Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Blackberry Fever

I’ve been living in Oregon again since October, but only now, with scratches and puncture wounds and purple fingers, do I feel like I’m really home. That may not sound very appealing, but that combination of wounds can only mean one glorious thing: I have been picking blackberries.

Not the cultivated, thornless kind. No. The wild, thorny, hard-to-get-to kind. The delicious, adventurous, free ones. The ones growing in tall brambles along the sides of roads, walkways and railroad tracks. The ones creeping on the ground at the coast and in the coast range after the loggers have been through. Let me tell you, there are only two things for which I will willingly, nay, enthusiastically! risk close encounters with spiders, bees, and who knows what other bugs and insects: strawberries and blackberries.

Coastal blackberries, growing on the ground and tasting like my childhood.

On Saturday, I went picking with Dad along the railroad tracks. It was easy – nobody had gone through and stripped the bushes yet, and there were tons and tons of berries. We picked enough for a whole pie, a small personal-sized pie, some eating berries for Mom and Dad, and 9 and a half quart-sized Ziploc bags in my freezer for winter pies, and we barely made a dent.

It was fun picking that day – some guy riding by on his bike stopped and called to us across the road, asking if we were naturalists! I said no, just blackberry pickers, and he bounded over to us. He said he’d been seeing them all over the place, wondering if they were edible. Almost before we’d confirmed that they are, he’d reached out and eaten one off the vine. I told him how to pick for the nice ripe ones and gave him one as an example, which he declared as ‘Delicious!’ He was obviously not from the Pacific Northwest (turns out he was from Maryland) - poor kid didn’t know what a blackberry was!

Later, when we’d filled our containers and gotten back in the car to go home, we saw a couple picking at a bramble down the road from us. They must’ve taken their cue from us, too – all they had to hold the fruit was a couple of Ziploc bags she was fishing out of her purse!

All that was a blast, but not exactly the reckless hunt I remember from my childhood.

Fast-forward to today. There are blackberries growing all up and down the walking path behind my apartment complex, and I often walk by, picking a berry or two as I go. A lot of these bushes are evergreens, which ripen later than the rest;* most of them are still green, some just starting to get red. And the regular blackberries get picked over by passersby and kids in the apartments. Still, as I picked and ate a handful as I walked by this evening, I decided that one measly hour of picking was not enough to last me to next year.

I didn’t figure I’d get very many berries for my efforts, but I went home, got a good-sized container, and went blackberry hunting.

I walked and picked and walked and picked, even finding a few really good, untouched patches. I was having such a good time, I picked until I couldn’t see the berries anymore.  It was great, and I came home with 2 pies’ worth, plus enough extras to make it an even 10 quarts in the freezer.**

Tonight's haul: About nine cups of city berries.

So I may have been stabbed in the thumb a couple times, and perhaps my legs got poked through my jeans, and of course my arms look like I got into a tussle with a cat, but this here’s a very happy berry-picking Oregon girl.

*You think I won't be out there picking when they get ripe?

**How to freeze fresh blackberries: put some on a cookie sheet; put the sheet into the freezer; let them freeze up enough that they won’t smoosh; transfer berries to a freezer bag and return to the freezer. Use for pies, scones, what-have-you. Note: if you leave the cookie sheet of berries in the freezer long enough, they feel like hard candies when you handle them to transfer them to the bags. Pretty fun!