With six fruit trees, an assortment of bushes and vines, plus a large backyard garden, August has always been the time for harvest. I’d spend hours pitting and slicing plums for jam and picking and snapping a pile of beans.
One year, I decided to outline all of my raised beds with lettuce. We had lettuce coming out of our ears. I gave some to all the neighbors–slugs and all–and brought five grocery bags full to the local food bank.
Another time, I got overly ambitious and planted 30-feet of pole beans. I used to can beans, but when my girls were little they started asking are these beans from the store or from your garden? They didn’t want the home-canned beans. To avoid the whole botulism fear and keep my kitchen cooler, I started blanching and freezing beans with a touch of fried onion and bacon. Those beans squeak, they didn’t like them–back to the drawing board. I tried drying beans in my dehydrator, but those are just plain weird. So I scaled back on the pole beans and everyone was much happier.
A few years later, we had a bumper crop of carrots. I think it was the year the MR bought a little rototiller to break up the beds, the conditions were right for growing carrots. We had carrots coming out our ears: fresh carrots, carrot cookies, carrot muffins, carrot salad, carrot bread. But those carrots were so sweet and beautiful.
While the MR moved the currant and blueberry bushes to our new home, we had to leave all the fruit trees behind. And with construction and lack of irrigation, our garden has been limited to our lovely garden in the sky.
Needless to say, while we’ve enjoyed the handful of cherry tomatoes sitting out on the deck before dinner, and we’ve eaten lettuce, sage, basil, and cucumbers from our plantings, it hasn’t been the bounty we’ve enjoyed in the past.
I might be lost with nothing to harvest if it weren’t for one thing–blackberries. We have tons and tons of wild blackberries everywhere: below the tennis court, at the tree line, invading the meadow, and lining the driveway.
I venture out every other day to pick a few quarts and I have the war wounds to prove it. I have an old recipe for blackberry cobbler that combines flour, sugar, butter, and berries resulting in heaven on earth. Since I can’t eat unlimited quantities of cobbler without losing my girlish figure, I turned to Tastespotting.com to check out their lovely pictures and bountiful ideas on what to make with blackberries. I’m not a big cocktail girl, so a blackberry gin fizz or blackberry margaritas won’t be on the menu anytime soon, but BBQ pork chops with blackberry wine sauce , blackberry popsicles, and blackberry muffins are all on the list for today.
In order to keep some of this blackberry goodness for the future, I’ve whipped up a few jars of blackberry jam. This is the first time I’ve made jam with Pomona Universal Pectin. This stuff is amazing. Rather than using equal parts fruit and sugar like most jam recipes, I used four cups smashed berries and only 1/2 cup sugar.
The cool thing about this pectin is that it’s made from citrus peel and is activated by calcium rather than sugar, so you can use very little sugar and get a quality product. I was a little worried about the calcium thing, but it’s included with the pectin. You simply put it in a jar with some water and shake it up before you add it to the berries. I forgot to mix the pectin thoroughly with the sugar, before adding it to the berries and ended up with some globs; but if you follow the directions, it’s incredibly simple.
The jam sets really fast and requires a minimal amount of cooking, so the fruit flavor really shines. I haven’t cracked open a jar for the family, so the jury is still out, but I’m very excited about this product. Fresh true flavor, low sugar, and less time heating up the kitchen–what could be wrong with that?
I did follow the directions for sweet berries and added 1/4 cup of lemon and lime juice (both because I didn’t have enough of either to make the right amount) to the 4 cups of crushed berries. The lime juice was a bit overpowering for me, so the next batch I made with just berries and sugar, and I liked the true blackberry taste much better. After filling the jars, you still boil them in a water-bath for 10 minutes, check for a seal, and then they’re shelf-stable and all is good.
Since the blackberries will continue to ripen for the next month, I do believe I’ll freeze up some bags of pre-made cobbler filling for some cozy winter treats plus a few bags of plain berries will join the 25 pounds of strawberries and 18 pounds of raspberries in the freezer upstairs. Picking berries with my girls and now with the MR’s parents has become a tradition around here.
I may be missing my little garden and fruit trees, but all I have to do is open my eyes and enjoy the bounty right in front of me. A trip to the farmer’s market wouldn’t hurt either. Maybe they’ll have violet-podded, stringless beans or sweet mokum carrots.
Are you putting your garden to rest? Is your pantry or freezer full of the harvest? Is berry picking a tradition for you and your family?