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Washington Blackberries

Washington, it seems to me, is a state that is largely held together

by blackberry vines. I strongly suspect that it is the tensile strength of the native wild blackberry vines that has forestalled the frequently predicted earthquake. Everywhere you look—on the edges of roads and highways, your neighbor's back fence, the hedges on either side of local bike paths—there are lush, enormous blackberry vines. Often, if you're lucky, the vines are heavy with fruit. We've been watching the local blackberry herds, waiting for that brief perfect moment of ripeness, and I think we're there. Tomorrow, we'll be going berrying. I'll be wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt to ward off the also very large and numerous prickers and thorns. I'm fairly confident that with blackberry hedges for hundreds of feet, and that are as high as fifteen feet, there will be enough for us and the birds. The raspberries pretty much were consumed by the birds; I fear I'll have to settle for grocery store raspberries, this year.

I note that while blackberries are fabulous as is, eaten by the handfuls, dropped over ice cream, yogurt or oatmeal, they are possibly even better baked in pies and cobblers, turned into ice cream and sorbet, rendered into wine or blackberry infused vodka. And, best of all, if you pick your berries and bring them straight home, blackberries are easy to freeze. Simply clean them, removing bits of leaves and twigs, rinse them, let them drain, then freeze them in quart-size ziplock bags. Each bag easily holds two cups, and you can stack them in your freezer. When you're ready for fresh hot, blackberry cobbler, or perhaps a grunt, just reach for a bag. And, if your harvest is particularly good, think about blackberry jams and preserves, and blackberry syrup.

If you're feeling adventurous, get a glass jar with a good tight fitting lid, and fill it almost to the rim with fresh gently squashed blackberries (the technical term is macerate; you want the berries to be recognizable, but you want them to be juicy). Then cover the berries with brandy or vodka. Maybe add a couple of curls of lemon zest. Put the jar in the back of your refrigerator and give it a gentle shake every couple of days to turn the fruit. You'll have a lovely topping for ice cream, and a super flavoring for, well, all manner of things, including blackberry cocktails. Or, you can make your own lovely but lethal proof blackberry liqueur.