This has been the summer of the blackberry. The best crop we have seen in years. There were at least a gazillion of large plump berries swollen with sweet juiciness. Everywhere you looked all you could see were blackberries all free for the picking, wild, organic and growing where ever you looked.
It has been over twenty-five years since I moved here from the East coast. The longest I have ever lived in one state. Actually this is now the longest I have ever lived in one town. That is saying a lot, but a whole other story for another day.
When we arrived here about a week ago this same time years ago I could not believe all the blackberries. They were wild and growing in all directions. It should probably be the state fruit and flower! I think this years crop was very much like it was many years ago… lots and lots of blackberries!
We would be living out of our suitcases for the next couple of weeks until the movers arrived with all our belongings. What we did have was a freezer which was empty and children who had been cooped up in a car for a couple of weeks coming across the USA. They had lots of energy that had been kept at bay and I was needing something that would settle them down… something that would keep them busy… blackberry picking… they even asked if we could go blackberry picking when they seen all those deep black colored swollen berries.
We set out several days picking blackberries. Gallons, I cannot remember how many gallons of blackberries we picked and froze. Each day when we would arrive home everyone including me had deep purple hands and mouths that matched. I wondered how many pounds of blackberries we had consumed while picking the prized berries. Not one complaint did I hear in all the days picking blackberries. We had so much fun; they were as wounded as I was from the thorns… all over our hands up our arms and even our legs. (And we were dressed for it!) I had at least one wound across my face… you learn real fast how to pick blackberries and face toner hurts on wounds!
The only problem I could see was they expected me to make blackberry pie as soon as we received our household goods… I let them know that as soon as we emptied the boxes with the kitchen supplies and had everything needed including the pie pans I would make them one of the biggest blackberry pies they had ever seen. I knew in saying that I would put on hold for at least one afternoon getting our new household in order… it was worth it that was the best blackberry pie we had ever had. A big deep-dish blackberry pie with vanilla ice cream, the pie was still warm and the ice cream was melting, it was just the way we liked our pie. I think we devoured that complete pie that evening. I can still see their faces as they sat down to a huge piece of pie and a couple of big scoops of ice cream me telling them thank you for all the help with not only the berry picking but too with helping me unpack and setting up the house too… with their help we moved/arranged/rearranged furniture for days. They even learned not to hang a picture above eye level. I can remember later after being in someone’s home they would comment the pictures were hung too high or too low.
I think they enjoyed helping me… this was the first move that they were just big enough to help with lots of instruction. Have you ever noticed when something is new and is exciting… young children don’t think of it as work to them it is a new adventure… I think by the time we moved again it was hard getting them to help move and rearranging furniture was not an adventure any more. It still surprises me what a little girl going into kindergarten, little boys (twins) going into the second grade and a sixth grade brother can do when they set their minds to it! They were such good little helpers.
While picking blackberries we were never alone, they are always watching! A young male Anna Hummingbird, I wonder do they report to the others what we are doing! He is upset about something, did we take his blackberry? Someone seems to be in trouble! He is so little, sitting on the stem of an apple leaf! There colors seem to blend in no matter where they are at!
This year T and I did a lot of picking of blackberries, I will admit T did 75% to my 20%; we’ll give him another 5%, maybe more (!)… We got gallons and gallons of blackberries. We picks, washed, drain dried then froze them single layer on baking sheets. It makes it so much easier. If you need a cup you just take a cup, not a lump or two or even the whole package. This way when I want to make the preserves and whatever else I can think of to cook all I have to do is get out a large bag of berries and measure.
So far I have done some wonderful little blackberry tarts, do you think T would have picked blackberries every afternoon for weeks without a little incentive! This is still salmon season… berry picking and salmon catching is a lot of work you know. I too know how blessed I am to open the freezer door and see the salmon and the blackberries and I realize how good the two together would be too! Blackberry glazed Baked Salmon or a nice blackberry sauce with a pinch of fresh dill drizzled over freshly grilled salmon, so many things are coming to mind!
Then I wanted to do something I have never done before… I wanted to make some Blackberry Vinegar… I was game this year and we both love blackberry balsamic vinegar and why not! There are so many uses… First I would have to call Mom and ask her how to make Blackberry Vinegar. I love to do something that is new to me and something that I would not have thought to do other than in the circumstance I am right now with an abundance of wonderful sweet juice filled blackberries.
