Mary Beth Shaddix
July 10, 2014

We have a joke at our farm, specifically describing my husband's excitement for anything outdoors, his work ethic, and his hunger to grow: "Why do, when you can overdo?" Staring at my inky-purple stained fingertips as I type, it's evident this applies to our ever-expanding blackberry patch. I'm just about outdone. I've been picking more than any Peter and his peck of peppers, topping the scales at 54 pounds in the last few weeks. I've run out of bowls and baskets and resorted to using the hat on my head.

At first, we relished fresh blackberries straight off the canes—dreaming of that plump berry for the last ten months creates a little "pick fresh" frenzy. On yogurt, in cobblers, baked into a rustic galette, garnishing a dessert cheese plate... you name it, we've conquered it. Now we're hauling in berries by the bucket-load and desperately seeking salvation with recipe inspiration. If berries are booming in your neck of the woods, may I suggest beginning with a bang: Blackberry Margaritas. Since testing this one for our garden cookbook (over, and over, and over again. Remember the farmer mantra: Why do when you can overdo?), I've fallen for it as a favorite and sequester berries to the freezer for out-of-season enjoyment.  To save some of the season's treasure, try this: spread unwashed berries loosely on a jelly roll pan and place in the freezer. Once fully frozen, toss in a freezer zip-top bag for use in smoothies, beverages, and desserts where plump perfection won't matter.

Making batches of berry jam is a tried-and-true tradition that should make the short list. With our heavy load, I was a little overwhelmed at the prospect of canning it all, until a pair of super-simple appliances came to the rescue. Ball, the folks who wrote the well-loved bible on all things you can can, created a quick and easy jam maker ($99) and a worry-free, no-sweat automatic canning machine ($299). Low sugar recipes are included in the instructions and new recipes are continually added online. The set-it-and-forget-it nature left me time to go back to those blackberry margaritas...

With the price at the market hovering near $10 per pound, this "little patch" has become quite precious. To grow your own, look for popular thornless varieties that have been cultivated to produce plumper berries much bigger than those backyard freebies without the scratches and scars. 'Navaho,' 'Arapaho,' and 'Ouachita' were bred by the University of Arkansas with much success. 'Kiowa' is also a favorite for flavor. Find a spot in full sun and trellis the canes on a rustic fence or wire for best results. Get all the dirt on growing these in our garden-themed cookbook, Pick Fresh.

 

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