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 yearthey 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.
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 . . .)
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.
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
1/2 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 thisthey 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.