Montesano Blackberries

Montesano Blackberries

I crossed a threshold today that I never saw coming.  I turned into the old guy picking blackberries by the side of the road in overalls, a hat, and a stained old lime green kitchen colander that had seen better days.  Mainly due to a puppy incident in the mid 90s.

Even did the small town Montesano horn honk acknowledgement a few times.  You know.  Don’t raise your head and sort of hold one hand half way up in the air.  Too engrossed into the picking to be bothered with actual conversation.  The split second decision making.  Ripe?  Unripe?……close enough.

This is it for me.  There is no coming back from this.  Riding motorcycles, chatting up random hotties in bars….no, its all gone.  I’ve jumped the shark.

Seeing as how I am already here, might as well go all the way.

THE EVER PRESENT COMFORTING MONTESANO BLACKBERRY

Since we were kids we have been munching on them.  Those old enough, remembering when moms here used to can them.  Do moms still do canning?    Sort of like fresh hamburger down at Thriftway, we don’t pay much attention to where it comes from.  Let alone how to preserve it.

Not all Montesano blackberry stories are pleasant though.  One involving a girl ….there is always a girl isn’t there……back in about 68 or 69.  Those are fuzzy years for me, not relevant to this recollection,  and can’t be entirely sure. 

We used to do a lot of walking dates back then.  I don’t know what they do with girls today.  Skype them?  Anyway, on a particularly fine late summer evening I found myself on such a walk with, I am sure, as was my wont…..a beautiful example of Montesano young ladies.  The air was different back then, more earthy.  The summer breeze hanging just over the swaying tree tops against a tomato red sunset.   Hand in hand,  and with the force of nature at my back……

I made my move.

Apparently too soon, as the young lady met my totally sincere and heart felt hormonal-driven advance with the shock of a surprised raccoon – and reacted accordingly.

I was able to keep a grip on her hand longer than anyone would be required to in polite society.  To this day feeling no guilt and requiring no apology for either my still developing strength or balance.  Despite the many requests I have received.  

She fell into the blackberry ditch backwards, her eyes locked onto mine.  Her arms and legs outstretched,  almost in slow motion.    There was complete silence.  For a moment.

Now the first rule of falling into a well established blackberry patch is to not over react.  Stay calm.  Assess your surroundings and extricate yourself from said patch slowly and with care.  Certainly there will be a few ouches and scrapes to tend to, but that is about it and a hearty laugh it off while brushing your clothes should be a bonding experience.  I’ve seen it dozens of times.

I throughly place the blame for her wild thrashing and resulting carnage on the lack of the Montesano School System of the day as well, as her parents,  to impart this information during her childhood upbringing.   

There were no more walks with this beauty, there in the half Montesano moonlight.  The stars beginning their nightly dance.

I did see her about 15 years ago.  Walking in town.  I thought about her, the blackberries and that early warm evening so long ago.   What might have been.    That damn sunset.

NATURES TREAT

The Montesano Blackberry.  A wonder sugary fresh tart treat fruit full of memories of our youth, and now something that helps keep your guts to work regular.  A full circle fruit and fun for all ages.

Now I am going to get hammered by some of the local ladies over this.  “No no no…..you do it this way”.  Ok, whatever. 

This is what I do.

Gather supplies –  I hate picking blackberries.  I mean people see you out there and everything – you get those little thorns all over your fingers.    Pick a bunch.  I use a colander as I don’t want a collection of juice on the bottom.

  Man, this is really difficult to write.  

Gather supplies

I do want to remind everyone that yes, the biggest, most desirable, and juiciest berries,  are always just out of your reach.  Above your head.  Just past your stretching wanting fingers. 

Jumping up and down to get them and landing on slippery dead petrified thorny vines is not fun.  Exasperated by instinctively reaching your hands out to cradle the fall – slicing your hands on ever waiting blackberry thorns.  A sober  reactionary Ying to your impulsive picking Yang.  The universe in perfect balance.

Ignore them.  Hard as it is, let your eyes wander and you will see more, just keep side stepping.  It isn’t about getting every last ripe berry.  It is about getting out of the thicket in one piece.  And don’t give me this – honey hold this ladder and I will get up there crap.  A good place to remind the readers that the number one accidental cause of death for us older guys is falling off  of a roof or ladder.  Picking berries should be a fun experience, not an anxiety filled exercise in man vs. nature.  Or requiring a stretching routine.

How ever much you pick today, there will be that much again in three days.  They ripe pretty fast and this will go on for a while, but now is the good time to get out there.  The big juicy ones are in the shade btw.

One thing I always wonder is why the birds don’t strip them? 

Blackberries are everywhere here.  On my property I could probably put away 20 quarts.  More.   Without climbing into the brush.  I only put away about 15 pints or so and another dozen bags of frozen.  I’ll get into it below.

The Montesano Farm and Home  store has their canning jars on sale right now and this is a good time to stock up.  That is about all you need, other than a big pot.

WATER BATH METHOD

I Water Bath.  Measure out how many uncrushed berries will fill a jar and put them away.  Then cook down a bunch to make them a purplish mashy mess with juice.  Could add a bit of water I guess, I don’t do it.  After I get a stewy mess, I add the put away berries to the mix and it is a nice concoction.

Cauldron of goodness

Pre boil the jars and lids so everything is clean.

