Magical Fruit


Berries are what’s on everybody’s lips these days (see, for example, Life Begins at Thirty, Simple Circle, or The Ethicurean). I think there is something magical about fruit. Most fruit plants are perennial, and often somewhat nondescript in appearance for most of the year—they are just part of the landscape. And then, suddenly, they are laden with fruit, wonderful, energy-filled, sweet tasting, beautifully colored treasures. Often guarded by thorns, or competed for by birds or other hungry creatures, but pretty easy to gather for all of that.

I’ve never lived in a house with much going on fruit-wise. I grew up and continue to live in rentals, and fruit plants are a perennial commitment not much made in rental properties. In Seattle, our backyard was filled with blackberry brambles, but we never gathered the fruit, feeling more combative than epicurian toward the ever-encroaching canes. In Oakland we were surrounded by Meyer lemons in other people’s yards, and enjoyed them as donations from less culinarily-inclined folks. We had quite a successful garden, but never planted any fruits. Our neighbors there had a huge and glorious plum, but they never ate the fruit, and mostly complained about how it screwed up their lawn.

But here, the little house we live in was actually owner-occupied for some years, and someone planted quite a few different fruiting plants. We have a large strawberry patch that gave us the first lovely sweetness of the year. The patch is on our way back to the chickens, and many a berry never made it out of the yard, as we’d squat at the edge and pluck the ripest and eat them right there, saving the ones the squirrels and slugs had snacked on for the girls. They looove strawberries.

We’ve also got italian plums forming up, alongside our asian pear. Our landlord says that the asian pear needs to be pollinated by another asian pear. Given the lovely reddening globes forming all over the tree, someone around here within bees’ flight has one.

blueberry bushes

Our current harvest is from the two blueberry bushes planted in the front yard. They are fairly nondescript little bushes, sheltered by the Golden Ash, valiantly holding the soil on the incline to the sidewalk. I have honestly never known anyone who had a blueberry bush. This is odd, because they are apparently pretty hardy, good for the soil, and, well, of course, they make BLUEBERRIES! Patrick says they’re a good permaculture plant. And aren’t blueberries one of the recently “discovered” wonder fruits that have antioxidants? (I just started hearing a Garrison Kiellor voice-over in my head. Has you family tried ’em, you know they’ll satisfy ’em . . .)

heavy branches bowl of berries

When I first saw the little globes forming this spring I felt like a kid. I wanted to go around and show everyone. Look! See the blueberries? They’re green! I restricted myself to Patrick, though. Then they started getting just a tinge of blue. Next thing I knew, the bushes were positively laden with plump, huge blueberries. I went out with a small bowl to harvest, and filled it without even really trying. I thought we’d maybe get a cup or two. Our first harvest was probably five or six cups and the second a couple of quarts. We ate a bunch of the first harvest just out of the bowl, had blueberry pancakes for lunch, and them froze a pound or so. I washed them and left them to dry on a towel, then I laid them out on a cookie sheet and put the sheet into the chest freezer. After they’d frozen into a mass of little blue marbles I put them into a container. My mom says that way they don’t get ice crystals.

We took a tub of berries from our second harvest on our big ride last week for roadside snacking. I made a really delicious blueberry cobbler as well. This recipe was from a little volume Deborah Madison did for Chronicle Books, with a vegetarian twist on traditional American dishes called The Vegetarian Table: America.


Blueberry Cobbler

Fruit filling
4 c blueberries
6 T sugar
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 t ground cloves
1/4 c molasses*
2 T fresh lemon or lime juice

1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 t salt
2 1/2 t baking powder
7 T chilled butter
1 egg
1/2 c + 1 T milk or light cream

*I didn’t have molasses, so I used 2 T brown sugar and 2 T honey. Worked fine.

Preheat oven to 425°

To make filling: Put cleaned and rinsed blueberries in a 2 qt gratin dish. Mix together the dry filling ingredients and sprinkle all but 1 1/2 T of the mixture over the berries. Drizzle the molasses/honey and lime juice over all and stir gently with a spatula. Deb recommends placing in a 350° oven for five minutes to allow the berries to start juicing up. I didn’t do this—they gave up plenty of juice!

