The other day, my daughter and I sallied forth to cull the last of the waning season’s blackberries. We stopped first at the rare indigenous blackberry patch of legend (RIBPoL). Notice the leaves – these are not the willful brambles that have colonized your yard and viciously slashed your feet. These are the peaceful natives, or what remains of them. And they are delicious – like jam flavored wine, or wine flavored jam. They manage to evoke the pleasures of both: the fruity comfort of jam on buttered toast, and the relaxing and mood enhancing properties of a good glass of wine.While picking in the unpleasantly hot sun, I thought, how have I not written about berries this summer when I live in berryland and I think and talk about berries all the time? It may be that from late May to September they are so abundant here, it’s like writing about blinking. It’s just life, you know?
But oh, what a lovely life. The salmonberries were brief and sparse this year, and in all my years of dining on them, I have never managed to get one out of the woods and on to a plate. They are best eaten trailside. The same goes for thimbleberries, which disintegrate into a lipstick red mush, once picked. Strawberries were delicious, but that’s a post unto itself.One day in July I walked in the woods and encountered this particularly populated bush of Red Huckleberries. On that same walk I tasted four other kinds of wild berries, one of which I had never seen before, but don’t worry, since I am obviously still here. My husband has always been alarmed by my gleeful foraging behavior, and even after his two decades of life in the northwest, acts like everything in the woods is deadly poison. I am starting to think that’s just his shtick.
This is an underripe blackcap, a berry I have not seen since my childhood rambles in the woods. I just learned that this seldom seen delight is the same as the black raspberry. I assume, like everything except morning glory and dandelions, they have been choked out by the invasive (or, as they prefer to be called, “Himalayan”) blackberries.
And if anyone knows what these are, please contact me in the comments section below. They were longer and slimmer than the other blackberries and the leaves were unique. I can attest that they are edible, if a bit tart. I saw a faint, but unmistakable, hologram of the Virgin Mary that persisted for 2 hours after I partook of these dainties, but once I wandered out of the woods, it disappeared. So I don’t think that’s a problem.
There are few sights more wholesome and welcoming to me than a bowl like this in the morning. Berries atop waffles, dutch babies, yogurt or peanut buttered toast make me feel like all the rain was worth it. And then there’s the baking…
My clever friend Kirstin picked the berries for this pie during the eclipse, so they are infused with the changing light, the awed cries of millions of observers, and the humbling sense of our own minuscule presence in the cosmos. So yours probably won’t taste like this did, but don’t despair. The pie my daughter and I made from the RIBPoL, picked during no notable astronomical event, was fantastic. I followed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe for open faced blueberry pie (works for blackberries!) that I linked to in “Why Pie?”
Now crisps are the go-to dessert of the season, and best served with vanilla enhanced whipped cream. I made this one for an outdoor party I catered, and served it next to a backyard duck pond. Crisps are quick and easy and you can use a variety of flours, nuts, oats, maple syrup or your choice of sugar. I also used this recipe for a desserts class I taught at the Bayview School of Cooking. There were no ducks, but it was still good.
Any Berry Crisp
Ingredients for crumble
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour (I have subbed almond meal here and it’s delicious, if not cohesive)
2 tablespoons flax meal
1/2 cup rolled oats
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
Ingredients for filling
1 tablespoon cornstarch (you can also use instant tapioca pudding)
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ cup raspberries
1 ½ cup blueberries or blackberries
1 ½ cup cherries (frozen is fine)
¼ cup dried currants (optional)
1/4 cup Beaujolais wine or similar type
Preheat oven to 375. Butter an 8 inch baking dish.
To make the crumble, mix together the flour, flax meal, oats, sugar and salt in a bowl. Use a fork to stir in the melted butter. Divide the mixture into three portions and use your hands to form three patties, place the patties in the bowl and freeze for at least ten minutes, or until you’re ready to bake.
Make the filling by whisking together the cornstarch and sugar in a larger bowl. Add the raspberries, blue or blackberries, cherries and currants and toss until evenly coated. Wait three minutes, add the wine and toss again.
Transfer the filling to the prepared baking dish. Remove the topping from the freezer and crumble it over the filling, trying for big and small pieces.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the topping is deeply golden and the fruit juices are bubbling. Let cool a little before serving.
This recipe is, with slighdt adaption, is based on Heidi Swanson’s Tutti-Frutti Crumble in Super Natural Everyday.