Otherwise it’s just another tart berry, and one not particularly remarkable at that. Pleasant but nothing special. Cook it however, and you’ve got something really special. Read more

Post Card from the Hedgerow

Trifoliate orange (hardy citrus) grows like an evergreen weed around here. The harvest is ending… What should I make with them this year? (last year I made liqueur)

trifoliate orange

More on Pawpaws

Pawpaw, peeled and cleaned of seeds: a most delicious no-cook custard

My favorite banana custard involves no cooking whatsoever. No, it doesn’t involve opening a package of store-bought “custard” either. In fact, it requires a stroll along the creek with my nose up in late summer: I am looking for native wild pawpaws (Asimina triloba) that are ripening now and in early fall, sometimes as late as October – depending on the tree and its location. They aren’t showy, but they are easy to recognize: small understory trees with large vaguely-tropical-looking drooping leaves that turn a bright pure yellow in mid-fall. They grow mostly along bottomland creeks, forming ever expanding thickets, often at the edge of the woods. Read more

I Do Give A Fig!

This post first appeared – with minor modifications and without pictures – as an article “A Fig Tree In Virginia” in the September 8, 2011 issue of the Rappahannock News. It’s a tad late (I know!) since we are at the end of fig season here in the Northern Virginia Piedmont. I originally wrote the article in mid-August but it had to be bumped a few times… Still, there are figs to be harvested at the moment, although the recent massive rains have not done them any good…

Everyone should have a grapevine and a fig tree, said one of my favorite writers, Henry Mitchell. I – and a long list of people, some quite famous – thoroughly agree.  In fact, Mitchell was only repeating a biblical phrase, long used to mean peace and prosperity:  “each man under his own vine and fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25).

Figs have a longer history in Virginia than you might have thought. They actually go back, quite a bit in human history – and prehistory: figs may well have been the first cultivated plant. Read more

Post Card From The Woods

In season now: pawpaws – ripening along the creeks











a creamy luscious fruit redolent of mango, guava and banana…

On Cherries

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I first encountered really fresh cherries when I was 15 – a defining age to meet a flat of just picked sun-gorged brilliant cherries, I can tell you. On the tropical island where I grew up, cherries do not fruit – they grow, but without a cold dormancy period, they do not fruit. Papayas, mangoes, longans, cherymoyas, pineapple, yes. But cherries are an exotic expensive luxury that travels a long way to get to Reunion Island – like litchis in Virginia. So I was 15, my family was living in Provence for year, and Provence has wonderful cherries. I was hooked. Read more

On Growing Rhubarb


Until recently I thought tender all-summer long rhubarb was available only in place like England, the Pacific Northwest or Maine. Places with cool and moist summers. Places like Vachon Island where my blog pal Tom of Tall Clover Farm harvest armfuls upon armfuls of crimson stemmed monsters. Makes me turn green with envy…

I was convinced that rhubarb in Virginia was a fleeting all-too brief treasure, the plants sending flowers forth as soon as it got too hot and then considerably slowing down for the summer. Because this denizen of the mountains of Central Asia likes it cool. And since we rarely have a real long cool even-temperatured spring here (let alone a mild summer!), I thought: in Virginia you got rhubarb in May and that was it.

Anyway, that is indeed what I thought until very very recently. Until last week as a matter of fact. Read more

Ode to the Autumn Olive


I have know for a while that autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) were edible. I just never took the time to go after them. But this year seems to be the year when I started to forage more consistently (bird cherries, wineberries, elderberries, chestnuts, Japanese quince, pawpaws, wild grapes etc) and so when a shrub of autumn olives shimmering in yesterday’s morning sun called to me, I grabbed a bucket and I started to pick. Let me tell you what a nice way to while away an hour it was (and do something useful too!). Warm (but not too warm) sun on my back, the berries like little prayer grains under my fingers, my mind ticking all the reasons such a cursed plant (by some) provides for thankfulness. Because, truly, what’s not to like about autumn olives? Read more

In Strawberries We Delight

Picking up strawberries in the garden on a warm day is a true sensual experience.

My eyes are attracted to the bright vermilion peeking not-so-shyly from under dark green leaves; my fingers reach eagerly yet carefully for the plump berries; I can feel the hot noon sun radiating on my back ; the whole garden is humming around me; the heady perfume of strawberry hangs heavily in the air, and finally … the taste of that warm ripe strawberry explodes in my mouth.

Yes indeed that dainty delicacy is full of pleasures. When picked ripe – at its peak.


One can't grow enough strawberries. From top left, scarlet Virginia strawberry, fragile Alpine strawberry, and water deprived (therefore small) garden strawberry 'Tristar'

The strawberry is a relatively new comer to our gardens – especially when compared to the apple or the quince. Read more