Berry season is short and sweet, so let's make the most of the harvest
Chef and writer Andie Bulman shares tips, recipes and the joy of picking a feast outdoors
In August and September, I spend almost all of my free time picking berries, and I have a very specific routine.
The night before a berry-picking adventure, I'll download podcasts and fully charge my phone. In the morning I don my Tilley hat, lather myself with sunscreen, and pack a slew of snacks and water. Then, I head out to one of my favourite berry patches.
I tend to drop a pin, which are like modern-day bread crumbs. That is, I put a "pin" on the Google Maps app and share it with close friends, so they can easily track me down if I wander too far, get lost in the bramble, or run into fairies.
Usually, I like to pick near the ocean. The process is the greatest when I can see big waves crash onto the rocky shore.
I also love bumping into other berry-picking folks filling up their respective salt beef buckets. We give each other a little nod of recognition, "some day for it."
Occasionally I'll trek inland, foraging for treats amidst the bogs and barrens, wandering down ATV tracks, but it's not my preference. There are too many mosquitos and I'm a little worried about getting lost.
On an ideal berry-picking day, there will be sun overhead and a cool breeze. I'll pick a few litres, maybe a gallon. The goal for berry-picking season? To pick enough for the entire year. I want my freezer overflowing.
Autumn is my favourite time of year to be in the kitchen. I'll spend most weekends cooking pies, jams, mustards and scones.
I also want to give berries and homemade treats away as gifts. After all, the berries in my larder cost nothing but time, so I'll want to squander them freely. To justify this sharing, I make sure I have a freezer full.
Here's what I pick and what I make.
I tend to pick serviceberries (more commonly known as the Chuckley pear or Saskatoon berry) in early August. Summer is mostly wrapped now, but you can still find a few good berries out there.
The serviceberry received its name because its spring flowering would let folks in northern climes know that the ground was soft enough to dig graves for those who died over winter. They look like blueberries, but really almost seem more like little apples or cherries to me.
I pick a little less then a gallon, dehydrate them in an oven over-night, and then treat them like currants. They dot my cinnamon buns, breads, and loaves. I stir them into granola.
It is nice to have some of these on hand, but I don't feel devastated if I accidently miss the season—which can happen.
A good blackberry patch is the holy grail of foraging. I've stumbled upon a handful on the Avalon Peninsula, but they are few and far between. If you find one, keep it a secret!
Blackberries loom large in mythology and religion, especially Christianity. Different churches claim that Christ's crown of thorns was made from blackberry runners. In Greek mythology, blackberries have their own symbology. In one famous tale, Bellerophon, a Greek hero and demigod, attempts to ride Pegasus to Mount Olympus, but falls and becomes injured upon landing in a blackberry bush. His wounds are a punishment for his arrogance and blackberries have ever since been linked to hot heads, injuries and the pride that comes before a fall.
Blackberries have canes, intense prickles, toothed leaves, and gorgeous bumpy juicy black fruit. The berries will be green at first, red, and finally black. They ripen at the end of August and stay ripe for about two weeks. They look just like raspberries, save for the colour difference.
Also, a quick heads up: Please wear long pants and long sleeves. These brambles want to leave scars, they demand a blood sacrifice.
You can do a thousand things with blackberries, but I like pairing them with lime curd, whipped cream, and homemade pavlovas. Also, I know that it isn't especially ground-breaking to pair a berry chutney with moose meat, but blackberries do sing with game.
I wrote a piece on blueberries, fairies, and old-fashioned recipes last year, but there's still lots to say on this amazing wonder berry. For starters, I never mentioned how the leaves can be used for tea.
I picked some green blueberry leaves for tea earlier this summer, but the best time to harvest is in the fall when the leaves change colour and are twinged with a deep crimson. Leaves have more flavour at this stage and contain more antioxidants. Blueberry leaf can be a bit grassy, but adding some other things will jazz it up. In the recipe attached below, I added dehydrated blueberries, chamomile, and mint.
- 1-2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh or dried blueberry leaves per cup of tee
- ½ tsp dried mint (or 1 tsp fresh)
- ½ tsp dehydrated blueberries
- 1.2 tsp chamomile flowers
- Place all ingredients in tea bag.
- Boil water.
- Steep in near-boiling water for about 5 minutes before serving.
- Sweeten with honey or maple syrup if desired
Making blueberry shrubs is another favourite of mine. A shrub is a fruity-acidic syrup that is occasionally fermented. You can stir it into fizzy water, cold teas, lemonades and cocktails. These shrubs used to be an essential part of a bartender's mise en place, but seem to have fallen out of style. Remember the 1987 movie Cocktail (Beuna Vista Pictures, 1988) starring Tom Cruise? He would have had his bar stocked with a wide variety of shrubs — it was of that era.
