Lost Arts studio

A lot of the fiber arts I enjoy are things like tatting, netmaking, chair caning, and even weaving, where people will come up to me when I demonstrate and solemnly tell me, "That's a lost art."

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Location: SW Outer Nowhere, Michigan, United States

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a chicken. (With apologies to Peter Steiner.)

24 July 2006

Blackberry Pickin' Post

Michigan, being downwind of Lake Michigan, is cooler than a lot of the US right now. Cooler in this case means only the 80's and not the 90's or 110's.

I took advantage of the cooler weather yesterday to pick more blackberries. My husband was finally home from his second of three two-week annual training sessions, and he and our son had gone off to have fun together.

So I could wade into the thicket of thorns knowing no one would need me in a hurry, and I would be able to do the blackberry-picker's version of tai chi, balancing on one foot while I slowly lowered the other into the only possible hole in the brambles, and reaching forward to pick the dark glossy berries.

Blackberry picking is a philosophical art. (No, get away, I don't mean "Why am I here?" I'm here because canned blackberries over vanilla ice cream in the dead of winter are to die for. What better reason do I need? If I needed a better reason, how about blackberry pie?)

Blackberry picking has taught me that if I look again, there is one more berry right in front of my face, within easy reach, that I've missed despite picking every single berry I could see. And if I look right next to my foot, there is usually one there, too.

I've learned that shopping is just berry-picking writ large. The same impulse that sends me after the next nice berry, and the next, and the next, is also the impulse that drives shopping, and yes, yarn-stashing.

One thing I like about canning blackberries is that aside from the admittedly thorny, bramble-scratchy picking, there is so little to do to them to get them in the jars. No scalding, skinning, and pitting, like peaches. No hulling like strawberries. No snipping ends, like green beans. I boil a kettle of water and dunk them in, to drive off any critters and to float off dried-up petals or bits of grass. Then I just drain them and spoon them into jars.

I used to make syrup separately, but I always over-estimated or under-estimated how much I would need. Now I make the syrup directly IN the jar: for blackberries, a scant quarter-cup of sugar, and about a third of a cup (a slosh, if you want to know my exact measurement) clean, recently-boiling water right down the canning funnel into the jar. Swirl around until clear, add berries, top up with water, slap on lid. Next!

And guess what, if you just put the sugar down in the bottom of the jar, it doesn't all mix up in the canning kettle. It makes a plate of sugar candy down on the bottom that takes repeated shaking over the course of a couple of days to dissolve. (Guess how I come to know that!)

Another thing I like about blackberries is that they are usually not that great raw. Red raspberries, love 'em and eat them straight off the bush. Black raspberries, same thing. Blackberries -- well, once in a while you get a yummy one, but most of the time they are only okay, and once in a while you get one that is downright nasty. So the temptation to put the bucket down and just eat them isn't there. It's much easier to fill a pail that way.

I picked almost 5 pounds of berries, which made six pints of canned berries. And there are still more coming on, if only it doesn't get too hot to pick and can them!


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