Plans for the 2014 Blackberry Harvest

With all the hot weather through July and now into August, the harvest season is in fast forward mode. So, I’ve been plotting what to do with all that blackberry bounty.It looks like a record crop of that sweet luscious fruit and for the truly ambitious that means lots of  wine, cordials, syrup, sauces and cake. blackberries

Blackberries, as everyone in Western Washington knows, are sweet, dark-colored berries that can effortlessly become invasive. They are extremely variable, because they freely cross with other blackberries and raspberries.

There are many types of blackberries including the erect ones from the eastern United States, the Eastern trailing, Southeastern trailing, and the Pacific Coast trailing types. All of these different parents have crossed and recrossed to produce the many cultivars we have today. And sometimes that’s a good thing, for example, now there are thornless blackberries.

Blackberries are known for their flesh slashing thorns and the way they trip you up while walking along the trail. Many love the fruit, but the thorns bring fear and suffering and the seeds get stuck between your teeth causing you to sprint for the floss.

But we can forgive them their trespasses because of the luscious goodness they can turn into. First and foremost, blackberry wine. Having judged a number of county fairs over the years, I’ve tasted some very, very good blackberry wines.

And I have made my share of blackberry wines. It’s easy, inexpensive and you get to do it your way. You know, the right way.

The most important part of fermentation process is to keep anything in contact with your wine, super clean and sterile. Gloves and a pot of boiling water to sterilize equipment are essential.

Equipment needed includes a covered fermenting vessel, a small mesh bag to contain the fruit sediment, siphoning hose, airlock, and two carboys. Two, actually, because you’ll need to siphon the wine off the lees after the first 10 – 12 days of fermentation. And this will need to be done at least three of four times to clarify the wine and to prevent it from developing off flavors.

You can purchase your yeast, yeast nutrient and Camden tablets from Bill Sproules of Olympic Brewing Supplies in East Bremerton. His store has all the equipment you need to make wonderful blackberry wines. They even have it in a can if you want to skip the picking part.

Bill is also an excellent resource for winemakers, new and experienced. He has recipes or you can follow one of the many to be on line.

After the picking is over and your wine has been fermented, racked, fermented a second time, bottles and aged for about three to six months, try this recipe for Blackberry Wine Cake.

You’ll need a package white cake mix, 3 oz. blackberry flavored gelatin, 4 eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil and a cup or your blackberry wine.   Mix all ingredients together. Bake in a greased tube pan at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. Prepare a glaze of 1 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 cup of blackberry wine. Pour over cake.

Other easy ways to enjoy the bounty of blackberries is to make a cordial. This is super easy. You’ll need equal parts, of vodka, Cognac or brandy, sugar and berries. Put all ingredients into a big jar and cover. Agitate it every now and then until the color is good and the berries have completely macerated about two weeks. Strain and pour into bottles. Seal tightly and store in a cool place for at least 2 weeks. Adding spices to the mix makes it way more interesting. Try a few whole cloves, black peppercorns, cardamom pods, or cinnamon sticks for more complex nuances in your cordial.

Besides the quick and easy cordial, another way to enjoy the bright burst of color and taste is blackberry syrup. It can brighten up many dishes. You can splash it into a glass of champagne, drizzle it over waffles, or flavor a sauce for a roasted pork loin.  You can muddle it with mint or a myriad of other herbs then top it off with a splash of soda for the ultimate al fresco cocktail. Or transfer it to a bottle, decorate with pretty paper and twine, and voila!  A hostess gift!

Blackberries also freeze very well. Rinse under cold water. Lay evenly on a baking tray and put in the freezer. When frozen, put them in a plastic bag for later use.

There are a few Pacific Northwest wineries that make a delicious blackberry wine. My favorite is Pasek Cellars. Pasek Cellars in Mount Vernon has been making fruit wine for about 20 years. And you may have tasted this too if you have had a bottle of the Bremerton Blackberry Festival wine made by Pasek Cellars.

Their fruit wines have garnered quite a few gold medals and include a Blackberry that is vibrant with sun-drenched berry flavors (both dessert and not dessert), Cranberry (perfect with turkey), Loganberry and Raspberry. They also make a unique dessert wine – Arabica, a coffee dessert wine. I’ve had their wines and hand on heart, swear they’re terrific.

I may have tried the Wild Vines Blackberry Merlot sometime in the not so distant past. This fruity blend is made in Modesto, California by the largest wine producer in the world.  I only mention this because it inspired me to blend last year’s blackberry wine with a Cabernet concentrate I purchase from Bill Sproules at Olympic Brewing Supplies. It’ll be a few months before I can report on this blend.

Other Northwest wineries that make blackberry wine are Honeywood, Hoodsport, Nehalem Bay, Northwest Mountain Winery, Sky River Blackberry Mead, Wasson Brothers Winery and Westport Winery. Happy picking!