Friday July 26, 2013

It is amazing how much difference one year can make. For once, I'm not talking about kids growing up quickly, the dog learning manners, or knowledge learned on the job. This year made a huge difference in our red raspberry patch, and one for the better.

Last year was year 3 for our raspberries. My grandmother had given me several plants of an unknown variety which sat in their dilapidated pots for a couple weeks before finally being planted in the early fall with a wing and a prayer, hoping that I hadn't killed them. Trying to maximize their chances by varying locations and alleviating any guilt that I had, we planted 2 patches: one along the road by our driveway and one along the side of our house, hoping that the latter wasn't too close to the eaves with the potential of being crushed in a heavy snowfall.

Year 1 made it apparent that I hadn't killed them - whew! Year 2 we even got a few berries, enough for cereal and yogurt on a couple mornings. We learned how to cut back the dead canes and began to see that these hardy plants could spread everywhere if left to their own devices. Last year was even better than we had hoped, although we weren't able to pick quite enough berries to make a batch of red raspberry jam, we now had the confidence that we were definitely headed in the right direction.

This spring I watched the bushes carefully. I kept the dog updated on my unscientific predictions of the upcoming crop daily as we walked past our road patch coming home from our morning walk. (Wonka is a big fan of raspberries - he helps himself when given the chance). The berries began to ripen - only a few at first, but as hoped, soon all the bushes in both patches were bursting! I was thrilled to be out picking these berries from our loaded patch in the early morning, hearing the sound of the brook burbling by, the clattering call of the kingfisher as he flew overhead, the early-morning hum of traffic as people began their days and the snuffling of the dog as he investigated the smells in the yard, although he was always quick to come back for a slightly moldy or squished berry when offered. It was heavenly, and I couldn't think of a better way to spend any morning.

The first ‘hard' picking gave us 3 cups of crushed berries - 2 cups shy of the 5 cups I needed for a batch of jam, but I wasn't worried. I had seen the green berries still out there waiting for the warmth of the sun to ripen them. I packed the 3 cups of berries in a zip-lock bag and popped them in the freezer to be thawed and used when the required berries were ready.

2 days later I was back out there, and even with the casualties lost to the dog and the chickens who seem to like the berries better than the Japanese beetles that they should be taking care of, I was able to get the 2 cups needed and then some. My excitement was ridiculous - jam from our own berries!

8-year-old Margot helped out with the prep, especially excited about crushing the berries with the potato masher and measuring out the 7 cups of sugar - you could almost hear the gleeful cackling in her head as she thought about all that sweetness. I handled the hot, boiling procedures and soon we had jars of our own ruby-red jam, glistening on the counter. The satisfaction was doubled - here were some Christmas gifts already completed in July!

The next question was whether or not we continued to save berries to get another batch of jam, or should we enjoy some of this bounty in other ways? Pie? A sweet bread? Cobbler or tart? I looked at the cup or so of berries left from the day's picking. I would have to sleep on it and see how many more berries were ripe the next day. However, when I woke up, I knew exactly what I was going to do with those leftover berries. My friend Brooke had given me her recipe for ‘Good ‘n' Puddin' ‘ several years ago. (She also shared her ginger snap recipe with me and it remains my family's favorite cookie to this day.) Only requiring 1 cup of fresh fruit, it is perfect for a small amount of berries and is a simple way to celebrate the sweetness of summer fruits.

1 cup fresh fruit (raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, plums, etc) 1/4 cup sugar or honey (This can be pretty sweet, so feel free to use a bit less to taste)

1/4 cup chopped nuts, optional

1 egg

1/4 cup melted margarine (I used butter)

2 T oil

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

Grease an 8" pie plate. Spread fruit over bottom and sprinkle with sugar and nuts, if using. In a separate bowl, beat egg and add sugar. Add margarine and oil, then flour. Beat well and pour over fruit. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes until golden brown. Serve with ice cream or (my favorite) a splash of half and half. This was the perfect way to use that orphaned cup of raspberries and it was a delicious breakfast (yes, breakfast). Margot was curious as to why it was called ‘pudding' when clearly it wasn't. I explained that in Britain they call the dessert course pudding, which made eating this for breakfast all the more fun and scandalous. In fact, she thinks this is so hysterical that she now asks ‘wot's for puddin', mama?' in a highly affected accent that isn't remotely British. Appropriate for the week in which the third heir to the British throne was born? Perhaps.

So, a beautiful batch of jam, a bit of pudding for breakfast and a sense of humor all growing by leaps and bounds in 12 months. Next year, year 4, I have no doubts that we'll get 2 batches of jam, and maybe even three from our own bushes. I'll pull out some other ‘pudding' recipes that will make good use of any extra berries and maybe Margot will have reverted back to using ‘proper American' English, although I won't mind a bit if she doesn't. Time will tell.