A couple of nights ago, I looked out the window to see the sky stained twilight blue, the last of the day's glow stubbornly pushing against the coming of night. It was 10 p.m. The days of extended light are stretching out toward their midsummer peak right about now.
For me, this means one thing: it's berry time.
When it comes to berries of any kind, I am a greedy little child. I am a crazy fool who can't stop stuffing them into her mouth. I am that person whose tongue is stained red, purple and sometimes blue, juices leaking down her chin. And I don't care.
Before I lived in Washington, berries weren't that big of a deal to me. It sounds weird to say that now. But, in Southern California, where I grew up, we had citrus - tangy and bitter kumquats that my grandmother grew, endless supplies of yellow grapefruit from the backyard tree. Oranges and lemons from next door. These were the fruits that sustained me.
Then, we moved to the Pacific Northwest. Berry country. While I still love my citrus fruits, they don't grow here and berries have taken their place front and center.
So this is how it goes around here. First there are the local strawberries at the end of May, which last for about five weeks into June. Then in July, there are the raspberries, which I could eat forever. Then sweet and easy-to-love blueberries arrive and stay on into September.
Around the same time as the blueberries, the wild blackberries appear growing in unruly thickets along fence lines, trails and streets both wide and narrow.
Himalayan and evergreen blackberry varieties are considered invasive ("class C noxious weeds," according to the state of Washington, for those who insist on the facts). I know people who loathe them because no matter how you beat them back from the edge of your property, they just keep returning.
Maybe it's because I'm not from here that I have to say but wait, wait! Taste them.
There is just something about walking along, plucking the blackberries from their thorny branches. Popping them into your mouth and letting the tart floral juices pool on your tongue for a moment before they trickle down your throat. It's intoxicating.
Not only is this is the closest thing any of us get to grazing like a wild animal. For me, picking wild berries is the closest we'll ever come to knowing what it was like before Adam ate that damned apple, when humankind resided in innocence and perfection.
But wait. There is, of course, more. Between the wild blackberries and local farm-cultivated berries, we have red huckleberries, currants, thimbleberries, wild strawberries and salmon berries throughout the woods and free for the taking.
I'll pick and forage enough berries during these warmer months to make different jams, jellies, vinegar shrubs and baked treats. I'll also definitely freeze some of my loot so that during the long, dark months of winter, our family will have these sweet jewels to fill the short days with light.
This year, Kingston and I started our berry celebration once again at Spring Frog Farm in Everson. After petting their big black farm cat sufficiently (per the three-year-old), we plonked our knees into the dirt and reached our hands under the low-growing plants to pick heaps and heaps of strawberries.
Once we brought them home, we cooked up a batch of Rachel Saunder's Children's Strawberry Jam (our favorite) then baked these tender scones for you.
We hope you'll enjoy every morsel.
Strawberries and Cream Oat Scones
Because this recipe uses oats along with all-purpose flour, these scones are a bit more fragile that you might typically expect. Using the oats is worth it though because the oats bring the butter flavor even more strongly to the fore than all-purpose flour alone would. (Note: Alice Medrich mentions this in the oat flour chapter of her wonderful book, Flavor Flours.) Just let the scones cool for at least 15 minutes and they will be more willing to be picked up and handled by a hungry eater.
Makes 8 scones.
1 1/2 cup (180g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup (116 g) old-fashioned oats, divided
2 teaspoons (12 g) ground flax seeds
5 tablespoons (65 g) fine natural cane or granulated sugar
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (85 g) cold butter, cut into 1/2 to 3/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup strawberries, hulled
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, plus extra for finishing
1 cold large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Demarara or turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place a piece of parchment on a baking sheet. Set aside.
Cut strawberries lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside in small bowl.
Put half of the oats into a blender or mini-processor, whizzing to fine consistency. In a large bowl, combine the ground oats, all-purpose flour, flax seeds, sugar, baking powder and sea salt. Add in the remaining (unprocessed) oats.
Toss butter into the flour mixture, so that all pieces are coated. Putting hands into an offering gesture, place some of the flour and butter into your open-palmed hands. Using your fingers and thumbs, press down on the butter, smearing it into the flour. Allow bits of the mixture to fall back through your fingertips and into the bowl. Repeat until you have worked the butter through most of the flour. You will notice that you can really start smelling the butter, which means that it is warming up and really getting worked in. Toss the strawberries in, using your hands to gently distribute the fruit throughout the mixture.
Whisk together the cream, egg and vanilla. Slowly drizzle it in a spiral motion from the outside in toward the center of your flour-butter mixture. Using a fork, quickly work the wet ingredients in. Take a bit of the dough without any strawberries and squeeze it. If it holds together, it has enough moisture. If it doesn't, add a few drops more cream. Test again by squeezing a bit of dough together. You dough will appear shaggy, but there is no need to fret.
Tip the dough mixture onto a lightly floured surface. Gather it together kneading quickly and lightly. Shape the dough into a 1--inch thick circle. Using a floured knife or pastry scraper, cut in half, then again into quarters. Cut twice more across the circle until you have 8 wedges. (Alternatively, you could use a biscuit cutter and make these into round shapes.) Place wedges on your prepared sheet.
It's best to let your scones rest for 20 minutes, or longer, if you have the time. Place them in the refrigerator or freezer to rest.
When ready, brush some cream onto the tops of the scones. Sprinkle generously with sugar.
Place scones in the middle of oven. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Keeps in a sealed container for 2-3 days. Reheat them at low heat in the oven if you wish.
Adapted from Tara O'Brady's wonderful new book, Seven Spoons. Go out and buy it already, people. It belongs on your kitchen bookshelf.
Simple Salmon Berry Shrub
Makes about 2 cups.
1 cup salmon berries
1 cup raw unrefined cane sugar
1 cup apple raw (unpasteurized) cider vinegar
Give your berries a gentle rinse and drain in a colander.
Place berries in a medium non-reactive bowl. Crush berries lightly with the tines of a fork to release the juices. Pour sugar over the berries, stirring so that all the berries are coated.
Cover mixture and place in the refrigerator for at least several hours and up to a couple of days.
When you uncover the bowl, you'll see that the berries have exuded their juices and combined with the sugar to form a syrup. Scrape berries, syrup and any remaining undissolved sugar into a fine-meshed sieved over a bowl and press through the sieve.
Combine the collected syrup, juices and sugar with the vinegar and pour into a sterilized bottle or large jar with a non-metallic lid. Any remaining undissolved sugar will eventually be dissolved by the acids in the vinegar.
Use right away or allow to age slightly in the fridge. Your shrub will mellow out and the flavors will come together the longer it is allowed to sit, up to one month. Use the shrub in a cocktail or enjoy simply with some soda water and a bit of citrus.
Note: If you can't find any salmon berries, feel free to substitute another type. Raspberries will do just nicely, for example.