OK, so it’s possible that I might have gone a little overboard with the blackberry love recently. It’s hard not to on the island. On Vancouver Island in August it is a common occurrence to see cars pulled over on the side of the highway, not because they are broken down or in need of assistance, but because people are out there picking blackberries. Then you start to see people with ladders on the sidewalks to get to the higher branches, people buried in bushes at the back of supermarkets, people with berry buckets everywhere. Once you can recognize what the bushes look like, you realize that the parts of the island that are not covered with forest are instead covered with blackberry bushes. The bushes line the highways and roads, the train tracks, they pop up next to telephone poles, they grow beside bus stops, and they are all over Vancouver Island University campus.
I started jealously watching specific areas around town where I’d spotted the bushes, waiting for when the locals had decided that the berries were ready. Then I would pounce… literally if I had to. It wasn’t until after the family reunion that I started noticing people’s cars on the side of the road with people embedded and ensnared in the bushes greedily picking berries. Then it took some time for us to be able to coordinate our schedules when all three of us could be out there harvesting. While Little Man was willing, he is not actually much help picking blackberries… or picking anything for that matter. When he has “helped” Mommy pick tomatoes in the farm garden he tends to use the precious fruit like a hard thrown bocce ball. I have to move fast to get the fruit from his little hands into my basket. And that is without the extra bonus of all the blackberry thorns. So on each of our forays to pick berries Dave’s primary task has been keeping Little Man out of the road, out of the bushes and more or less out of trouble. For Dave’s efforts he has been rewarded with blackberry scones, muffins, and yes, a blackberry cocktail. I’m sharing the blackberry muffin recipe at the end of this post. For the other two, you’ll just have to keep posted. 🙂
For our own harvesting, we first tried a spot along the road that takes us down into town. The area is largely forest, but there is a little turn around area and I’d seen cars and berry pickers there in the past. While we made a pretty good haul that day, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped since the people I had spied earlier did a good job of clearing out the berries. Our next attempt was right outside of Dave’s building at VIU. These bushes were full of gorgeous, bursting ripe blackberries. So Dave chased Little Man who was chasing the bunnies, and I picked berries as fast as I could. Blackberry harvesting is not without hazard, the bushes snagged my jeans, my sleeves and my hair. I would bury myself deep into a particularly nice area of the bushes counting on my clothing to protect me (more or less) from the thorns, just to find that I couldn’t get out again. But any scratches, and there were quite a few, were well worth it.
I have to admit that not only do I love picking and eating blackberries, but with every freezer bag I put away I feel like that’s also money in the bank. Each bag that I freeze for future use is one more bag of berries that I don’t have to buy at the store, and as I mentioned above I use berries in everything from salads to pancakes to baked goods to drinks. Did I mention that I love blackberries? Normally this time of year would find me scowling at the stacks of beautiful fresh blackberries in the stores, priced at a level that was hard to justify in our grocery budget. This year it found me ensnared in bushes, and I am still finding thorns in my jeans. If you also find yourself in a place where blackberries do not grow wild (and free of cost) but still want to try out the muffin recipe below, please substitute the blackberries with any berry that you do have access to, frozen or fresh. Blueberries or raspberries would be great in these muffins. Speaking of blueberries, I’ve been told that they are just now coming into season here…
A couple notes about blackberry picking safety:
- First, although the berries grow incredibly well along the train tracks, NEVER pick berries there. Not only is it dangerous with the trains using the tracks, but the tracks are routinely sprayed with herbicide to keep plants from growing there. That means that the berry bushes have been sprayed too. Not good eats.
- Second, although it is tempting, never pick berries low to the ground. There are animals out and about that like to mark their territory. Just imagine the height of a neighborhood dog’s hind quarters and remember that urine soaked berries are to be avoided.
Blackberry Oatmeal Muffins
1 ¾ c. whole wheat flour
¾ c. rolled oats (not quick cooking)
½ c. brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 c. milk
1/3 c. plain yogurt
1 tbsp. canola oil
1 c. blackberries or other berry, frozen or fresh
Preheat the oven to 400º. Line a muffin pan with papers or lightly oil it.
In a large bowl stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl whisk together the milk, yogurt, oil and eggs until well combined. I tend to use good quality skim milk and fat free yogurt here. The yogurt adds a richness to the muffins, and replaces the oil that would otherwise be required.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just long enough to combine. You do not want to over mix the batter since that results in tough muffins. This batter will look a bit more wet than muffin batter usually does. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to. Let the batter sit for 20 minutes. This will let the oats hydrate, soaking up some of the extra liquid.
After the 20 minutes of resting, add the berries to the mixture and gently fold together. Divide the batter amongst the muffin cups, and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until they are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean (except for any blackberry juices it might encounter).
Let the muffins rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then remove them to a rack to cool completely. Enjoy!