To make topping: Mix the dry ingredients together, and cut in the butter until you get a coarse crumb texture. Beat the egg and milk together in a separate bowl and then stir into the flour swiftly. Spoon the dough over the berries evenly and sprinkle the top with the reserved sugar mixture.

Bake for 30 min on rack in center of oven. If the cobbler comes near the top of your dish, place it on a baking sheet. Allow to cool for 15 min before serving warm. Super yummy with ice cream.

This entry was posted in Eat Local Challenge 2006, Food., Recipes., Sustainability., The Garden.. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Magical Fruit

  1. Josh says:

    The only problem with blueberries is they need an acidic soil. Soil can be made acidic with amendments (like sulfer), but if the soil continues to leach away the acidity because of certain geological elements (I think it was limestone in the subsoil maybe), it can be too much to fight. I understand that pine tree needles can acidify the soil, and I’ve heard of people planting them near pines. I amended my soil with a sulfer product to get the acidity where the blueberry bushes are. Next year I hope to get the kind of harvests you are getting. My bushes have had a hard time, with unfortunate curcumstances and rabbits managing to mow them down a couple years at some point or other. But I’m happy I’m getting the crop I am this year already on the small bushes.

  2. Holly says:

    Interesting. Well, there are one hell of a lot of pines around here, though not sepcifically in the front yard. I wonder if the Ash provides acidity. Perhaps I’ll mulch them with needles from the pines out back.

  3. Jamie says:

    That Deborah Madison book is a winner. Have you tried the spiced quinces? Daaaaaammmnnnn. 🙂

    Blueberries are the one fruit that grows effortlessly in Georgia. You need to tweak the soil a little, but other than that, it’s “set it and forget it.” The birds, deer, etc., leave them completely alone, and there are no disease problems. Compared to, well, everything else, they’re so easy!

  4. Holly says:

    Yeah, I was pretty shocked that nothing seemed to be remotely interested in snacking on the blueberries. Um, except us, of course.

    Haven’t tried the spiced quinces. I actually must confess that I don’t think I’ve ever tried any quince, ever. Have to check them out.

  5. Jes says:

    You are entirely too lucky!! *steals your blueberries* Blueberries are my favorite food. I could eat just them, forever! We dont have any bushes here, but there are alot of growers int he area so were going to get out and pick a few pounds. *1 berry in the basket, 5 berries in my mouth, rinse repeat* heehee! We do have black berries and black raspberries and a large bush of gooseberries by our mail box. Have you ever tried them? Gooseberries are rather sour, but yummy. THey have a texture like a hard, tiny tomato. Its weird! That recipe youve posted looks loverly, maybe, if I can stop myself from eating all the blueberries plain, Ill try it!

  6. kitchenmage says:

    Blueberries love coffee grounds. I collect mine in a little crock on the counter and once every day or two, I take them out to the blueberry patch (half a dozen plants, which is sad, my last place had 3-4 times that!) and sprinkle it on the roots. Every once in a while, I toss some on the rhodies. Works wonders.

  7. mary mcguire says:

    thanks. I think these articles and the responses I read are becoming a ritual, to remind me that others also live in their spaces and notice the beautiful plants and animals around them. This comforts me. mary

  8. drake says:

    I stopped by the People’s Co-op farmer’s market yesterday and picked up a bunch of blueberries. After searching around the net for a good recipe, I decided to try this one. Holy cow was it good! Thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of Madison’s book!

  9. Holly says:

    Hey Drake—I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe! I’d strongly recommend Deb’s bigger book, just ’cause there are so many more recipes in it. It’s called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and the title is apt. We use it so much we may have to get a new copy!

  10. drake says:

    Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll page through a copy the next chance I get. If it looks like something I’d like, I’ll be sure to pick it up off your powell’s bookshelf.

    As soon as things cool down around here, I’ll be whipping up a mixed berry pie recipe I got from the America’s Test Kitchen family cookbook. You guys have got me all excited about the abundance of local berries we’ve got right now. Thanks!

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