Food memories have been sneaking up on me lately. I don’t know if it’s melancholy, home sickness or most likely the coming together of a myriad of food memories but blackberries are on my mind. It could be that I am now able to sit in my itty bitty backyard in my new deck chair enjoying the summer air. All those summertime childhood memories of blackberries, bats and fireflies. I grew up on a bumpy back road that followed a few of the bends of the Charles River outside of Boston. During those long summer nights we would pass the time my sister, brother and the other neighborhood kids could be found picking and in quick form, eating blackberries by day; catching the lightening bugs in the early evening and then chasing bats by night. Now I sit in my backyard with a martini glass in my hand. Those summers were different, full, luxurious and relished. I needed to get closer to that time.
So on this one Marin night feeling food nostalgic I started the evening with a cocktail concoction featuring blackberries and then moved on to a dinner of lobster ravioli which was in need of a sauce. After some rummaging in the IBK* which produced some butter, a generous pinch of brown sugar, vinegar and a handful of blackberries all in a saucepan for a few minutes producing a reduction sauce, and a topping of a few toasted crushed hazelnuts. To those of you who may think this odd try it first.
Blackberries are also called a bramble referring the thorny plant from which they are picked. According to my botanical guide the name of the bush is derived from brambel, or brymbyl, signifying prickly. And that is the truth, all that sweetness is yours if you have patience and a good pair of garden gloves.
A few years ago on a road trip that took me and C. through Oregon we stumbled upon a few brambles of Marionberries that were the essence of that warm summer day. What I didn’t know then is that there are many, many varieties of blackberries–at last count about 250: boysenberry, thorn less evergreen and the marionberry. These varieties constitute about 95% of all cultivated blackberries which in North America are primarily found in Oregon, California and Washington. In fact in Oregon farmers grow more than 30 million pounds of this most widely planted blackberry cultivar; it is available in season for only a few weeks beginning in mid-July and ending in early-August.
In California, we have our own special variation on theme. We have olallieberries. A berry of complicated lineage, olallieberries, were an unknown berry to me before living on the West Coast. It’s a cross between the loganberry (which is a hybrid of the "marion" blackberry and raspberry) and the youngberry (which is a marriage between the "marion" blackberry and dewberry). Given the strong predominance of blackberry it appears very similar to the blackberry. Years ago some folks in Oregon were experimenting and came up with olallieberries but they didn’t take to the soil but the plant did like the California coast.
And in particular Swanton’s in Davenport. This weekend I found myself on a day trip south toward Santa Cruz and ended up at the annual Swanton’s strawberry u-pick which happily coincided with the 3-week olallieberry picking window. How lucky can a girl get? Picking is gentle and hard work. And now I am bursting with berries, 8#. There were a few lucky recipients late Sunday afternoon when the blackberry truck pulled up to their door.
There are a number of recipes that are now in my queue which are link below. In the meanwhile enjoy my post-work backyard cocktail, Blackberry Noir. It may not be fireflies, bats and the river road but it’s my own form of sublime relishment today.
To store: Keep blackberries in the fridge, without washing them, but they are delicate and need to be eaten as soon as possible. Blackberries can be frozen and included in pie or crumble fillings.
*IBK = Itty Bitty Kitchen *Illustration by Paula Becker