Blackberry summer.

summer harvest july 2013

My mother’s parents were farmers, and their farm had everything from peanuts to peaches. They also had blackberry bushes, the harvest of which was my mother’s least favorite activity. My mother had fragile alabaster skin, and walking through the blackberry brush left her looking like she’d rolled in a barbed wire fence. At least, that’s what she said. My mother wasn’t really cut out for farming.

I spent the summer between fourth and fifth grades with my grandparents, sleeping in the bed that my mother and her sister shared, nestled under a white chenille cover that had also been theirs. My grandparents’ house wasn’t air conditioned, and we kept schedule accordingly, rising at 5 for breakfast, heading out to pick green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, greens and corn before it got too hot. After dinner (lunch) it was reading and resting time, sitting by a fan to take the edge off the heat. We would go back out when the sun started to set.

My grandfather tried, unsuccessfully, to teach me how to recognize a tree from 100 yards away. “That’s a catalpa,” he would said, and I’d nod as if I had any idea what he was talking about. He told me the story of how he had grafted together yellow and white peach trees to make the sweetest and most wonderful peaches, hoping the nerd in me would be interested in the science. He showed me the blackberry patch that my mother hated, by then almost overtaken with kudzu. I wasn’t as tender skinned as my mother, having gotten my father’s tougher olive coating, but I quickly understood her hesitation.

My grandmother tried to teach me about canning and freezing, which were often the activities of the afternoon. There was far too much harvest to eat every day, and preserving it for the winter was a priority. They lived miles from the nearest grocery but wouldn’t have bought Birdseye or DelMonte anyway. They lived on what they grew, and they tried their best to teach me how.

tomatillas july 2013

I wasn’t cut out for farming either. I didn’t like getting dirty and sweaty or dealing with bugs and worms. I had no appreciation for the gift of that summer, eating food picked fresh that morning, being cared for by old country people who loved me more than words could ever have described. I wanted food that came in tidy packages, neatly served on handsome plates, but I tried to be polite. After the first few weeks my grandmother knew I would rather read than go in the fields with her, so she took to her chores alone and let me work my way through their entire collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed volumes, 10 shelves’ worth. They loved me anyway, farmer or not.

I think of my grandparents every Saturday morning at the farmers’ market. I think about what it takes to cultivate and harvest and bring to market a week’s yield. I see the smiling faces of the growers showing off to city shoppers armed with reusable shopping bags, and I am humbly grateful.


Two weeks until school starts back, and then we return to weekly menus. For now we’re still having a tapas summer, snacking and grazing and lazily content.

Happy week.

jennyslark food week of july 22


Week of July 22| 2013

mint and blackberries Blackberry Crisp

Wash 3-4 cups fresh blackberries and let them dry a bit on paper towels. Toss with about 1 Tbsp. flour and 2-3 Tbsp. white sugar. Place in a round or square Pyrex dish. Mix ½ c. flour and 6 Tbsp. brown sugar (I’ve used white by accident, and it turned out fine). Add a pinch of cinnamon if desired. Cut in ½ stick cold butter. Sprinkle crumble mix over blackberries. Bake at 375° for about 30 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream and fresh mint.


Tomato Salad

Cut 3-4 large tomatoes into wedges, or halve some cherry tomatoes (about a quart). Thinly slice a fist-size white onion. Cut a good sized cucumber into half moons (if you get a fresh, unwaxed cucumber you may not have to peel – taste it first). Cut 3-4 ounces sharp white cheddar into cubes (can also use feta). Combine all ingredients in large glass bowl. Whisk together ½ c olive oil and ¼ cup red wine vinegar; pour over tomato mix and let stand for about 30 minutes. Spoon onto platter or shallow, wide serving bowl; sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper to taste.

squash and zucchini Oven Roasted Zucchini

Slice zucchini vertically, about ¼ inch thick. Toss with good olive oil and kosher salt and place in single layer on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 450°. Place zucchini in oven and immediately turn heat down to 375°. Roast for about 20 minutes, until it is slightly browned.

blanket flowers

Corn Salad

Cut corn off cob (4-6 ears). Toss in a hot cast iron skillet until slightly browned. Place in a large glass bowl. Dice 1-2 red bell peppers, a fist-sized red onion, and a cucumber (seeded and peeled, if peel is bitter). Wash and chop a bunch of cilantro (or mix of herbs in season). Whisk together juice from 1-2 limes and about ½ c. olive oil, stir in cilantro and toss vegetables to coat. Salt to taste. Can add black beans to salad and serve with green salad and bread as dinner meal. This is probably our one dinner table meal of the week, and we’ll celebrate by cutting some flowers and using a real table cloth.


Eggplant Caponata

Stem, slice and salt 2-3 fresh eggplant. While eggplant are draining, slice 1-2 red onions into thin half rounds, dice 3-4 stalks celery, and dice 4-6 large tomatoes. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan. Cook onions until wilted, add celery then a few minutes later add tomatoes. Stir in a handful golden raisins, a half a jar of capers, and coarsely chopped olives; let simmer while you dry and cube the eggplant. Cook eggplant separately in olive oil for about 10 minutes then stir into tomato mix. Add a couple of shakes of red wine vinegar, a good pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer until liquid is reduced. Let cool to room temp and serve with bread. No, my people won’t eat this. But I will. It’s yummy.

copyright 2013 jennifer balink


  1. What a lovely story, ne Scotland is famous for many things but one main thing is the raspberry and strawberry farms. There were over 700 of the farms, employing 1000’s of families picking the fruit. Even the schools closed to fit in with the season. A whole culture of songs, poems and even a berry language grew around the berry season. Some farms had miles of corridors of fruit bushes, some so long you spent a whole day in just one. You either picked into punnets, which only the best pickers did that, you were paid by the crate with 12 punnets to the crate or you picked into buckets, for jam. You had a luggie, which was a small bucket tied to your waist with string and you pickef into that and then when that was full, you poured the full luggie into the bucket, a full bucket was weighed and you were paid by the pound.
    With the buckets everything went in leaves, husks, water poured from a bottle to make it weigh a little more, but if you got caught adding water you were sent home and blacklisted. The berry seasons supplemented a household income for working class families, not for luxuries but for school uniforms, put away for Christmas or to pay bills.
    The hundreds of years of the berry pickers, the traditions, stories, the culture has slowly slipped into folklore as the farms changed to more profitable crop or even sold, cheaper import have killed the industry. There are still berry farms (rasps and strawberries) but the employ mainly Eastern European workers who come to the UK for the season. Scottish berries are famed around the world with flights from Scotland every day to London, Paris and New York for high end resturants. In the season we eat both types of berries every day and even the birds know the difference between Scottish and imports, they won’t eat the imports…….smart birds.
    If you want to read more, Google ‘Scottish berry traditions’


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