When I moved to Oregon, I was delighted to discover I could pick two things on the side of the road: hazelnuts and blackberries. It turned out that the hazelnuts were actually on someone’s property, and possibly grown for profit, since Oregon is a major producer of hazelnuts.
The blackberries, however, were growing wild, all over the place, which I found delightful. When The Foreigner and I bought our house in Portland, I mentioned to our realtor my plan to put some blackberry and raspberry bushes in my backyard. They seem to grow so well here, I said.
I thought nothing could rattle our realtor, until that moment. Her eyes popped, but she quickly regained her composure, tactfully suggesting that I shouldn’t give up any of my limited yard space to grow something that I can pick so freely anyway.
I soldiered on: But it would be so nice to be able to go pick some in my own yard, to put on my cereal in the mornings.
Her eyes got big again. You don’t want these in your yard, she said. They will take over your yard; you will never, ever get rid of them. You’ll hire a service to get rid of them, and pay a fortune, and they’ll come back. Don’t do it.
I suspect the part she wanted to finish the sentence like this: … because I’ll never be able to sell this house if you do.
I learned two things from her that day: First, what the phrase invasive species means, and later, after we signed the contracts, how to pronounce Oregon properly (“not Ore-gone, Ore-gun. Repeat after me: Gonna get a gun, and move to Ore-gun.”)
I never did get a gun, but I did successfully sell the house with its blackberry-free yard a year later, and every August I head outside and pick fresh, ripe, blackberries that grow, well, everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. On Sunday, I took the Red Dog out for a walk, and came home with a Safeway bag full of fresh, free berries.
I was lazy, too – I only picked the ones I didn’t have to go on my tiptoes to reach.
Last year, around this time, I made Dahlia Bakery’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Berries and Cinnamon Streusel, which is a great use for blackberries, but after making Blueberry Buckle twice, well, I was kind of coffeecaked out. Also, I had foolishly purchased far more blueberries than I needed the second time I made the buckle, so not only did I have an abundance of fresh blackberries, I was overloaded with blueberries.
Fortunately, David Tanis came to my rescue with this recipe from A Platter of Figs: Mixed Berry Crumble. It calls for 6 pints (12 cups) of berries, but they can be any mixture of blackberry, blueberry, raspberry. I used half blueberries and half blackberries – use whatever you have on hand and is in season.
The wonderful thing about a recipe like this is how it is deceptively simple: It seems like there should be more work involved getting that much flavor out of berries, but there isn’t. Everything is there to highlight the berries, full stop.
This was one of those things that I just kept having a little bit more of – not too sweet, not too gooey, nothing but delicious berries and crunch.
I used up all my blueberries, which was a relief, and all my blackberries, which was a little disappointing as it seemed like I had picked more than I really did. But I walked the Red Dog again this morning, and there were more berries along the road, waiting for me to pick them.
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 8 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 6 pints of raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries, or a mix
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- For the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Add the butter, and work it into the flour mixture with your fingertips until crumbly.
- In a large bowl, gently toss the berries with the sugar. Pile the fruit into a large gratin dish or into two pie plates. Spoon the topping over the fruit.
- Bake for an hour, or until the topping is browned. Cool for 15 minutes before serving.