Blackberry-picking is just one of my many fond memories of spending some of my childhood summers visiting my favorite aunt and uncle in Washington State on Camano Island.
There were no video games, computers, and telephones. I don’t even remember watching television on those summer trips.
I spent the long days of the summer exploring. I took walks on the beach, turning over the barnacle-encrusted rocks and watching the little sand crabs scurry. I went out on the boat checking the crab pots with my uncle, or digging for clams at low tide. I found the secret clearing in the woods with a heavy rope in the trees to swing like Tarzan…and I left the younger kids to swing like monkeys as the 15-year-old from across the street and I stole away to hold hands and get my first kiss.
My fondest memory is when I was about 9-years-old in the cabin making blackberry jam with my aunt. We kids had picked buckets of the wild, dark, juicy blackberries. I remember that it was quite a ritual making the jam-sterilizing jars, stirring the berries and sugar forever, ladling the hot, sticky mixture into the jars, melting and pouring the paraffin wax to seal the jam for storage and waiting for it all to cool.
My decision to move back to the Pacific Northwest was driven primarily by these childhood memories. And although my blackberry-picking days are over, I can be found at the farmers’ markets getting my first kiss of the summer as I let that ripe berry pass through my lips, before buying a flat to bring home to make some quick and easy blackberry recipes that have been passed around by friends and family that remind me of those lazy days of childhood summers.
Easy blackberry freezer jam
4 c. prepared blackberries
5 c. sugar
1 box fruit pectin
1 c. water
Crush berries, and if fewer seeds are desired, run through sieve. Measure 4 cups berries into large bowl, then stir in sugar and let stand for 15 minutes. Mix 1 c. water and fruit pectin and stir constantly, bringing it to a boil for about 1 minute. Stir pectin mixture over berries and sugar and continue stirring for 4 minutes. Ladle immediately into clean plastic freezer containers or jam jars, and leave ½ inch space for expansion. Cover with lids and leave standing at room temperature for 24 hours. Store in freezer. If stored in refrigerator, use within 2-3 weeks. Yields 7-8 cups.
Blackberry relish (for broiled or grilled meats)
3 cups ripe blackberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ tablespoons drained prepared horseradish (or freshly grated)
1 ½ tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 ½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper
Optional: 1 cup chopped sweet onions, sautéed in the olive oil until just softened
Cook blackberries with the sugar over moderately high heat about 5 minutes. Berries should be soft, but still look like berries. Place berry mixture (and onions, if using) in a bowl and stir in horseradish, lime juice, olive oil, and mint. Add pepper and salt, to taste. Cool before serving with grilled or broiled meats. (I like with venison or pork.) Can be refrigerated but doesn’t keep long.
Homemade blackberry liqueur
8 cups ripe blackberries
3 cups sugar
2 cups water
3 cups vodka, cheapest brand is fine
Simmer blackberries, sugar, and water together until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture starts to thicken. Strain several times using mesh strainer and wooden spoon to remove seeds; strain again using cheesecloth or paper towels. Coffee filters work well, too. The result should be a clear wine-colored liquid. Cool. Add vodka. Pour into bottles or mason jars and let stand for a month.