I say let's bring shrubs back. The recipe below is for a spicy blueberry maple shrub. I like to pair it with gin, lime, mint, and Prosecco, but just a teaspoon stirred into a San Pellegrino is pretty nice, too. The stuff gets thick and syrupy in the fridge and should last you for about a month. If you decide you don't like this shrub in a cocktail, there are all kinds of clever ways to use it up.
- 1.5 cups blueberries
- 1 cups apple cider vinegar, divided
- 1 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon red chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil
- 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
- Make the shrub: Put the blueberries and 1 tablespoon of the vinegar in a food processor. Pulse the berries just to break them up.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the berries with the remaining vinegar, sugar, chile flakes, basil, and maple syrup. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, and then cover the pot.
- Cook for half an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Transfer the hot sauce to a blender. Nice and easy now, the sauce is going to hurt if it gets on your skin!
- Blend the shrub to get it as smooth as possible, then pass it through a fine mesh strainer, directly back into the pan.
- Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced by about one-third of its original volume. This will take about 15 minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon and have the viscosity of syrup.
- Let the shrub rest, at least overnight, before using. It will keep for months, covered, in the refrigerator.
I've topped brie with this particular shrub, and I've stirred it into yogurt for a jolt of freshness in the morning. I've even used it to glaze a brisket.
Also, I want to give a quick shout-out to scones for a minute. For years, I thought they were the dullest crayon in the big colourful box of pastries. Now, I'm converted. You see, the key to a good scone is cold butter, buttermilk, and local berries. My Blueberry Buttermilk Scone recipe is also below.
The bakeapple is the one berry that I don't forage for. Don't get me wrong, I'm a bakeapple fan. I love these little peach-coloured beauties.
I just don't know of any secret bakeapple spots. Instead, I usually end up buying them on the side of the road from the back of someone's truck.
Bakeapples are known as cloudberries in other parts of the world. They made headlines a few years back when the chefs at the world-famous Noma in Copenhagen made a bakeapple soup dessert featuring a snowy island of frozen yogurt and candied pine cones as trees.
I haven't done anything as fun with them, but I have paired a chia seed bakeapple jam with cardamom buttermilk waffles and whipped cream. The recipe is below.
- 4 cups bakeapples (cloudberries)
- ½ cup sugar (more or less to taste)
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds.
- Take all ingredients, except for the chia seeds, and add them to the pot. Bring the pot to a simmer over medium heat. Stir! Sometimes the bakeapples can cling to the bottom, so don't entirely ignore the pot.
- Cook your berries for about twenty minutes. Now, add your chia seeds! Simmer for five more minutes.
- Your jam should set in the fridge. This will be food safe for about 2-4 weeks in the fridge, but it freezes beautifully!
- 1 .5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
- 0.75 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Healthy pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 0.75 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon honey (I love the local wildflower honey from Lester's Farm)
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat a waffle iron to medium high heat.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cardamom in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix melted butter, eggs, honey, vanilla, sour cream, and buttermilk
- Combine! Don't ever stir. Just get the lumps out.
Buttermilk Scones with Blueberry and Nuts
- 2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- Half teaspoon salt
- 0.25 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- Half cup of salted butter (very important that the butter is ice cold! I usually stick it in the freezer for an hour before use!)
- 1 heaping cup of gorgeous local blueberry
- 1 large egg
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- Half teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Add flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder to a medium mixing bowl and mix to combine. I usually whisk the dry ingredients just to get some air in there.
- Grate the very very cold butter into the flour mixture using a cheese grater.
- In a separate bowl, add buttermilk, egg, and vanilla. Beat the wet ingredients with a whisk!
- Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour in the liquid mixture, reserving about 2 tablespoons to use as egg wash. Fold with a wooden spoon. It is really important not to overwork the dough. Now, add the blueberries! It is important not to mix the blueberries into this dough too early! You don't want all your dough to turn blue.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, fold it over itself a 2 to 3 times; this helps to create layers. Shape into a circle about 1 1/2" thick.
- Cut into 6 large scones
- Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet, brush the top with butter or an egg wash, and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar, or if you're feeling rich, some toasted nuts.
- Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack.
Tips and berry-picking etiquette
Finally, I'd like to mention a few, albeit obvious, housekeeping notes on berry picking.
Try not to get lost, don't litter, and be as careful and safe as possible. More specifically, getting lost can end very poorly, so drop "pins," pick with your friends, and stay on the trails.
Also, all the milk of kindness that I possess tends to dissipate into the thin pale juice of bitter loathing when I come across stray chip bags in the wood. Take what you've brought! Don't leave anything behind. Finally, don't ever pick anything that you're not 100% confident in identifying.
Enjoy berry season, everyone! It's so short and sweet.