[Blackberries, Sebastopol, September 2011.]
This past week or so has involved lots of blackberries. Loads. Some I didn’t pick and many I did, and I still have the scratches to prove it. There were also huckleberries, which are more time-consuming to gather but less prickly, as well as three chickens roasted by me, but I will save the diatribe about the vegetarian cooking meat yet again for another time. Let’s just say I am much less squeamish about it than I used to be and am reminded again that nights when I get to cook good, healthy, happy-making food for others are the best nights, whether or not I actually eat all of the food I make. (Also, I now have a really delicious — I heard — and reliable recipe for a roasted chicken.)
Anyway, hello. It’s September. (It’s September???) It’s September, absolutely. And despite a 5:45 a.m. wake-up this morning, despite a terribly long, terribly foggy bus ride in from Sonoma County, the sun is shining in San Francisco today, I have had a deliciously strong Blue Bottle coffee from Jackson Place Cafe, and I think/hope I will be able to get through the rest of the day in one piece so that I can go home, bake chocolate cupcakes, and fling myself onto the couch to watch the Giants game before crawling into bed early.
Oh, lovely bed …
September means apples and blackberries — to pick, to eat, to jam or sauce, to bake with, to can. There are currently 100 or so tiny apples from the tree stored in my parents’ extra fridge (as an aside, I was glad to see this story in last week’s New York Times, the one I’ve been wanting to write for years, about the plight of the Gravensteins in my beloved home town) to be incorporated into a major event next month, and 80 small jars of blackberry jam neatly stacked in a closet in Inverness. I have about 20 more to go but I also think I have enough berries to manage it. I guess you could say I’m feeling good about the blackberries. (And the apples, but in the interest of the sanity I’m skipping the applesauce-making for now.)
Blackberry picking can seem daunting initially — the thorny vines, the hunting for fully ripe berries, the balancing on tiptoes to grab as many as you can — but it’s also somewhat meditative. It’s repetitive work, but because it’s not my everyday job (which is also repetitive) it doesn’t get too boring; because I’ve chosen to undertake the task it’s more fun than excruciating, which might be the word I’d use to describe it if I relied on berry-picking to pay my rent. Funny how that works. However, I will note that I will never complain at paying x for a basket of berries at the farmers’ market ever again. There’s a lot of time that goes into those pretty displays of fruit.
Out here in Northern California, the summer of 2011, we picked along the coast in Bolinas (foggy) and made friends with the horses at the farm there; we picked along the Inverness ridge (hot); we picked along the bike trail in Sebastopol late on a Sunday afternoon (sunny and just cool enough). We picked with adults and we picked with kids and I’ll go out on a limb here to profess that I think mostly everyone had a good time (the key is to quit before you get too tired/distracted). I estimate we picked about 20 pounds of blackberries in total, though as I am awful about measuring and also about being precise with recipes it’s difficult to say for sure. But — there were a lot of berries that went into the freezer. A lot.
Later, I turned all those berries into jam — masses of it. Me being me, I fretted over how well it was setting or if I’d have enough or if cutting down on the sugar was a good idea or if the mess all those berries made whilst they were cooking down was worth it. But I forged on anyhow — I poured and sealed and processed and tried to let the worry go. (To address the fretting: it set great once it cooled, cutting down on the sugar was a fantastic idea, and messes can be cleaned with just a little bit of extra effort.) I may be slightly crazy, but looking at my jars of jam marshaled into gleaming rows gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment, even if most (all) will be given away. Much like cooking meat, it’s about the doing of it rather than the actual eating of it that makes me happy.
[Breakfast, September 2011.]
Still — and I must honest even if it’s a bit of a brag — that jam tastes darned good, especially on toasted challah bread smeared with a little butter and alongside a 12 oz., double-shot americano from Hardcore Espresso (my new drink, dontcha know);.
[In Sebastopol, September 2011.]
One month ago we were in Yosemite — one month! It’s hard to fathom. I barely caught my breath before going on to the next thing but such is life. I am fortunate mine is made up of so many cooking projects (I cooked not a few good meals during the last week, as well as baked a gorgeous loaf of banana-cocoa bread among other things in addition to all that jam) and walks through the fields and swims in the pool downtown and good company around the table. The little things, of course, but as I’ve mentioned too many times to count, the little things are the ones that last. But they’re also fleeting — just like blackberries. You’ve got to catch hold of them while you can.
Things to do with blackberries:
1 lb blackberries (4 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons powdered fruit pectin
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Mash blackberries with a potato masher or a fork in a large bowl.
Stir together berries, sugar, pectin, and lemon juice in a 12-inch nonstick skillet, then boil, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 7 minutes. Transfer jam to a large shallow bowl and chill, its surface covered with wax paper, until softly set, at least 30 minutes. (Jam will set further if chilled longer.)
**Canning/preserving instructions are available widely and will be further detailed by me at a later date … but if you choose to preserve the jam, it’s not that difficult (truly).