Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Purple Smiles

Garden rails, fence posts, sidewalks - even the tops and hoods of cars - sport bluish purple splashes. Judging by this evidence that seems to be everywhere, I’m not the only one who loves them. In late summer and early fall, woods and fields are bursting with ripening Blackberries, Red and Evergreen Huckleberries, Salal berries and Oregon Grapes. Many birds and other creatures become gluttonous, stuffing themselves with the bounty and wantonly dropping their “calling cards” wherever they happen to be.

I, too, venture after berries and am no less a glutton. Earlier, when bright orange Salmonberries and small Red Huckleberries first show their colors, I snatch one or two in passing. Their colors are brilliant and, although they taste quite tart raw, they both make excellent jam, jelly, or pancake toppings. One year I had the time and inclination to make Red Huckleberry jam. Finding no recipe, I experimented and invented one. The result was quite tasty, much like Lingonberries or Cranberries.

Later on, as Salal berries ripen, I enjoy picking a few and gently squeezing a plump one in my fingers to watch the 5-pointed “star” pop out from the blossom end. Early Native Americans made much use of these mild-flavored berries, but they seem to have fallen out of favor. They taste a bit like huckleberries with a hint of fir needles, but are less juicy. I’ve not yet used any, but recently found recipes for two Salal jellies, one made with tart apple juice and one with Oregon Grapes.

Oregon Grapes are edible? Apparently so, although their sourness is so intense that few animals feel the urge to make a meal of them. Still, with their tempting purplish blue color, I bet they make a lovely-looking jelly. Takes a lot of sugar, though! We have a few small plants that were loaded with berries this year, so I’ve picked, cleaned and frozen them for possible future use.

The Evergreen Huckleberries are also loaded, so I’ve been picking those. Small, round, and shiny black, they are tedious to pick, but are quite edible. Unless fully ripe they can be a little sour raw, but they make excellent jam or jelly and you can just substitute them in any blueberry recipe. My favorite is apple-huckleberry pie!

And who could forget the Blackberries, which seem to take over the roadsides and out-produce themselves year after year? Indeed, the plants are a royal pain, but at this time of year all is forgiven as they show up in wonderful pies, cobblers, crisps, syrups, jams and jellies. I think they are best popped right into the mouth fresh off the cane, or sprinkled onto morning cereal. Picking them is fairly easy, if you can be satisfied with those closest to you. Have you ever noticed, though, that the biggest, plumpest, and ripest berries are always just a little deeper into the thicket? And after you’ve fought your way in to get those, there are always a few better ones just a little deeper still? No matter how often I tell myself that those few more berries don’t matter, I still am lured into the thicket where the berry plants wreak their revenge with tripping branches and ripping thorns. Tattered and torn, I always emerge with a smile - even if it is a bluish purple one!

All man’s efforts are for his mouth,
yet his appetite is never satisfied.
Ecclesiastes 6:7

1 comment:

  1. i remember as a kid...picking blueberries...and eating them almost as fast as picking them to take home! (and YES!! the ones that seem to lure you deeper into the thicket...are always the plumpest and juiciest!)
    when i lived a little farther south of here in FL...there were wild blackberry bushes across the road. i wasn't a kid anymore...(at least by AGE)...but...same problem...never seem to be able to bring home half as many as i pick!! ha!
    i love berries!! the TARTER...the better! yum!

    and your berry pictures REALLY do them justice!! they look so mouth-watering!!!!! :]