August 28, 2018
For those of us who love the results, putting up with nasty scratches and purple fingers is but a small price to pay for the culinary delights one experiences.
And for those who have ever found this invader in their yard or garden there are mixed emotions surrounding it.
I am talking of probably the most ubiquitous plant of the Pacific Northwest, the Rubus Armeniacus. More commonly known as the Himalayan Blackberry.
Like a number of other things, the Himalayan was a transplant to the area. The species originated in Armenia and Northern Iran. And we can thank – or blame – famed horticulturist Luther Burbank for its introduction to the PNW.
It all began in 1901 when 10 acres of land was purchased for the Boys Parental School on the north end of Mercer Island. The school focused on providing support for boys who needed extra structure in their lives. According to the information on Luther Burbank Park:
“The name of the Boys Parental School was changed to Luther Burbank School in 1931. Luther Burbank Park is named after the famous horticulturist born March 7, 1849 in Massachusetts. Burbank pioneered the hybridization of plans and ‘grafting’ trees, and is credited with creating the baking potato and many flowers. He also created the Himalaya blackberry – loved by some for its luscious fruit, despised by others for its invasiveness. Ironically, many of Luther Burbank Park’s delicate native vegetation are choked with Himalaya blackberry bushes. Burbank passed away in 1926. The State of Washington took over in 1957, and moved the school operations to Echo Glen near Preston in 1966.”
While I would disagree that Burbank ‘created’ the Himalayan Blackberry, it was his fault that the plant got a foothold here.
Its success, in a little over 100 years, is impressive. From Mercer Island it spread everywhere on the west side of the Cascades, often choking out its native counterpart, the Pacific Blackberry.
I found this information on the Himalayan, from the Infallible Wikipedia, especially telling:
“The species was introduced to Europe in 1835 and to Australia and North America in 1885. It was valued for its fruit, similar to that of common blackberries (Rubus fruticosus and allies) but larger and sweeter, making it a more attractive species for both domestic and commercial fruit production. The cultivars ‘Himalayan Giant’ and ‘Theodore Reimers’ are particularly commonly planted.
Rubus armeniacus soon escaped from cultivation and has become an invasive species in most of the temperate world. Because it is so hard to contain, it quickly got out of control, with birds and other animals eating the fruit and then spreading the seeds.”
While I don’t recall ever dealing with blackberry plants in Yakima, my first memory of the plant was as a young teen while on vacation with my parents and sister to the Long Beach peninsula. My mother organized an outing to go pick berries which were found in abundance along the roads. We were collecting berries and, apparently, the lady whose property on which were picking took exception. She sicced her dogs on us! No one got bit but we were more careful about where we picked after that.
I learned to make blackberry pie the year after I was first married. Since my hubby’s birthday is the third week of August, it always coincides with blackberry harvest. And his favorite type of pie is blackberry. We bought our first house in West Seattle and the blackberries were but one thing out of control at that property and in the alley behind it.
But we pruned them back and let them grow and I picked enough for the fresh pies as well as enough to freeze and then bag for future use, something I continue to do, always finding a patch near where we live.
It was in February – the second year in West Seattle – that I decided to make a blackberry pie from some of the frozen berries. Being a CPA, my hubby was in the midst of tax season and had to work most Saturdays. To reward him I spent a fair portion of the day cooking homemade lasagna and the pie.
Dinner – my brother was there that night too – was a hit. The lasagna was delicious, the garlic French bread savory, and the green salad with fresh tomatoes and green onions a delight.
And then it was time for the Piece de Resistance – the pie – I proudly carried it to the dining room where the two guys oohed and aahed over it. I cut three large wedges, served up with vanilla ice cream, and handed each their piece.
Before taking a bite of the pie, I looked over at my brother who was just kinda pushing his piece around on his plate and not eating. Weird. So I sliced off a forkful of mine and popped it in my mouth. It was awful. I glanced down to the end of the table and my husband’s face told the story. His lips were pursed in a tight ‘o’ formation and his head was pulled back in surprise, his eyes wide.
I started to laugh… and could not stop. It was one of a half dozen times in my life where I laughed until I cried. Soon the guys were laughing too, all of us wiping the tears from our cheeks.
When the hilarity died down, I did what any self-respecting cook would do. I retrieved the sugar bowl from the kitchen and we passed it around, lifting the crust and sprinkling generous amounts on the cooked berries.
I pieced together what, exactly, had occurred. When I pulled the berries from the freezer and put them in a bowl to thaw there was an excess of liquid. Seeing the berries look like they should for pie filling, I simply forgot to add the sweetener.
Sugar. Always remember to put sugar in your pies. And remember to be careful where you go to pick your berries. Mom said.
A couple links for your education: