I have a bit of a reputation. Some people call me a seed stealer. I prefer the term “forager”.
It all began in my tender years of five or six when I trailed alongside my Mom and brother walking along Muskoka roads lined with raspberry bushes. We held cardboard pint boxes in our little hands and were encouraged to pluck the red, ripe ones that slipped off the white core easily. There were thorns to avoid and lots of scratches to our bare legs and arms. The sun was beating down and sweat covered our brows. But boy oh boy, did those berries taste sweet. I ate nine out of every ten berries I picked, filling my box at a snail’s pace, but without a care. This was a hunt and I was hooked.
My mom had to tear me away from the berry thicket and throw all my berry stained clothes into the wash. We never picked enough for the pies or jams we talked and dreamed of. In fact, my berries barely covered the bottom of my box but were just enough for tomorrow’s breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies and cream.
Decades later, I found myself walking down a road in Grass Valley, California with my sister-in-law, Nora until I stopped dead in my tracks. I was receiving heavy signals from my personal berry radar.
“Are those blackberries?!”
Nora couldn’t feign an ounce of interest. It was devilishly hot in the dry August sun and she was parched, needing a cool glass of water back home– which was not in the direction I was pointing.
“You can’t do that!” she screamed as I hopped down into the ditch, climbing towards a flimsy fence separating me from my bounty. It was easy to climb under and I did, rewarded by a thick cluster of fat, juicy berries.
“Stop Mado, it’s private property,” she yelled as I dove into her neighbour’s field. I pulled my black shirt out like a hamper and dropped the berries in by the handful. They were three times the size of an Ontario blackberry and as sweet as can be. The proliferation stunned me. I’d never seen so many ripe, blackberries in my fruit-loving life.
To keep the family peace, I crawled back under the fence obeying my sister-in-law’s admonishments while offering her a handful of the stolen goods.
“Huh, what are these?” She held one berry in her fingers, brought it before her nose, inhaled, opened her mouth, popped the berry in and started to moan, loudly.
I’d found an accomplice.
The following day we returned to the field armed with empty yogurt containers, filling two each in no time. That evening we dined on my first and most memorable pie. Pure blackberry pie. I’d never made pie pastry before and somehow fashioned a semblance with flour and shortening found in the back corners of her cupboards. I filled it with our black bounty, fresh from the pick but already leaking juice, crushing the bottom berries with its weight.
I had set the oven at 425 F and in 10 minutes it had not only preheated but was rumbling like a coal fire. I opened the oven door and felt a blast of heat so outrageously hot, I trembled in fear, offering my sweet berry pie to this monster. I waited five minutes and wisely turned off the oven, realizing the oven thermometer was broken, fearing my pie would explode in a ball of lava if I didn’t stop the oven’s frenzy.
Remarkably, those free California blackberries and a broken oven thermometer was all I needed to make the most flaky, golden, berry-filled perfect pie of my life. Many have followed but none, thankfully, with as much drama.
I’m still a forager and a seed stealer dividing my time between downtown Toronto and rural BC. I am apt to walk down Logan Ave with a small set of scissors and surreptitiously snip off some morning glory seeds I have been watching dry throughout the fall. Recently I filled my pockets with sweet pea pods at a Duncan community garden, knowing the owner would consider me a seed-saver, not a thief. I expect the folks in the cars lined up at our Starbucks drive-through think the same when they see me roll down my window and pull a handful of brown and dry Cosmos flowers into the car as I wait for my latte order.
It’s all Ling’s fault. She asked me what those purple and white Cosmos flowers were growing in Riverdale gardens in the 1990s. I didn’t know their name, then. I asked her why she cared and she slipped a hand into her jeans’ pocket and revealed a mess of crumbled brown seed heads. Next, she scribbled “Purple Flowers” in Chinese on a piece of paper, put the seed heads in the middle and folded an instant, origami paper envelope.
“I brought seeds from Shanghai,” she said proudly. I knew then that any refugee fleeing their homeland who cares enough to pack seeds for the escape was exactly the kind of garden guru I wanted to learn from. Ling taught me not only seed saving, but how to root cuttings and separate clusters of African violets.
So are we thieves or stewards of the earth? I like to think the latter.
That’s why I came up with this muffin recipe. It combines the best of The BC Forageables – blackberries — and uses up sourdough that is normally discarded. A double save!
Sourdough Blackberry Lemon Muffins
1 1/4 cup all purpose, organic
½ cup whole spelt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
2/3 cup refined sugar
Zest of one lemon
100 gm/3.5 oz sourdough discard
2 cups frozen blackberries
3/4 cup sour cream/yogurt
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a medium bowl combine or sift all purpose, spelt, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Combine lemon zest and gently fold in sourdough discard.
In medium bowl, toss frozen berries with 1 tbsp of flour mixture
Fold in half of the flour mixture and half of sour cream, then repeat. Gently add blackberries in flour.
Divide mixture using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup dry measure into 12 muffin cups.
Bake 20-25 min or until golden and tester comes out clean.