Most people can tell when it’s rhubarb season because they go in their back yard garden, and see rhubarb growing. It’s a good method, and it goes without saying, a fairly obvious one.
As with so many things, it doesn’t work quite like that at my house. It could, of course, but when I started my little garden, I immediately filled the planting beds with every type of herb and four or so zucchini plants; later that year, I had learned the answers to important gardening questions, such as: What Does Slug Damage Look Like? How Do You Get Rid of Powdery Mildew? and the all-important, Why Shouldn’t I Grow Four Zucchini Plants?
When the main beds were full, The Child requested a spot to grow strawberries, and located an unused sunny spot right next to the similarly unused shed. The shed once had a function – it stored gardening equipment owned and theoretically used by The Departed, but left behind when he departed and subsequently discovered to be unusable (weed whacker with missing cords, leaky gas can for use with nonexistent lawn mower), expired (10-pound bags of moss-be-gone and fertilizer, each with a few handfulls missing), or simply unrelated to gardening (half-full cans of latex paint, an outgrown bicycle). When the beds were put in, I put a few useful-seeming implements into a small box, which I stored in a convenient location, near the beds. So the large shed sits, mostly empty and completely out of sight.
We put a small bed next to the shed, and the cleaning lady gifted several strawberry plants, and since there was a little space left, I added a rhubarb plant. I made muffins the first year, and posted the recipe here. Each year since, I notice one day that my blog suddenly has a lot of traffic, most of it coming from pinterest and all of it going to that one recipe.
When this happens, I go outside and discover I have rhubarb, and lots of it. Then I make muffins, too. And jam. And cookies. And a pie, if I feel like pie, or a cake, if I feel like cake. If my neighbor has brought apples from her tree, I make rhubarb applesauce and share it with her.
I give rhubarb away to neighbors, and when they’ve had enough, too, I freeze some. Sometimes I use it during the winter, and even then, I often still have some when winter becomes spring and rhubarb muffin bakers re-appear on this blog, and my rhubarb re-appears outside.
Blackberries are a somewhat similar story, or at least, they were until this year. They grow wild in the area, by which I mean, untended spaces are quickly overrun with masses of thorny bushes. They crowd out everything else, and make nice homes for bunnies and rodents. There are service companies that have entire businesses based on removing blackberry bushes, some of which employ herds of goats to deal with the problem.
We live next door to a community college with a large property, some of it undeveloped, and while this means that there are an assortment of critters that live there and pay us occasional visits – a regrettable assortment of moles, rats, raccoons, as well as, more pleasantly, rabbits and the occasional deer – it also means that every year, in August, I can walk the college grounds on my lunch hour and pick blackberries for baking, for eating, and of course, for freezing.
That is, until last year. The the bulldozers appeared; the blackberries disappeared. Bunnies appear in my back yard, to the delight of my cats; rats appear in my neighbors’ garage, to the dismay of everyone on our block.
I could have found another blackberry-picking spot last year, but there was no urgency about it, since I was still working through the numerous bags in my freezer, not to mention an ample supply of blackberry jam, so I didn’t. This year, I made muffins, and upon discovering the muffins were quite delicious, decided to make a second batch, only to find I had finally exhausted the seemingly inexhaustible supply of frozen wild blackberries.
Finding the recipe – like having endless, free wild blackberries – was a bit of good fortune; I received a review copy of The Harvest Baker, by Ken Haedrich. I had previously enjoyed a book he co-authored with the late, great Marion Cunningham, the Maple Syrup Cookbook, so I was pleased to receive another of his books and give it a try.
As baking books go, it’s pretty straightforward, which is one of the things I enjoy about Haedrich’s books: They are meant to be cooked from. Yes, there are a couple of recipes that veer off into Look At Me Being Unique territory, notably a recipe for Whole Wheat Blueberry Beet Muffins, which are certainly colorful, if not enticing.
I showed the photo of those to The Child, who remarked, You know, we can all learn something from Jurassic Park: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Still, that was just one recipe, and there are numerous others that we found incredibly enticing. As it happens, The Child’s favorite cookies – which I have, oddly, never shared on this site – are Lemon Ricotta cookies, soft, tender, and tart, so I was delighted to find a similar offering, in muffin form: Ricotta, Lemon, and Blackberry Muffins.
They were everything I hoped they would be: Tender and light muffins, brightly flavored with lemon and studded with sweet-tart blackberries. They don’t require any special equipment, just a mixing bowl, and if you happen to have blackberries in your freezer, you can toss them into the batter still frozen.
The Child adored them, and they were gone in just a couple of days, leaving me with the problem I never expected to have: I had no more blackberries with which to make another batch. There were other recipes of interest, so I did make more muffins, notably a batch of strawberry rhubarb muffins that were made special by the addition of some cardamom to the batter – rhubarb and cardamom, like rhubarb and strawberries, are made for each other.
But what The Child wanted most was more of these lovely muffins, so we’ve already begun to keep an eye out for the white blackberry flowers that, in August, will replenish our stock, even if we have to venture a bit further away to pick them.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup milk
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 egg
- grated zest of one large lemon
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups blackberries (fresh or frozen)
- Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners, and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
- In a different large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, sour cream, milk, melted butter, egg, lemon zest, and vanilla. Gradually add in the sugar, blending thoroughly. Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour in the liquid mixture, stirring thoroughly. When there are still streaks of flour in the batter, add the blackberries, folding gently just until the batter is evenly mixed.
- Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups, Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins are nicely risen and the tops are golden brown.
- Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack.