Black Gems

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it

leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots

where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

we trekked and picked until the cans were full,

until the tinkling bottom had been covered

with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair

that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

“Blackberry-Picking,” from OPENED GROUND: SELECTED POEMS 1966 -1996 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney. Used by Permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

The blackberry trail

A handful of end of summer treasures.

In the thick of it, soon we were under vines towering high , up to our elbows in briars.

All for these. J

We set out on another adventure yesterday morning. After the lackluster “storm” (at least here in eastern Canada), there was still a nice wind that warded off *some* mosquitoes. I declared it blackberry picking day! After all, how could I pass up those black gems I had spied on earlier walks? Eating a handful with Sapphire just wouldn’t cut it.

Soon the rest of the party had enough of scratches, mosquitoes, and sweat and they headed home, but as the poem says:

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it

leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots

where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots”

Something primal was activated in this pregnant mama and I just needed to forage until my pot was full. Always pushing past what you think is reasonable for that glistening bunch just beyond your reach, and always leaving some behind begrudgingly (because how flexible and steady is a 5 +month pregnant woman really?)

It reminded me that despite the effort and the scratches up my arms and legs, the sweat and the welts, I really enjoying foraging. When I went to Wilderness Awareness School a big theme of the course I took was surrounding how children in other (still indigenous cultures…i.e. they hadn’t lost their land and customs or been transplanted because we are ALL indigenous to somewhere at one point) cultures learn without formal schooling. How is it that any child would know all the constellations, how to get home when lost, which plants were safe to eat and what all their medicinal uses were, what the birds were saying and how long ago the cougar passed this way? One aspect we looked at and were encouraged to include in our programs for children was foraging. Now I see why.

As this website says from an upcoming book “Foraging with Kids”:

“Foraging is one of the best ways to get children involved with nature and science. People have gathered wild foods for as long as they’ve inhabited the earth. Compared to foraging, agriculture is a comparatively recent technology, and of course processed food is even newer. Curiosity about our surroundings has always been crucial to our survival, and children retain this inborn trait until culture intercedes. Itís becoming increasingly obvious that too much of academic learning and emphasis on standardized tests today is cutting off from experience, but we can still re-awaken our heritage, in our children and ourselves, through hands-on encounters with renewable wild food resources.”

And how much more appreciative are we when we have picked/gathered/harvested a food from the wild or even a garden? It is a feeling of connectedness and reverence I hope to instill in my children. And it has been so easy to forget in the heat and arid climate we just moved from…a place where I found it difficult to familiarize myself with the local edibles let alone go out and gather any when I could hibernate in the air conditioning. Here in the same area I grew up in, I find myself rec-connecting with the nature rhythms I remember as a child, and even the “joy” of those logn days spent picking in the brambles with my mother gathering enough fruit for blackberry jam to last the winter.

And now for one of my rambly dash-of-this-pinch-of-that type recipes

Blackberry crisp:

*I must admit these amounts are very approximate, I have been making crisp so long I just throw it together and often use whatever ingredients I have on hand.)

-enough oatmeal to mostly cover the top 1 cm of whatever pan you are using. I usually use organic quick oats…the whole oats don’t cook as well

-about a third as much butter, cut into cubes, coconut oil has also worked for me in the past

-about as much brown sugar or raw sugar as butter. You can also use maple syrup or honey. If using honey or maple syrup add a bit at a time so as not to make crust too liquid…it is called “crisp” after all

-flour of any sort (gluten free if you like) to round it out and make it all more crispy

Combine ingredients in a bowls and squeeze the oat mixture with your hands until little crumbs form with the butter and dry ingredients. If it is very dry, add a bit more butter/honey, if a bit wet add slightly more flour and/or oats

Wash your fruit (in this case blackberries) and lightly grease a square or rectangular pan with butter (the size depends on how much fruit you have, there should be enough room for at least a cm of crust on top) If I am using anything tart like raspberries or rhubarb I add a tiny bit more sweetener and perhaps another sweeter fruit to the filling.

Gently press in topping with fingers and if it still looks a bit dry I put a small dollop of butter here and there on the crust.

Bake at 350 for about ½ -45 mins depending on how much fruit and how solid, apples take longer. It’s done when crust is golden brown and juices bubble up And fruit is soft.

Hopefully all of you know how to make crisp and this is just a reminder/inspiration…though I do know a few who have not ventured much into cooking. I make this as often as once per week and make extra because the leftovers are awesome for breakfast with vanilla yogurt!

Maritime Hodge Podge:

Plenty of string beans fresh (NOT FORZEN PLEASE!) green AND yellow (or other wild colours) are prettiest

A bunch or two of fresh baby carrots

Small “new potatoes” approximately enough for each person to have at least 2-3

Fresh snap peas… half or so as many as beans though amounts are relative to garden output *wink*

Milk…almond, soy and dairy milk will all work but I prefer goat or cow milk

Butter…earth balance could be used too about 6 tbsp, but this is super individual

Salt and pepper

-snap beans in half and snap off the pointy ends

-hull the peas

-boil potatoes in a separate pot whole

-Barely cover the veggies with the stock/water, and start with the veggies that take the longest to cook first and adding the quick cookers like the beans last which essentially steam on top of the broth

There is no need to thicken with flour. The consistency is like a thin chowder as opposed to a thickened sauce or soup.
The vegetables should be tender crisp.

-serve in pot or in a large serving bowl and when you dish it up make sure to get some of the milk from the bottom. Plop a few potatoes in with it and slice them up a bit adding more butter and salt to taste.

-this goes well with corn on the cob, barbequed chicken, potato salad or other summer dishes. It can be very hot and steamy to make though J

I didn’t take my own photo but here is another I found in a google search. Enjoy your hodge podge folks!





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