In "Blackberry Picking," the late poet Seamus Heaney writes:
"You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet/ like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it/ leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for/ picking."
And a lusty, greedy business it is, reaching into a briar, snaking stained fingers around thorns for the heavy, ripe fruit. We pull over and pick shamelessly by the roadside and keep our best hunting grounds secret, unwilling to share where exactly that gorgeous coffee can full of berries came from. And how many don't make it into the can at all, but go straight into our mouths?
Knowing they're out there on the vines, ripening and (ohmygod) rotting can make you lose perspective. One summer when we were staying with my in-laws, I couldn't bear to waste a single berry from their massive backyard bushes. I ate them for breakfast with milk, put them in pies and baked one blackberry crisp after another until my mother-in-law finally put a hand on my forearm and said in a firm voice, "I think that's enough." Her intervention was for my own good.
If you know of a secret early blackberry briar up in Blue Lake, you may already be in a frenzy. The rest of us will have to wait until August or whenever the flash of pink fireweed on the side of the road signals blackberry season. Or do we?
Since last berry season, a group of 11 women have been meeting every Tuesday evening at the Westhaven Fire Hall to make blackberry pies for the 54th annual Westhaven Blackberry Festival on July 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The pie ladies, as they're known, buy and freeze berries from local pickers (don't ask — nobody is revealing their picking spots) in August and immediately start setting up over 1,000 pies to freeze until just before the festival, when they'll bake them for sale. They also bake huckleberry pies (think of the struggle you'll save yourself) and whip up homemade jams and jellies, all to benefit Westhaven's volunteer fire department.
What's in those pies? Unlike the CIA, the pie ladies have no leaks. "It's blackberries and love," is all second-generation volunteer baker Erica Ervin will say. She is, however, willing to share her blackberry muffin recipe, which is a fine way to showcase the berries once you start hoarding. Just keep it to five or six batches — try and keep some perspective.
Makes 12 muffins
Ingredients and Method:
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup melted butter
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
¾ to 1 cup blackberries or huckleberries
Preheat your oven to 375 F and grease a muffin tin. In a medium bowl, whisk the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, mix the butter, milk and egg. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and combine. The mixture should be lumpy. Gently fold in the berries. (If you are using frozen berries, don't defrost them before measuring. If they're fresh, dust them with flour before adding them to the batter.)
Pour the batter into the muffin tin (with or without paper liners), filling each cup 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out without crumbs.