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Archive for September, 2010

Still Life with Woodpecker

Two weekends ago, we took a break from researching-n-reading and headed down to Olympia. We visited the Burfoot Park at low tide, where clams and cockles squirted our ankles and we saw tube worms, a spiny pink seastar, green shore crabs, and oodles of sand dollars. It was possibly one of the most mind-bogglingly amazing and magical experiences of the entire summer.

Read more about this amazing and magical experience here.

We also ate delicious Bearded Lady desserts, petted two small poodles, spent quality time with quality friends, and picked handfuls and handfuls and handfuls of blackberries. To quote Jess:

“We have a problem with invasive Himalayan blackberries in my area. They are awful, aggressive beastly creatures with giant thorns as big as lion claws. But for a small part of the year, the invasive bramble bushes lay out heavy loads of fat, juicy berries.”

Jess also mentions that loads of fat, juicy berries also make loads of delicious, sweet jam.  I did precious little to make this jam (aside from picking berries and licking the over-spill from the stove), but I found it so satisfying that things picked for free and with my own hands wound up in something delicious that can be stored and enjoyed and consumed and shared with friends and loved ones.

So of course I wanted to do it again.

Last summer was unusually warm (bumper tomato crops, sunburns) and the berries were all exceptionally enormous and juicy and actually jumped off the bush and into your waiting hand. As a result, some of our first dates went like this: hikes (result: picking blackberries), ferry rides (result: picking blackberries), and clandestine berry sampling behind Island Ambiance carpets (the result of picking blackberries). This summer was unusually grey (hungry bees, little exposed skin), so you’d think that the the opposite would occur…

But nary! While they weren’t as large as usual and didn’t ripen ’til several weeks later than scheduled, the berries were still out in abundance.

Being that Paul is actually, you know, from Bainbridge, he knew all of the best berry-picking spots; and some of the heaviest vines with the fattest berries were right past the back yards of million-dollar waterfront properties. I’m talking oodles of berries here and all of them free for the taking! Awesome, right? Well, kind of.

The thing about being confronted with such a bounty is that you are faced with an uncontrollable urge to collect as many berries as possible– even if it means stepping over low-lying native blackberries or reaching further into the bush than originally intentioned– and that means lots of scratches. To add to that: Washington State blackberries bear absolutely no resemblance to the neat little pints that you pick up at the grocery store. These suckers are juicy. Our hands looked like murder scenes, I’d all but ruined a pair of shoes, and the plastic bags that we thought would be sturdy enough… weren’t.

But enough of the downside: we had 5 pounds of blackberries! And because of Jess, I wanted to make more blackberry jam.

Thanks to having limited square footage (including a tiny, tiny kitchen), I went with the suggestion of my classmate’s mom and decided to make freezer jam. The principle here is pretty much the same, with the exception of not having to boil everything or sterilize glass jars. Simply mash it all up (the berries we’d picked required precious little mashing), bring a package of pectin to a boil, stir for 3 more minutes, pop it into Tupperware containers, and allow it to set for 24 hours.

This sounded simple enough, but I neglected to adhere to a certain principle of jamming: Follow the Recipe. My using an extra half cup of blackberries and adding the juice of two lemons was not okay. After waiting for a day I had delicious lemony, basil-y blackberry sauce instead of jam.

Oh, well. It tastes amazing on pancakes… and it is so sweet, just like summer romance.

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