Oh little blackberry, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. For me, blackberries are synonymous with summer. And summer means sunshine, long days, freedom, playing outside, and hunting for fat, sweet blackberries. When I was little, one of the joys of summer vacation was hunting for blackberries with my best little friend Kelly. We lived in a rural part of Santa Cruz county, an area where we raised 4-H animals in the yard, rode horses through the apple orchards, and kids were free and safe to disappear “exploring” for the day. One of our favorite past times was blackberry finding. We had to try to slip out without the boys (our brothers) seeing or they’d follow us, find our stash, and come back later to eat all the precious berries. So there was the excitement of trying to escape unnoticed, the giggling as we fled down the long driveway, the triumph of a successful escape, and the thrill of hitting the jackpot when we found a patch of vines, heavy with sweet, ripe fruit. One particularly un-lady like competition we enjoyed was counting how many blackberries we could stuff into our mouths before chewing. Whoever stuffed the most in, won. But even the loser got a mouthful of berries too so it was really win-win.
The other day I noticed that the berries alongside my road were not only very ripe, but perhaps starting to wane. I had been picking berries for my cereal and for snacking all summer but had not yet made a crumble. It occurred to me that it was possible I might not find the time this summer. This was unacceptable. Summer would not be complete without picking a huge pail of berries and making something delicious. How could I make it through the winter with such a weight on my shoulders? So, I called in sick. Cough, cough. Freedom! I toodled down the road to a nice patch across the street from “the meadow” and went to work. As with most good things, berries do not come without a price-snagged clothes, scratched arms, and juice stained fingers.
I was also standing halfway in the road so there was the occasional car to wave an apology to. At least no one called the police on me this time. Once I was out on a bike ride and a huge, beautiful patch of berries called out to me. I hit the brakes, abandoned my ride and started grazing happily alongside the road. A car drove by and the driver slowed down, rolled down her window and gave me a hard stare. I smiled and waved. She turned around and drove by slowly again. I shrugged. Then she came by a third time and I started to wonder what was up. Next the police came! They rolled down the window and asked if everything was ok. I assured them that all was well. They smiled and waved and drove away. I must have looked like a suspicious character to that woman. My theory is that only nice people eat blackberries on the side of the road. We have more than our fair share of homeless, drug addicts, and nut jobs in Santa Cruz. But I’ve never, ever seen one of them eating all the free, delicious, nutritious blackberries that grow wild everywhere.
I lugged the spoils home, preheated the oven and set to work. The beauty of a crumble is that there’s not much of a recipe needed. Fill up a bowl with some fruit. Drizzle some local honey and toss. Pour it in your baking container. In another bowl, mix a cup of flour, a pinch of salt, a pinch of baking powder, a half cup of brown sugar and cut in a stick of butter.. Whisk it up and pat it on top of the fruit.
30 minutes later you will know it’s done when you open the oven door or even just walk back in the house. You will hear angels singing. And if not, the smell will make you sing. Folks don’t cook much at home anymore. I too am guilty of stopping most often at Whole Foods and picking up something from the hot bar. But you miss out on such a huge sensual part of the experience. There’s nothing like opening the door to your home and being enveloped in warmth from the oven and the heavenly smell that makes you want to melt onto the floor in a puddle.
So when I go back to work today and they ask if I am feeling better, I will honestly answer, “Yes, MUCH better!”