Berries Gone Wild

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.

Hopeful early summer salmonberries

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.

marycake

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Double Happiness

I wanted my husband to clean the garage (or, as I refer to that area, “Our Shame”). I also wanted him to reassemble my beloved dining table so we could put it on Craig’s List.  Ah Craig, take care of my baby.  I love that table, but it doesn’t fit in my house.  Well, it fits, but it serves as a platform for packrattery, so it must go.  In any case, my consolation prize for the husband was that the girls and I were going camping for a couple days with the neighbors.  But as the time drew nigh, I became more and more cowed by the task:  packing gear, cramming my queen-size blow-up mattress into the van, cooking six meals on a camp stove; I shuddered to contemplate it. My neighbor can sleep on a gunny sack on a precipice in high wind so nothing phases her, but being away from my washing machine for 48 hours was giving me shortness of breath.  I have written here before about my complicated relationship with the pastime of camping.

So we didn’t go camping, but took a pleasant day trip to nearby Deep Lake, a lake that is, oddly, shallow way out, and therefore somewhat novel.  So I had to break it to my husband that we wouldn’t be leaving him and he wouldn’t be watching 17 episodes of The Shield and furthermore, he would have to put the table together and clean the garage with all of us bugging him.  How to make it up to my long-suffering mate of 3 weeks shy of 15 years?  Well no man can or should resist pie, correct?  Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that I wouldn’t trust a man who refused pie.  No man is a pieless isle.

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I once found, and subsequently misplaced, a recipe for Double Good Blueberry Pie.  I love that name.  I have since found recipes that go by that name, but they are imposters that don’t involve custard.  I believe some matches are destined, meant to be.  Custard and berries – now that’s fate.  That’s double good.  If anyone knows a reason why these two should not be joined, don’t bother commenting on my blog.

I knew Johnson’s Berry Farm has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it run of the enormous Richter Berry – a blackberry as big as an Italian prune and dee-licious. That was the berry to marry with custard, nestle in a crust and pronounce “spouse and spouse,” as is our way in Washington state.photo(1)

But upon visiting the farmstand at the crack of dawn so no one would get fruit that was rightfully mine, I found that the season would not begin until August.  What to do?  Well as the song goes, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”  Or as my husband says – and I try not to think too deeply about the implications of this – “It’s all about low expectations.”

So I hit the roadside, where the berries are abundant, free and dusty. Two quart-size yogurt containers later (my oldest daughter and I love knowing we can gather the innards for a pie in ten minutes and two containers) and I was ready to nuptialize.  This recipe from Martha Stewart seemed a safe approximation of Double Good Pie.

Indeed, it was a happy occasion and a match made in oven. Once it’s baked, it’s fate.

marycake