I did a bad thing.
I bought blackberries.
Oh, theres nothing wrong with blackberries. In fact, theres everything right with them. Nothing can match the full-on explosion of sweet tartness, warm spikiness, indelible pleasure on the tongue. Rolling waves of taste and memories jumbled into one. And the summer sun on dust and black sugar kindness, and Im waving hello to them all as I pick them. I love blackberries.
No, the problem isI bought them.
Im so ashamed.
Whenever Im on my bike on the Burke-Gilman trail, my nose goes first. Fat cascades of blackberry bushes tumble down the hills around me, and Im swathed in scented heaven. Seattle smells sweet in the summer. There are moments when Im convinced I smell wild dill and basil among the blackberries. This place amazes me. But somehow, I always forget to wear my backpack stuffed with plastic bags as I bike, so I can hop off and pick enough berries to makes pies and cobblers all summer. I just keep rolling, enjoying the smell.
Discovery Park has a plethora of bushes, just off the loop trail. Walk among old-growth forests, ahhing at the canopy of leaves above your head, then feel your body open wide as the trees fall behind, and youre looking at the expanse of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. The chance to pick blackberries among this experience is almost like gilding the lily. Except you want it. Dive into the bushes, wearing long-sleeved clothes and possibly gloves, because the thorns are going to catch you. No doubt about it. Ive come out of every blackberry-picking session with scratches on both arms and hands, as though a pack of feral cats were waiting in the bushes instead of blackberries. Every summer since I moved to Seattle, Ive been in Discovery Park, happily scratched. But this summer, I have been so busy, cooking and tasting and writing and re-doing my kitchen (oh, theres more on this coming) and keeping up with this blog every day, that I havent made it out to Discovery Park for blackberries yet. And I fear I am too late.
Theres always Vashon. When I lived on Vashon, nearly a decade ago, every street yielded a fresh patch of blackberries. Tita and I always go picking, filling old yogurt containers and little plastic buckets and jars full of the gorgeous black fruit. And the juice runs down our fingers as we pick, and eat, so that our nails are stained dark purple for days. Afterwards, wed walk back to her house, happy and sun-washed, talking away. And wed crowd into her small kitchen and make a blackberry pie, immediately. Then play parcheesi with John, laughing into the evening. But this summer, Tita has mono and cant do much. I havent been over to see her enough, because of it. And we couldnt make a pie in her kitchen anymore. So, no blackberry stories there.
When I walked into my brothers house the other day, he looked at all the food from the farmers market in my hands, and said, Shauna, you didnt buy blackberries, did you? I hung my head a little, and admitted that I had. He spends half his time on their property, trying to cut down blackberry vines, because they scramble fast and take over land. But its a losing battle, and theyve been picking blackberries for weeks.
But not me. I had to buy them.
I nearly didnt. There they were, offering up their burnished beauty in little green boxes at the West Seattle farmers market. I passed by stall after stall, feeling too guilty. But at one, I just couldnt resist the smell. And these seemed particularly juicy and plump. I told of my guilt, almost as a way to apologize for not buying them from the affable man. But he said the magic words: Oh, you couldnt pick these by the side of the road. Theyre sweeter and have fewer seeds. And you know there are no pesticides or animal tracks on them…
Okay, I bought a pint. Or two. So sue me.
Orangette wrote the most lyrical post on picking blackberries and making jam anyway, so I wouldnt want to compete with her. Instead, Ill just offer up my humble apologies for not covering this Seattle food tradition in suitable style. And offer up this photograph, and a couple of recipes, in its stead.
Besides, hand-picked among thorns or bought with clean cash, blackberries please the mouth, enormously. And I could still pick some. It might not be too late. I might just go this weekend. You never know….
BLACKBERRY SAUCE FOR SALMON
I love sweet and salty together. Time was I went to the movies and bought a tub of popcorn and tossed in a carton of Milk Duds. Strange, but fabulous. But now, I can’t have either one for the gluten. And I’m probably better off for it. But still, I love that taste combination.
So all day, I was dreaming up this blackberry sauce atop sauteed salmon. I had it all planned in my mind for dinner. But the day took its own turn, deliciously (you’ll hear more about that later), and I had to eat something else. Still, I’m going to post up this recipe of my own concoction, without having tasted it. And if you make that face when you try it, let me know. I’ll apologize, then change it.
1/2 pint of fresh blackberries
1/4 cup of water
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup of brown sugar/less of high-quality honey (like the chestnut from Tuscany)
two teaspoons of cornstarch
pinch of cayenne pepper (for punch)
splash of balsamic vinegar
Cook the blackberries and water in a saucepan until the berries are soft and starting to fall apart. Take off the burner and put the blackberries into a sieve. Push through until you have extracted all the liquid. Put the liquid back into the saucepan and bring to heat. Throw in the lemon juice, the cornstarch, the sweetener of your choisc, the chili pepper, and the tiniest splash of balsamic vinegar. (I’m going to try the fig balsamic vinegar on my shelves.) Heat until it’s thickened, slightly, and you sense it’s done. Immediately spoon over sauteed salmon.
And if it all falls down, well, you can always console yourself with a blackberry-lime margarita, from Gourmet magazine:
2 cups (about 11 ounces) blackberries
2 cups ice cubes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup white Tequila
1/4 cup sugar
In a blender puree blackberries. Force puree through a fine sieve into a small bowl and discard solids. In a cocktail shaker combine 1/2 cup puree and remaining ingredients and shake well. Strain drink into 4 stemmed glasses. Makes 4 margaritas.
(Yes, tequila is gluten-free, since it’s made from the blue agave plant. Whoo-hoo!)
UPDATE FROM THE NEXT NIGHT, AFTER MAKING THE SAUCE:
oh my god. I know I’m not supposed to say this, because I’m the one who made up the recipe, but my god that was good. It needed two teaspoons of cornstarch, instead of one, and a little time to rest and thicken up on its own before putting it on the fish. But it exploded in my mouth with joy, just the way something with blackberries should. I recommend it.