The Benefits of Gardening: Growing Blackberries with Blackberry Recipes
The Beauty and Bounty of a Garden
There’s a lot to be said about the word ‘dirt’ and much of it isn’t pretty. But, it depends on one’s perspective, doesn’t it? Because, when it comes to summer gardening, dirt is a holy word. Toiling in the garden can be good for the heart and soil…er, that’s soul. Mentally, it is helpful to go into the garden and weed.
Imagine this: you’ve had a long, arduous day at work with the boss yelling and breathing down your neck…or perhaps, YOU are the boss and the poor suckers working for you have brain freeze from standing around the watercooler too long. At any rate you get stuck in traffic, the vicious dog next door bares his teeth at you when you pull into your driveway, and the latest bill is greeting you from the mailbox. Whew! That’s a lot of stress.
So, what are you going to do? Pull a cold one out of the refrigerator and seek a vegetative state of detachment in front of the television? Well, that is one way to cope. However, if you are one of the lucky people who have a garden-be it vegetable, floral or a combination, you are going to roll your sleeves up and get to work pulling weeds.
Weeding is a win-win activity: YOU get to vent your anger, frustration and irritation on the little green buggers growing between the rose and peony bushes and they get to experience ‘breathing room’. Move on into the vegetable garden and for every handful of green stuff that you pull that does not belong, and you grant longevity to the green stuff that counts.
Before you know it you’ve forgotten about old what’s-his-name at the office, the traffic is a moot point, the bill can wait till pay day, and the dog next door is as calm as you feel. Ah, the art of Zen Gardening: breathe in...pull weeds...breathe out.
Additionally, because weeding is so physical you can eliminate any guilt of not working out at the gym. Any good weight reduction program has ‘yard work’ on their activity list. After all, one does burn calories during the battle of the weeds. Haven't you already done your squats, your tugs, your pull ups and bends?
Summer BeautiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Aesthetic Benefits of Gardening
Aesthetically, a garden just makes smart sense. Give a person with a green thumb a tiny piece of land and they will find a way to beautify it with their talent for color and arrangement. Even small apartments with a balcony space will allow for flower pots or vegetable containers; window box herb growing or hanging plants.
Flowers bring joy and cheer to the cultivator and the spectators passing by. Vegetables bring a harvest to the successful gardener, supplementing family and friends with their bounty. And, let’s not forget the wonderful fruit trees and berry bushes, along with grapevines, grown during the summer months. These treasures can bring a myriad of delightful recipes both immediately, and in the winter months ahead, via canning or freezing. It is a true splendor to enjoy the richness of plants that have come from the earth we connect with in our gardens.
Blueberries with other fruit
Did you know that July is blueberry month? Apparently this is one of the ‘unannounced’ monthly focuses in states where blueberries grow abundantly. Michigan happens to be one of those states. Blueberries have been touted in health circles for their antioxidant value. Eat a handful of blueberries freshly picked, or add them to a bowl of cereal, pancakes or ice cream. Your heart will thank you for it.
Both of my daughters have inherited their green thumbs from ancestors other than me-I’m happy when my houseplants thrive. Although they may not be growing any blueberries in their backyards they have fond memories of blueberry picking while visiting relatives in the Upper Peninsula every summer. Now my grandkids carry on the tradition, traveling from lower Michigan to the Upper Peninsula, and with cousins close by, scouring the shrubs for the big, midnight blue berries.
Fresh picked blackberries
The Blackberry growth processClick thumbnail to view full-size
An Interview with a Gardener
Instead of blueberries in her backyard, my youngest daughter has newly planted peach and pear trees, grapevines climbing her fence, strawberries in her vegetable garden, yellow raspberry bushes along her shed, and abundant blackberry bushes. I happened to ask her about those bushes, which were bending over from the weight of their fruit.
“Christa, when did you first plant your blackberry bushes?”
“About five or six years ago. I was four months pregnant with Marco at the time. Mark (husband) was pretty upset with me, because I was out there fighting with the shovel, digging up the yard. I didn’t use a rototiller.
“How many did you plant?”
“I only planted two bushes that were each a couple of feet high. They’re over seven feet high now.”
“Did you do anything special to care for them?”
“No. They are so low maintenance. I don’t use any pesticides, I prepare the soil in the spring and prune them in the fall. Otherwise, I just let them go and they spread.”
“If you could start over would you do anything different?”
“Yes," laughing, "I would not have planted them in my vegetable garden! They are taking over my whole garden space. I would have planted them in an area that would give them room and not interfere with other things."
“How versatile are these berries for recipes? You have such abundance.”
“We usually just eat them right off the bush, or I’ll freeze them. Sometimes I’ll make a blackberry sauce to go with a pork roast.”
“Well, they look delicious and I’m going to go pick a bowlful of berries right now for dinner.”
Berry recipes to enjoy
Blueberry Salsa: 15 min prep (serves 24)
2 c. chopped fresh berries
1 c. whole fresh berries
1 T. finely chopped jalapeño pepper
1/3 c. chopped red onion
¼ c. chopped red bell pepper.
1 fresh lime, juiced.
Salt to taste.
In a bowl, combine chopped and whole blueberries with all of the other ingredients. Mix and serve with chips, or for a meat topping.
Citrus Wild Blueberry Sauce 15 min prep-10 min cook (16 servings)
2 c. fresh wild blueberries
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
½ c. orange juice
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ c. water
4 tsp. cornstarch
2 T. dark brown sugar.
In a small saucepan bring blueberries, orange juice, and lemon juice to a boil over medium heat. Stir in lemon zest and cinnamon; adjust heat to low.
Whisk water with cornstarch to form a paste. Stir cornstarch paste and brown sugar into the blueberry mixture until thickened. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for 10 min. before using.
Stir over waffles or pancakes.
Blueberry Smoothie (prep=5 min) Serves 3
1 banana, chopped
1 kiwi, sliced
¾ c blueberries
1 c. ice cubes
1 8 oz vanilla yogurt
Combine all ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Pork Chops with Blackberry Port Sauce 15 min. prep. 15 min. cooking (6 servings)
(6) Boneless pork chops
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp. olive oil (divided)
2 shallots minced
2 tsp dried thyme leaves
¾ c. sweet port wine
¾ c. blackberry juice (may substitute blueberry juice)
¾ c. chicken broth (low sodium or regular)
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water
2 c. fresh blackberries
Season both sides of chops with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in skillet over medium- high heat. Pan fry chops until lightly brown and no longer pink in center, (approx 2-3 min/side). Set aside.
Heat 1 tsp of olive oil and cook and stir shallots and thyme until shallots become translucent, approx. 1 min. Pour in port wine, chicken broth, blackberry juice and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil, scraping browned bits from skillet and dissolving them in the sauce. Cook until the liquid is reduced, (approx. 5 min). Mix cornstarch with water to form a paste and stir into the sauce. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly, (approx. 1 min). Reduce the heat to low. Stir in the blackberries. Simmer until berries are hot.
Return the chops to the skillet and turn to coat with the sauce. Serve hot, topped with sauce.
Blackberry/Raspberry Smoothie (prep=10 min) Serves 2
1 small banana
½ c. fresh blackberries
½ c. fresh raspberries
1 (6 oz) container vanilla yogurt.
1 T. honey
4 ice cubes
Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Serve promptly.
A fresh plate of strawberries
Ways to use berries
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