21 May 2012

Early Blackberries

  The brambles are full of ripening berries and I had my fruit bowl this morning topped with fresh blackberries still warm from the canes. Normally, the blackberries are coming in in mid to late June, just slightly before our blueberries are ripe. But this year, everything in the yard has been way too early... We originally planted 3 domesticated cultivars and a gone wild blackberry from a long gone home place on a friends property. Over the years all of the varieties that we bought died for various reason, the "thornless" blackberry just withered in the North Carolina summer heat, One was prone to fungus and I think the other went the way of some other unfortunate upstarts in the yard and was accidentally mulched by the lawn mower. But the gone wild blackberry from the old home place, has proven to be hardy and nigh on indestructible. They have multiplied so much over the years that we have run out of room for them. We have two 25 foot long rows of blackberries, trained to fencing When the new shoots come up now we dig them up and put them in one gallon recycled plant buckets. Occasionally we thin out older plants that have become less productive and replace them with ones we have waiting in buckets, but mostly we give the plants as gifts or sell them.
  The berries as you can see in the photo, when ripe are bigger than my thumb. One berry covers most of the palm of my hand... These berries are wonderfully sweet and juicy. It is important though to know when to pick them .If you pick them one day too early, instead of filling your mouth with sweet blackberry goodness, it will be bitter/sour and cause your face to pucker up involuntarily. No amount of ripening inside will take the bitter taste away either.  This particular berry makes up the majority of our black berry canes. We have them trained to livestock fencing so that we can assure good air circulation, (to combat fungus), keep the brambles under control and off the ground, and keep the canes from attacking unsuspecting gardeners as they as squatting to weed.

  The best way to know that the berry you are choosing to pick is ripe is to turn your hand palm up directly under the berry and then gently tickle it with your finger tips. If it is ripe, it will fall off into your hand. The other way is to ever so gently tug on the plump dark purple/black berry, if there is any resistance then the berry needs long on the cane. If it comes off quite easily then it is probably ripe.
  We freeze most of the berries we don't eat outright. I used to make blackberry jam for the kids, (the biggest kid being my husband who dearly loves to slather jams on hot home made bread), but these days we are not allowing much sugar in our diet, so all those jars of glistening jelly are too much of a temptation. Instead of making sugary jams and jellies, I make smoothies with frozen bananas, mango or peaches and blackberries. I freeze all the fruit and then just grab a couple of handfuls of whatever I want, add orange juice, pineapple juice, or unsweetened cranberry juice and blend into a frosty smoothie that is thick enough to hold a spoon upright in the glass. During the summer months we practically live on these... nothing is better after working in the garden than a spot of shade, a companion and a refreshing, oh so tasty, smoothie.
  In case you have never made a home made smoothie, I will give you the run down on what we do to make sure we are smoothie ready whenever the urge strikes. Purchase very ripe bananas, ones with lots of freckles, or do what we like to do, buy them in quantity green and let them ripen on the counter and then when ripe we do a mass packaging of bananas and fill a freezer shelf with them. We let them ripen until just shy of a banana bread banana..., (banana bread bananas being almost too soft to peel, more black than yellow).  They should have some give when gently pressed with fingers, with lots of freckles, but not be squishy. Peel the bananas and break each one into three pieces, ( do not freeze bananas in the peel...once you freeze them you won't be able to get the peel off), fill quart sized freezer ziplocs with as many peeled bananas as will fit and still allow you to close the bag. Gently push out as much air as possible without mashing bananas to slow the browning effects of oxidation.

**There is a better way to store the bananas, but it requires a Seal-a-Meal/Food Saver type vacuum sealer. I lucked out and found my never-been-out-of-the-box, Food Saver at Goodwill for $14,
but the regular price is around $100.00 at Walmart. The vacuum sealer is worth its weight in gold if you eat raw like we do. It allows you to prepare many vegetables and fruits ahead without having to worry about things going brown after they are cut. It saves a lot of time in food preps since you can do a lot of prepping at one time instead of every time you need to prepare a meal. There is also much less waste of produce due to spoilage. Bananas will last much longer prepped with a vacuum sealer as they don't get brown and bitter like they do if you try to keep bananas in a Ziploc for more than a week or so. **

The bananas are the base for most of our smoothies, since they are readily available, affordable, and add sweetness and a creamy consistency without the addition of  sweeteners or dairy.  I put one to one and a half frozen bananas per person, in the blender.To this we add a handful or two other fruits that we have frozen fruit and enough juice to thin it some and aid in blending. I like mine thick enough to eat with a spoon, but if you want a smoothie you can drink through a straw, then just add juice until you have the consistency you want. Some time this summer I will try to do a blog post with some of our favorite smoothie recipes. I also would love to hear about your favorites, if you would like to share, leave a comment.

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