Sep 202011

“For the month of September, Whidbey Island residents are challenged to do their best to eat foods only available within a 100 mile radius. Choosing foods produced as close to home as possible, reduces oil consumption, decreases our impact on the climate and environment, keeps our economy resilient and nurtures us with healthier lives.”

A writer by the name of Rhiannon posted a very nice write up on the local challenge:

“Do you know what I am doing right now?  Making blackberry jelly.  The beautiful deep magenta liquid is currently dripping its way through my jelly strainer.  It smells luxurious right now in my house.  I do not think there is any more intoxicating smell as the smell of fresh wild blackberries cooking down on my stove.  But I am getting carried away here.  Or maybe some of you understand.  I have spent the last two weekends gleaning blackberries in what has been a prolific year for blackberries.  I have picked 5 gallons so far.  I am reminiscing now as the rains have begun again here on Whidbey Island.  Fall is a few days away but I have felt it in the air for more than a week.  The time of the blackberry is now passing and those few unreachable berries will now rot away.  The ones I have been able to obtain will now serve a second short life as fruit leather, jelly and syrup.  YUM.  I may have picked my last blackberry for the year but today I quickly transitioned to the next fruit which will be smelling up my house for months to come.  I gleaned 115lbs of the loveliest apples today.
Two years ago we had a simply stellar season for apples.  The apples glowed like little candies on the branches.  It soon became apparent our neighbors would be up to their knees in apples, so they gave us 50 lbs.  Something in this gesture sparked a fire in our home and we thought we would ask a few other neighbors with trees what they were planning on doing with all their apples.  We were surprised when their response was, “take them all, I won’t be picking them and I don’t want to be cleaning them up off my lawn.”  Imagine that.  All those trees…So the only logical thing was to go on a gleaning spree that left us with over 400 lbs. of apples.  I was making apple based products for weeks.  I had made apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling-canned and frozen- I even made my own apple pectin and I still had so many apples.  This is when my hero arrived.  A friend of a friend owned a cider press and he let us use it.  The huge oak device was delivered to our house one evening and when I saw it, I was so relieved.  We started tossing in all the remaining apples in the crusher and two days later we had 8 gallons of cider.  We gave some away to a friend who helped with gleaning the last tree.  I froze several gallons and we drank cider everyday.  Eventually we were down to a gallon and half in our fridge and it became evident I needed to take this cider to the next level.  I found a recipe for Apple Cider Jelly and got to work immediately.  We have shared this golden jelly with many of our friends and it has been, by far, everyone’s favorite gift.  Some of them are asking me now if I will be making it again.  All the apples were saved.  I kinda felt like some super hero gleaner.
And I am about to do it all over again.  We have been checking in on our neighbors trees.  They have all given us the go ahead to glean the trees again.  We have about a week until I dive into apple-extravaganza 2011.  I admit, I may be a little obsessed.  When you live in a place like this, the food is practically growing everywhere, begging to be used, it is just hard for a person like me to ignore.  But…it is a lot more interesting to eat that apple pie, close your eyes and see where that food used to live, and to remember how that tree practically threw that food at you as if to say, “I have grown this for you and your children, eat this so I can become a part of you and so you may grow too.”  No apple from New Zealand has ever said anything so nice to me.”

We are getting ready to start orchard number two. As for blackberries on the island—best year ever.


  7 Responses to “Blackberries and Apples”

  1. FYI, rather than the time consuming cheese cloth drip method of extracting blackberry juice, I ran mine through my Jack LaLane juicer — eliminates all the seeds and most of the pulp. Run the pulp through twice to get maximum juice — really great for blackberry jelly. Because of our cool summer, some blackberry bushes on Whidbey are still flowering.

  2. Dave,

    We have a Roma Strainer which does the same thing. Also ran the pulp through twice. We have many jars of blackberry jelly. Enough to last the winter plus giveaways. Delicious.

  3. My mom would always bring the blackberries to a boil in a big pot, and strain them for her wonderful blackberry jelly. As my father would say, “It must be jelly, cuz jam don’t shake that hard”. After straining, she would add the pulp back to the pot, add sugar and water, and bring it back to a boil. She would strain “the second drippings”, add pearl tapioca, and make a delightful pudding, served with a thin layer of whole cream on top. My dad called it “fish eye pudding”, which made it all the more fun. My mother would constantly observe when anything was to be discarded before it’s time, “There’s a lot of good left in that!” Probably a result of her Depression era upbringing.

  4. I also made blackberry jam with my nieces when they visited a few weeks ago. It was the highlight of their visit.

    With all the apple trees that we are planting lately, as well as the full grown, highly productive trees on the island, maybe it would be useful to have a community cider/fruit press. In a small Swiss village that I lived in there was a community fruit press in the central square. This press was about 4 feet square, at least 50 years old (maybe over 100 years old), all wood construction and still in use. Of course, we would not have to go that big, but a group purchase may work well. Also, Mike mentioned to me that there was talk about having an apple festival someday when the new orchards are fully producing. Until then, we could start having at least some kind of community apple harvest activity. Picking, preserving, baking, eating, etc. Some of my fondest memories as a kid was when my family spent a Saturday harvesting and preserving various produce such as corn, peaches, etc. It would be a great community building annual event to get together and harvest and preserve apples and blackberries.

  5. Great idea Klayton. Something we need to do.

  6. I suspect I’m not alone when it comes to having practically zero skills in converting island fruit to ‘food in a jar’.
    Growing up in the city and spending the rest of my life foraging the isles of Safeway has left me ill prepared take advantage of all that Lummi Island has to offer. I’m not a lazy person, or one who is afraid to fail, but knowing what to do can be akin to standing at the base of a cliff, wondering how a few others managed to get on top.
    I tried harvesting nettles this year from my garden, made some soup, and threw all but the first bowl out. That’s probably not the best raw material to start with, but it makes the point – watching someone else do it once, then doing it yourself is much better than all this trial and error crap.
    Yes, bring on the harvest festival.

  7. It would be great if we could get an organization like The Grange, since they have the facility, to sponsor some reskilling classes.

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