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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Blackberry season is still on

Note happy chickens at lower right. Wire at upper right is not attached to Risa's head; it's a hawk stopper.
Most of our fruit trees, of which there are now almost forty, are still too young to bear: figs, nectarines, persimmons, pears (lots of pears), sweet cherries, pineapple quinces, plums, peaches. The kiwis, goumi, aronia, and blueberries are too young, too, and we didn't keep after the strawberries or, some time ago, now, the raspberries. Of the older trees, the pie cherry and most of the apples and plums skipped this year as well, leaving the three apples down by the road to cover all bases.

Risa has been trying to dehydrate more apples than last year, but has fallen behind due to a longish spell of wet weather, which is only just now breaking up. So she's been madly canning applesauce (freezer being full of other things) -- but we know we only go through so much applesauce in a year, even as gifts -- there's some left from last year.

Part of that is that when you open a quart of applesauce, there you are with 4/5 of a quart open in the fridge. We're suddenly what are called senior citizens, with a reduced appetite, and also, after decades of kids in the house, empty-nesters. We have hundreds of empty quart canning jars, and they are suddenly just "not my size."

So, this year's canning session has been all about wide-mouth pints, of which there aren't yet enough. So far so good, but the apples are getting monotonous-looking, even with all the "pumpkin" spice -- cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, and a hint of ginger (well, hey, that's how we like it) that Risa's putting in.

Earlier, when the Himalaya berries were in full swing, Risa picked many, many pints of these for the freezer. Beloved uses them in her endless parade of bowls of (locally made, organic, famous brand) yogurt.

But the rain has put paid to Himalaya gathering: mold. Just as Risa was gearing up to make blackberry jam in 1/2 pint jars.

All is not lost, however.

There are two kinds of (giant, land-gobbling) runaway commercial blackberries prowling the fence lines and pastures here. The broad-leaved ones are the Himalayas. The thin-leaved ones, the ones with twice the thorns (sharper, too!), whose fruit is not quite as plump and fruity as the Himalayas, are the Evergreens. Both were brought in by pioneer farmers, and both are the bane of landowners ever since -- they're our local equivalent of kudzu -- but they are fabulously productive.

And the Evergreens aren't molding.

A bonus is the fun she can have with the chickens when she's picking in their pasture. Any berry that's not quite quite -- too hard, too mushy, or with a red side -- she can drop at her feet, and the hens are on it in a flash. They've become adept at darting in and stealing one from a compatriot whose beak is just closing round the morsel. One actually went into a classic major-league slide on her fanny, one leg high, to spike the rooster as he craned his neck for a grounder, and steal second base. Endlessly entertaining.

So, blackberry season -- which had begun to look a bit grim --  is still on. This will make up some for the lack of other fruit -- not to mention most of the -- still green -- tomatoes.

:::

We're not, here at SRF, such serious blackberry pickers as we once were -- all over the Northwest, at this time of year, you can see whole families of the underemployed, in fields, along hedgerows, fences, roadsides, and in parks, berrying on contract for yogurt processors and the like. There's a professional look to them. If you want to berry on this scale, carry a pair of pruners to get through the unproductive first-year canes and wear a belt with a cut-away milk jug strung on it by the handle (you need both hands). Also, and this is the main trick, have with you a ten-foot-long two-by-eight for each picker, tricked out with a towing handle (made of thick rope if you can get it) and with a tread nailed on, made of one-by-two, every fourteen inches or so. Pick around the perimeter of your patch, and when you're ready to establish a beachhead, so to speak, grab your surfboard by the handle end and toss the other end into the patch. Walk up the board, picking as you go. Fun and productive! If you get hooked, push, don't pull, to get loose from the thorns. I actually work fastest with bare arms.

If you want to get even more serious, find out who's buying, make a deal, then go and get permission from landowners. The best grounds are already taken, of course, but persistence, as with anything else, pays. Park rangers can be surprisingly cooperative. Happy picking!

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