It’s that time of year when I can go a few steps out my front door and pick a bowlful of blackberries for breakfast.  Our yard is pretty much a wild mess, and I vow to someday cut back or get rid of the blackberry brambles, but now is when my procrastination pays off.   Every day there are a few more berries ripe for the picking.  A free serving of fruit!

Blackberries growing in my yard

Blackberries growing in my yard

This morning's breakfast

This morning’s breakfast

One morning this week I even gathered sufficient berries to make a small batch of jam.  I’ve written about my friend Shirley’s jam before (see link here) but I’ve never provided her recipe.  She was generous enough to give it to me before she retired.

Small batch of Shirley's blackberry jam

Small batch of Shirley’s blackberry jam


Shirley’s Blackberry Jam

In a large kettle mix together:
5 c mashed blackberries (no need to remove seeds)
1 box Sure-Jell
a little dab of margarine (I used butter)

Cook on high until the mixture is really boiling and then add about 5-1/2 c sugar.  Continue to cook on high until it comes to a full rolling boil that you can’t stir down.  Then cook for one minute more.  Remove from heat and ladle into jars.

I don’t worry about sealing my jars properly because I put my jam in the freezer.  But you can also do a water bath or follow the directions in the Sure-Jell box.



John, Dad and Ben baling hay

John, Dad and Ben baling hay












Blackberries in August

August 8, 2013

Blackberries in August

Blackberries in August

by Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the branches
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven . . .”
— Walt Whitman

Rose petals and blackberry pie

The running blackberries may one day adorn heaven, but this month they are taking over our yard.  I picked about 4 cups of fresh blackberries and decided to make a blackberry pie.  After finding a recipe on the internet, I thought this wasn’t quite enough fruit, so I added some diced rhubarb.  (My rhubarb is flourishing this summer, even better than it did this spring.  I can’t remember ever picking rhubarb this late into summer before.)  The resulting pie was a heavenly taste of pure summer.

Fresh picked berries from bushes in our yard

Mixing some diced rhubarb into the berry filling

From-scratch pie cooling on the kitchen counter

And an extra rhubarb pie, too





Enough freshly picked raspberries and blackberries for muffins

We will have a good crop of blackberries this year. A few are already ripening.

It has been a while since I’ve posted a recipe.  This week the first Himalayan blackberries are ripe on the wild bushes that are taking over our yard.  I can pick a handful or two every day as they slowly ripen.  In looking for a use for this newest taste of the summer season, I came across the following recipe in The Food 52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs.  This is a blueberry muffin recipe, but I substituted a mix of raspberries and blackberries.  I like the recipe because it is not overloaded with sugar and butter, but the coconut adds moisture and a great taste.

Muffin batter in muffin tins

Mom’s Blueberry-Coconut Muffins
from The Food 52 Cookbook

2 c plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (I used half whole wheat and half white flour)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 c sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c flaked coconut, toasted
1 egg, beaten
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 c whole milk
1-1/2 c fresh blueberries (I substituted a mix of fresh raspberries and blackberries)

Heat the over to 400 degrees F.  Prepare 12 cup muffin tins.

Sift together 2 c flour, the baking powder, sugar and salt.  Stir in the toasted coconut.

Combine egg, melted butter, and milk.  Add to the dry ingredients and mix lightly until combined.

Toss the berries with the remaining 1 Tbsp flour.  Fold into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups.   Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and finish cooling on a rack.

Empty muffin tins

The end result, still warm and ready to eat

“It is a vulgar error to suppose that you have tasted huckleberries who never plucked them.”
—  Henry David Thoreau, Walden

In Washington we have an abundance of blackberries rather than huckleberries.

“The fruits do not yield their true flavor to the purchasers of them.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

How poor Thoreau would find me, a city dweller, who procures virtually all of my food from supermarket shelves.  And while our neighborhood farmers’ markets give us access to locally grown food, we simply buy it with our coins.  How rarely do we plant, nurture, harvest and preserve our own food.  According to Thoreau, we are missing out on the true flavor of food when we do not grow or pick it with our own hands.

Having grown up on a farm, I still hold a deep appreciation for the hard work that goes into bringing food to the table.  I’ve butchered chickens, so I understand the life that was once vibrant in my packaged chicken quarters.  I’ve milked a cow by hand, so I remember the source of my glass of milk.  I’ve made my own blackberry jam from hand-picked berries, so I can appreciate the work behind a jar received as a gift.

Snapshot of me milking our family's cow in 1972, forty years ago!

Much is lost when we forego laboring with our own hands, for the value of the work is not just the finished product, but also the feelings of artistry, productivity, and self-worth built along the way.  And it is true that we savor the end product more when we’ve created it ourselves.

One of my colleagues gives our library staff jars of her homemade blackberry jam each Christmas, and each spoonful bursts with the tastes of summer and Shirley’s shared joy in nature’s abundance.  Everything that is in a jar of Shirley’s jam is what Thoreau is alluding to in this week’s quote.

Shirley's jam on breakfast scones

Homemade jam from hand-picked blackberries

Sweet goodness

“The advantage of riches remains with him who procured them, not with the heir.  When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.  But not only health, but education is in the work.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Blackberries in the late September rain

Blackberry Eating
by Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry eating in late September.

Bowl of freshly-picked blackberries with two pears

We’ve had a long, fruitful wild blackberry season in Seattle this year.  But now, with the rains, I expect that the remaining berries will soon turn to mush.  I picked what I think will be the last bowl of berries this morning.  Perfect for breakfast.


Ripening blackberries

” . . . they seem to ripen in small congregations, while all around them are berries that have not yet seen the light.”
— Bill Richardson, Bachelor Brothers’ Bed & Breakfast


Sign on side of building in Pioneer Square

View of Seattle from the ferry to Bainbridge Island

I’ve always enjoyed riding the ferries in Seattle.  They are an integral part of the transportation system here, not just a tourist attraction.  But I took a ride, simply for pleasure, to Bainbridge Island.  It’s a wonderful way to get out on the waters of Puget Sound if you don’t have a boat of your own.  On Bainbridge, I walked along the Waterfront Trail to the Winslow business district.  I’m not much of a shopper, but I did browse for a while at the Eagle Harbor Bookstore, a gem of an independent bookstore.  Then I returned to Seattle on the ferry.  It made an easy half-day outing.

Raucous seagull on the ferry railing overlooking Seattle's loading docks

Bainbridge Island

I walked this trail from the ferry to the Winslow business district.

Wild blackberries along the Waterfront Trail

Weathered fence and shadows, Bainbridge Island

Several ferries ply the routes across Puget Sound.

Seattle skyline from the ferry

Ripe blackberries foraged from bushes in my yard

The blackberries are ripening and are free for the taking along roads, alleys, streets, and lots in Seattle.  My rhubarb is finally producing, too — very late this year — so I decided to combine the fruits in a seasonal dessert.  I adapted a Rhubarb-Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake recipe from The Best Places Northwest Desserts Cookbook by Cynthia C. Nims.  It was a recipe contributed by the Higgins Restaurant and Bar in Portland, Oregon.  Here is my adaptation: 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.

 In a bowl, combine together:
2 stalks of rhubarb, diced
1-1/2 fresh blackberries
1/3 c sugar
1/4 c flower
Pour this fruit mixture into the bottom of the cake pan.

 For the cake, combine:
1/2 plus 2 Tbsp flour
1/2 c cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/3 c milk
Mix together and then spoon batter over the fruit mixture and spread evenly.  Bake 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

 Plate each slice of cake upside down.  Best served warm with ice cream or whipped cream. 

Blackberry & Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Good to the last bite

Small watercolor sketches of blackberries