Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pickin' and Freezin'

What to do with all those blackberries..
(c) 2011 by Tom King

The wild blackberries up here in Washington are something to behold. Big fat juicy things, just right for making home-made blackberry cobbler.  Only thing is they don't know how to make Bluebell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream (TM) to go on 'em. When I go back to Texas to get my truck, I may have to fill it up with Bluebell and some dry ice. No sense letting all these blackberries go to waste.
When I was a kid my mama used to drag us all out onto the backroads around Keene, Texas to pick blackberries. We'd pick blackberries till we could close our eyes and see blackberries on the inside of our eyelids. I had pornographic dreams about blackberries.  My sister loves to tell how Mom forced us to pick blackberries in oppressive heat. To hear her tell it there were whips and chains and Mom held us at gunpoint. Every time she tells the story, the temperature rises five degrees or so.

Here in balmy Washington, they're having an 82 degree heat wave which has discouraged the Washingtonians from braving the blazing heat for something as mundane as picking berries. So.....................THEY'RE ALL MINE...BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

And beautiful they are. I set out this morning to go berry picking armed with all the things you need to do it properly. Basket, pointy walking stick, faithful dog and ten pounds of camera and tripod slung awkwardly over my shoulder so I could photograph the thing because I can't talk any of these people up here into going with me. It's like the Little Red Hen.  "Not I," quacked the duck.

So, off we went on our own. Don't worry, unlike the Red Hen, I do share my berries with the old and infirm folk that live in my house and are too stove up from moving to pick berries!

Oh, well, it's a balmy late summer day and the berries are fat and easy pickin'.  You can see in these pictures how the vines hang low out over the fences and close to the roadside. I use my stick to pull down the big clusters from up high. In Texas I'd have the stick for dealing with timber rattlers, cottonmouths and copperheads, but up here I'm told they have no snakes. I don't fully trust them on that one yet, so I take the stick.  

The berry vines are beside a dirt road, so the berries are covered with dust. That's okay because they'll wash off nicely and the dust disguises my favorite berry bushes from marauding neighbors. Did I mention, "THEY"RE ALL MINE...BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

The basket rapidly fills. If I drop a berry, I don't bother to pick it up. It's easier just to pull another one off the vines. There are some berries that look like blueberries, but I'm not sure so I leave them for another time when I can take my field guide to Yankee edible wild berries with me to make sure. I'd hate to be poisoned by some toxic Northern species like gasping deathberry or choke-you-to-death cherries, so I'll stick with blackberries which, thanks to Mom, I know all about.

I wish I had brought along a ladder. There were some beauties up high that I just had to leave hanging. Shortly after this picture was taken, I toppled into the thorny vines. I'm sure it was quite entertaining, and I wish I had a video for America's Funniest Videos, but as I missed it the first time and not wanting to repeat it for the cameras (even for the $10,000), you'll just have to use your own twisted imaginations.

Home again we go with our prize. Daisy is bored to tears with berry picking. We didn't disturb a single rabbit today, so she's chalking this one up in the "lose" column. Might as well go home and take a nap.  We set the basket out on the counter with the things we'll need to prepare our berries for the freezer.

You can preserve them or make them into jelly or something, but that's a bit more work than I'm interested in doing now. Besides, you can always thaw the berries out later to make jelly or preserves if you want to. For now I need the following:
  • Basket o' Fruit
  • Two gallon-size Ziplock Freezer bags
  • Large Colander
  • Wire Basket

Step 1
Scoop out some berries into the wire basket. Fill it less than half full to allow room for the water to flush away stems and leaves and stuff. Rinse thoroughly with water while tossing the berries gently.

Step 2
Dump the washed berries into the colander. Repeat until you've washed all the berries. Unless the berries are exposed to something particularly filthy, washing them should be all you need to do to get them clean. If it would make you feel better, you could always pour boiling water over them to flush away any germs or crud, but it's probably not necessary. (at this point my lawyer says that if you take my lame-brained advice and die of botulism, I should warn you that taking my advice on this is purely at your own risk and if you do die of botulism, it's not my fault and you can't sue me - just so you know).

Step 3
Let the berries dry out in the colander for a couple of hours. If the berries are really wet, they'll stick together when they freeze.  If you dry them good, then they freeze like a bag of bumpy little marbles and are easier to scoop out to use in your cereal or to measure for a berry cobbler.

Step 4
Scoop the dry berries into a dry Ziplock storage bag, push out any excess air, lay the bag flat so there's only one or two layers of berries in the bag, then zip it up.

Step 5
Lay the bag flat in the freezer until all of the berries are frozen hard. If you set the bag upright, the berries may compact and freeze in a solid block which is a pain when you go to use them. Once they are frozen you can store them upright if you want to.

Now do that every day for the two to three weeks of berry picking season and you'll have enough to make cobblers all winter long. Now if I can just buy the Bluebell Ice Cream franchise up here in Washington, I'll not only have a freezer full of berries, but I'll be independently wealthy too!

Tom & Daisy, Puyallup, Washington

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