After talking with Mom she made it sound so easy…
Put the amount of blackberry you are using in crock or stainless steel bowl cover with vinegar put plate over bowl and let sit for at least three days. Then the decision was what kind of vinegar, she uses white vinegar, I have read where you can use white, cider, white balsamic or malt vinegar. Since she had used the white I decided the first round would be with white. I let it set for the three days and then strained it through cheese cloth that I had triple layered to make sure I got everything; I wanted my blackberry vinegar to be real clear. I could not believe how clear the juice was not one speck of anything… I did not press the berries; sitting in the vinegar for those days it extracted all the blackberry juice out of the berries. I then put the strained juice in stainless steel pot and brought the mix to a boil and turned it down to simmer and added about 2/3 cup of sugar stirring until dissolved. Mom and I decided to start with this amount and to taste (carefully it is boiling hot) and I liked the taste, the berries were already so naturally sweet this year. I added about one tablespoon of mustard seeds and let the whole thing simmer until it had reduced by about 1/3. I then bottled it (I used my re-useable bottles with a snap ring bottle top from my Lorina Sparkling French Sodas that I save just for purposes like this.) I got two full bottles of blackberry vinegar. (In the picture you see one is used… I made some wonderful Bruschetta that I will be posting next!)
I did save about 2 ounces aside; I have read where blackberry vinegar is very good for sore throats and is used for many medical ailments. Right now I have a terrible summer cold that T decided to lovingly share with me. I told him that his love for me does not mean he has to share everything with me!
I sipped my Blackberry vinegar, it was so good! I should have taken a picture of it after I poured it in its little goblet… the color was a deep jewel black-red… as beautiful as a deep ink black wine from Cahors (I was reading this post by Roger Stowell… it lingers on the mind doesn’t his coq au vin look delicious! Look at that color!)
The one thing I worried about in my sipping was if it would cause me to have a conniption coughing fit (I had finally finished with the coughing fit(s) side of this cold yesterday and my head was so thankful, it lasted for about what seemed like three days… each time the coughing fit happened it gave one the headache of someone who had a bad head injury! The blackberry vinegar actually felt good… like a good wine going down my sore throat. The added mustard seeds gave it a little added warmth!
I know this vinegar will be exciting and incredible for any use I can think of. I am so glad that I decided to make blackberry vinegar. I hope to maybe make some blackberry syrup with some of my prized now frozen blackberries. I took a walk about and found that we still have a lot of blackberries ready to be picked again, I wonder if I can talk T into ‘helping me’ pick the last of this seasons blackberries….
The dough recipe can be found here. It is a wonderful sweet pastry dough and very flakey. It is perfect for fruit tarts. Preheat oven to 375˚. The blackberry pie recipe is one my Mom and I have been using for years.
- 5 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
- 1 cup white sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup quick cooking tapioca pearls
- Just a little fresh ground nutmeg (does not take much!)
- Pinch of lemon zest
- Small pieces of cold butter (I put one small piece in each tart)
- 1 egg beaten with just a dash of cold milk
- a little sugar for dusting on the pie crust
I mix or whisk all the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Put part of the blackberries in a very large bowl. Spread about a ½ cup plus of the dry mixture on top of the berries and toss a little, add some more blackberries and sprinkle some more of the dry ingredients over the top of the berries until you have used up all the berries and dry ingredients. I do not like to mix the mixture too much; you want the berries to stay whole as much as possible. I toss the mixture in the bowl as I go along as gently as possible. Set this aside to absorb and mix together on its own while you: I get all my tarts ready with the bottom crust then:
I spooned the filling into each tart shell. Once I have divided all the berry mix in the tart shells I put a small pat of cold butter on top of each tart. Once I have the tart shells tops on I brush the beaten egg and milk mixture on top of each tart. I make a slit in each and sprinkle a little sugar on and put in the oven (on a baking sheet) that has been preheated to 375˚. I bake them for about 35-40 minutes and start watching depending on the oven it can take a few more minutes. Once golden brown they are done.
We like our served warm with some french vanilla bean ice cream. If you have any leftovers be sure to refrigerate.