The blackberry bushes are ever upon us, their profligate vines grasping our legs, snagging our clothing, encroaching on what’s left of our backyards. They bramble their way into any unclaimed – or claimed – space, fairly knocking down other plants, so rapid is their growth. The canes thrash about in the air a bit then actually plunge into ground to take root, creating a bulbous tuber that you can’t remove without a pick-axe, blood, tears, and your lifetime quota of profanity. The vines can grow at a rate of 20 feet every year. Yes, that’s right. But for a brief moment in that year of unchecked advance, they offer us berries. They are a member of the rose family, so they will mercilessly cut you as you harvest; but nevertheless, we are grateful. It’s Stockholm syndrome, but we want pie.
Blackberries show up right as summer is poised to fade, (even earlier this year, since it’s been about 145 degrees) so unlike the promising salmonberries of June, these fruits always make me feel a bit wistful and desperate. But it doesn’t take much to inspire that feeling in me – it’s my superpower.
I corralled the daughters into picking with me, using my standard rallying cry: “Three people for ten minutes equals a pie!” It was one of our don’t-tell-me-there-isn’t-major-climate-disruption sizzling hot days, so morale was waning before we even began. But we got our haul, despite #2’s desultory harvesting.
“Come on honey,” I enthused perkily, acting against type, “Let’s abolish the stereotype of lazy child berry pickers!”
“That stereotype exists because of me!” she said. Okay, that’s pretty good. She can’t pick berries worth a darn, but she’s funny. Humor could stand her in better stead than competent foraging, unless there’s an apocalypse.
I am starting to think you can make a topping for berry crisp out of anything. I am confident I could bash one together with twigs. I have never made the same one twice. This time I dumped 1 1/2 cups of cashews in the Cuisinart with roughly 3/4 of a cup of oats and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. I whirred that around, adding a couple pinches of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla (almost the last of my precious, real vanilla!) and 3 tablespoons of butter. This formed a crumble to cover the berries, which I mixed with honey and a pinch of salt. We like a tart crisp around here, since we are given to eating it for breakfast, but you can add more sugar/honey/maple syrup to suit your own household of not-great berry pickers.
This crisp was scrumptious, and everyone descended on it with much more vigor than they had for the actual berry acquisition. I reproduced it the next day, and it wasn’t quite the same, but such is the uncertainty of life – mine, anyway. Whatever summer offers you, I suggest you go out and grab it now. Even if I live a very long time, I have passed the midpoint of all the summers I will see. I find this so unbelievable and sad – yet what can I do? Brave the thorns, pick the berries, bake the crisp, eat it with gratitude, forgive myself for past failures in the kitchen and countless other rooms, and start again – as long as the season lasts. If I am lucky, (I accidentally typed “plucky” first, and that’s applicable too) I will machete my way through a few more bramble patches, and desserts, before I am done.