Blackberry time is here. The canes in the garden have started to produce, and should all go well, continue to produce for another 4 weeks. Which is good, because blackberries (and eggplants) are one of the consolations of a typical Virginia summer, especially the kinds we’ve been seeing the last few years: hot, hotter, no rain, and yet muggy. Ouch.
But at least we have blackberries. That means blackberry sorbet, blackberry sourcream sherbet, creme de blackberry, blackberry shrub. But not blackberry gastrique nor blackberry jam, of which we still have plenty. We eat them. We freeze them. Me make juice. We sell them. It’s blackberry time, I tell you.
It’s also hot. So, preparations with minimum applications of heat are ideal. And blackberries, with their sweet-tart flavor, lend themselves well to savory dishes.
Recently, I prepared a smoked duck salad as an appetizer for a 32-guest lunch (inspired by this recipe from the James Beard Foundation). I simplified the James Beard Foundation recipe by using smoked duck breasts prepared by The Whole Ox Butcher Shop in Marshall, VA (which sliced paper-thin with their meat slicer); changed the sauce a little bit… and reduced the plate to appetizer size.
An easy dish and attractive that’s great for a crowd, as all the components can be prepared ahead and assembled up to 30 minutes before serving (because we are using robust greens that can stand to the sauce).
So there, Smoked Duck Breast & Blackberry Salad – Appetizer for 12 Read more
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.
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: Read more
When foraging, it is important to always keep one eyes and nose open.
It can be hard to see fruiting blackberries in July. At that point everything is green and lush and overgrown. Ripe berries can “melt” in the background as you zoom by. But when the blackberries are in bloom, their dog rose-like blossoms just jump at you. Their pure white seems to flutter like butterflies over the surrounding spring green. It is impossible not to notice. That how I mark new blackberry patches: I make note of them when in bloom and come back later when they are berrying.
Ditto with pawpaws, a native fruit that grows by streams and in bottom-land and prefer the edge of the woods. I have written about harvesting and using pawpaws. But in September they can be hard to pick out. In late April or early May (that is, now!), when they are blooming, the groves are very easy to spot.
The drooping maroon flowers are festooning the slim limbs of the trees this year. In the 6 or 7 years that I have been foraging for pawpaws, it’s the first time I recall seeing so many blooms. Their shape and colors are unique and easily identifiable – once you know what you are looking at – especially since the pawpaw is the only tree that has not yet leafed out nor budded. Many flowers will drop off f course, but we may expect a heavy harvest this year.
I am making notes of trees I had not noticed before and plan to visit in the fall.
A small consolation given how meager the morels have been!
It rained all through last night and today – something we haven’t had in a long time. The creek which had become so low I could not hear it from the house (but unlike last year, it has not dried out completely – at least not yet) is singing again. So of course, I did not weed the upper vegetable garden which already was a jungle (I know that when I am able to get to it, I will need a machete). Instead of weeding, I did paperwork and admin stuff and data entry and writing and all those other things that kept me indoor.
Still… I was keeping out an appreciative ear for the rain on the metal roof. Such a nice rain too, slow with an occasional shower and no wind. Oh how is the garden liking this! (me too, at least right then, no need to water). All of that to say that by mid-afternoon I was getting pretty restless. Yeah, I know all that other stuff needs to be done, especially when one is running a small business and trying to keep things under control. Nonetheless, I was getting restless. So when the weather let up for a while, I went wild berry picking. Since I was going to freeze them and cook them right away, it did not matter that they were wet from the rain.
Wild berry picking is a little expedition.
First, you get the berry baskets: they are not too big (about a quart) because you don’t want the bottom berries to get all squashed and 4 of them fit within a much bigger basket with a large comfortable handle.
Then you get the picking basket, which has no “proper” handle but two ear-like small handles that you use to loop the basket on your belt, leaving both your hands free. Even better, if you put your belt on loose enough, the basket nestles against your tummy giving you extra protection from thorny branches in front as you push – or attempt to push – your way through the brambles, and does not spill out even as you bend down. Trust me, it’s pretty bad to spill your basket of berries after you spent a sweaty and thorny hour picking it.
And you want to dress appropriately. Read more
I don’t like to throw out (I mean compost) food – even things that other people may not see as still edible.
I went wild berry picking earlier in the week (that’ll make a post fo another day) and decided to make a sorbet with some of the wild blackberries I picked. (By the way, if you ever wonder why berries seem so expensive, go pick some, and you’ll get a much better understanding of that price…)
The wild blackberries have a lot of seeds, so I strain the puree before mixing it with my syrup. But although I tried to squeeze as much pulp as I could (getting purple hands and a new color pattern on my apron in the process) there was still too much pulp left for me to throw those seeds in the compost without a vague guilt feeling.
I had lemons left. We had Spirited Lemonade over the week-end as well as marinated lemon chicken. Sooo… How about blackberry lemonade?
I put water in a bowl, drop the whole seed mass in there, swish them around, strained again, and voila! blackberry wash! Then I squeezed a few lemons, use the blackberry wash instead of water, sugar to taste (not too much: maybe 2 tablespoon for the quart I was making, as I prefer my lemonade tart), and we had a beautifully ruby-colored lemonade, tasting of both lemon and wild blackberries.
Locavore log: blackberries from the hedgerow