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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rite of Summer: Blackberries

The days of Summer dwindle, and there are certain signs the season is changing. It is now I start thinking forward. I have to have my carrot on the stick, to face the prospect of the perpetual gloom of our short gray days and long dark nights...

My sisters and I have a "Girls Weekend" before Christmas. We spend the weekend in a hotel downtown, take in a show and have dinner someplace nice. It is my year to make the arrangements, so the show tickets are booked (White Christmas) and I await the onslaught of seasonal hotel deals.
I have started thinking about Christmas break and have found some nice cabins at Neah Bay, perfect for storm watching and beach hiking. I was thinking of getting away last year but our snow storms certainly kept me confined at home

I dare think about a vacation next Spring. Seattle gets far too dreary in the Winter to not have something to look forward to. A get away to someplace different is in order. This Spring I went to London. I love London and I could certainly be convinced to return
But NOW, right now there is an important thing to do. It is the ultimate sign of the end of summer

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of blackberry picking trips. We would pile into the car, all eight of us and drive to the special picking place. It was the railroad right of way just off Monster Road in Tukwila. An inglorious place (and name) just opposite the slaughter house, down the road from what I thought was a haunted house. I learned in my adult life that the abandoned cement house was an old gun placement from WWII. It had a pretty good protective bead on Boeing.

Mom would give us each a pot and point to a place on the side of the pot. "Pick to here" she would order. It was a good technique, I suspect, to keep us from constantly asking, "Is this enough?"
I was the youngest and had a healthy respect for the location. Between thorns, spiders, trains and dragonflies (which my brothers said sucked blood) I stuck close and was diligent at getting berries close to the ground.
It was always exciting when trains would come past. We would count cars and I would hope to spot a rail car from the B&O (snicker) line. Smashing pennies was a thrilling rite. My brothers introduced me to the craft. They let me know it was really dangerous because the pennies could derail the train. Also the government didn't like us to deface money. I didn't know what deface meant but I thought the flattened stretched face of Mr Lincoln was pretty cool and worth the danger.

I also became a blackberry snob. The right of way only grew Himalayan berries and they are the largest, most sweet least seedy of the two local invasive blackberries. They make great pies, passable wine and when mixed with milk and sugar, blackberry cereal (hold the bugs)

My to do list this weekend has two must dos 1) pick berries 2) go into work and start a project. It also has a desired thing to do, get up to the Mt Rainier area one last time. Upon seeing the unfavorable weather report at 5am I decided that berries were number one today, along with mundane things like laundry, which takes all morning, once I finish my coffee. I drove out to the farm and said HI! to my horse and then wandered the access road in search of berries. The recent weather has not been kind. The Himmys are dried up and seedy. Only those protected by trees and shrubs have a more juicy sweet quality. I know there are quite a few berries on the road near work but for today this is fine.

The Cutleaf Blackberries endured the heat just fine. They have a tight seedy berry and are less sweet and juicy than Himmys. Their leaf is smaller and has cut edges. Their thorns are less fearsome than Himmy. To me they just don't have that blackberry flavor I want.

I stumbled upon several fine patches of Himmy. They have larger, rounder leaves and the best quality ripe berry is round, plump and somewhat soft. When you jiggle the branch the ripest fall away easily. It is good to use a large flat container, like a Glad or Tupperware. The picking was not the best and I did have take some Cutleaf so I could fill my picking container "to here". Overall there were many red berries here so a few weeks of the right rain and sun might produce a late picking
While I was picking I roused a little Pacific Tree Frog. A great place for a little frog, plenty of greenery to hide in and tons of bugs. In the winter when it is rainy, this road is alive with salamander and tree frogs crossing. I always regret the fact that I might take one of them away as I drive down the road in the dark. I keep my eye up and forward to avoid knowing for sure. He was a tricky fellow to get the camera on. Deep in the shrub, my camera took plenty in focus shots of the near foliage.

So the pie is cooling and I now get to fret over the possibility that it won't thicken up enough. That is part of the ritual too.

I didn't derail any trains

And the government has not come after me for defacing Lincolns

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