Fill the little canning jars with your sloppy mess and simmered berries.  Put a canning lid on it and rolling boil for 10 minutes.  As it cools, the lid will pop and seal.  I do it this way rather than just pouring juice over whole berries.  Otherwise there is just too much air in the jar to seal properly.  In my opinion anyway.

Pressure cooking canning would be better for real long term storage and the canning purists out there,   but I try and learn things that don’t require electricity.   Water bathing will keep them for a year and more until the next crop and good enough for me.  If I haddddddd to, I could do it over a campfire.

FREEZE

Wash and lay out the berries on a cookie sheet.  God I can’t believe I’m writing this.

Frozen and vacuum packed

Lay out the berries and put them in the freezer. Next morning, scoop them into bags and freeze the bags.  Done.  I vacuum pack them.  What about electricity?  You say Mr. no electricity.

I have a two panel solar station and you don’t Miss question everything.  So there.

Of course it wouldn’t do me any good without the freezer to keep them in.  Hence….the water bath method of preservation,  if things get real bad.  And they ain’t lookin too good out there are they?  I need more solar panels.  Seven will run a small modern freezer.

DRY THEM

Yes, you can do it.  But it is way too much work for me to do.  The only way to do it right is with a dehydration unit.  I have one, but to me, preserving with something that requires power is a waste of my homesteading moral code.  You already know how I feel about using electricity to preserve food so won’t get into it again.

Now I do have a friend that claims…..claims……that he can do it using a modified smoker.  Ok, maybe.  He drinks a lot and I want to see it in action.  Some wrinkled up old nasty blackberry that tastes like alder or oak may have some remnants of nutrition still left, but I don’t know how much I want to eat them.  Sucking on a dried out old berry until enough saliva releases the smoky taste of what ever bug infested wood you found lying around the forest floor may give you street-cred up at the mountain man self reliance wilderness festival….but not my scene.  I don’t want to even think about a charcoal smoker.

BLACKBERRY JAMS

Yes, I make a few of these for putting away but here is where the blackberry controversy starts to really heat up.

My main method listed above is all you really need.  Especially pre cooking them ….as I do….. as they just taste sweeter.  To make the traditional jam you have to add sugar.  Lots and lots of sugar.  Pectin based?  Even more sugar.  I won’t torture you with relating my pectin making via our carefully attended crab apple tree.   I could wax on endlessly on varieties of cheese cloth mesh and proper squeezing techniques and pectin extraction.    I won’t.    Much as I want to.

Be it a piece of home made dutch oven campfire bread toast, or a sandwich, I don’t feel you need the sugar.  Advantage of the traditional sugar adding method is,  yes, it will preserve longer once you crack the top.  The reason I use the half pints.  I know, fists have flown once the full pint vs half pint discussions start and rough house soon turns to tears,  so I will only touch on the subject for inclusion here.

BLACKBERRY WINE –  Much easier to do than you think it is.  Here is a link if you want to try it yourself.  https://practicalselfreliance.com/homemade-blackberry-wine/    (and you thought you could just eat them). 

I made my first Blackberry wine here in my sophomore year in high school.  Hidden in the back of my closet.  Do it right folks, I can still taste that horrible mess I made.  Probably one of the reasons I never got into alcohol.  Just don’t like the taste of it.

Blackberries are pretty much everywhere here, but if you want to start your own blackberry patch and not be the old guy in the overalls on the side of the road –   SEE HERE.  https://www.almanac.com/plant/blackberries

I’m not advocating for the residents of this town to run around with blue teeth all hopped up on Blackberry wine.  That’s your choice.  Although it would make the town more interesting.  

Blackberries are full of vitamins and all sorts of good things.  Rumor has it that Montesano blackberries are the best.  Not like those small shriveled Elma berries.   

One thing I find of particular  interest with our local blackberries is that they are good for keeping scurvy away.  I don’t know why I have always been frightened of it and interested in keeping the dreaded scurvy beast at bay.  Probably as I had this thing for reading books about pirates and sea voyages as a kid.   Couldn’t get enough of them.   They were always dropping dead from scurvy.  Giant octopuses and shipwrecks didn’t do them in.  No It was the dastardly dreaded scurvy you land loving scuppers.  

Not really sure what scurvy actually does, but I don’t want none of.  None of it!  You hear me.  Thats why I eat them.  I mean do you just drop dead from it?  Or sort of stumble around, bleeding from your eyes screaming for someone to give you a piece a fruit.  I don’t know.

I just can’t bring myself to type all that scientific stuff so GO HERE  https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-blackberries#health-benefits for more information on the health benefits..

OTHER USES

Blah blah blah.   Blackberries have many more uses and have been used for over 2,000 years as hedges to keep out rampaging marauders.  Which is exactly what I have been building for 20 years now.  Go on, I dare you……just try and get through my carefully crafted blackberry hedges.  I’ll hear the cries for help and screaming.    

I have built a triple layer of blackberries.  First a good layer of bushes, followed by a loose wood deadfall, and  another thick row of blackberries.   There is some heated school of thought among my on-line hedge group discussion forum about adding further defensive measures inside a marauder barrier hedge, but frankly find it not necessary.  What with the trap ditch and all.   I don’t care what Hedgeboy435 says.   

I have to wrap this up.  Now I feel like writing about blackberries..

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