Is there anything better than a bowl full of fresh-picked berries still hot from the summer sun? Berry picking is one of my favorite late summer activities which is why James and I headed over to the Blue Ridge Parkway yesterday to see what we could harvest. We were returning to Graveyard Fields, an area we had previously hiked in late October three years ago. At that time the blueberry bushes and blackberry brambles were bare, having been picked clean by birds, bears and people. But I put it on my list for a future trip and now, finally, the day was here.
As a child I picked raspberries in my grandmother’s garden from canes that were so high and thick they towered over my head and created a fruited maze to get lost in. It was so special that, believe it or not, I was upset when one of my uncles talked her into putting a swimming pool on the site! Later, when our daughters were little and we lived in England, we would walk down to Ham House on the Thames and lose ourselves in magnificent heaps of blackberry brambles, filling buckets for crumbles and jam, returning home, sticky, hot and replete with berries in both bellies and buckets! I had never picked blueberries before and I had been told that the bushes grew all along the Blue Ridge Parkway, so on the first available day James and I packed a picnic and left our Bed and Breakfast in Asheville and drove off to see what we could find.
As we drove over Pisgah Mountain the weather looked a little iffy with clouds and mist on the high peaks but Graveyard Fields is on the other side of the mountain and somewhat lower so it was a lovely 72 degree sunny afternoon when we got there. We were late getting off due to an unexpected plumbing issue with one of the tubs– but that’s another story. Due to the delay we had packed a picnic from home. Our daughter, Abby, is working at StudioWedBox here in Asheville and she gets some great swag which she shares with us. This latest time she presented us with a wonderful picnic blanket, soft on one side and lined with heavy plastic on the other. James made his “do-I-have-too?” face when I sent him back into the house to get it but he didn’t seemed too bothered when he stretched out on his back for a little snooze after lunch!
Berries there were and, while not at the height of readiness, there were enough to fill a quart-sized bucket. James wandered off one way and I wandered off another. The warm sun beat down on our arms and faces and the only sound was that of the August locusts and the bubbling of the small stream nearby. All of the cares and needs of work slipped away and before I knew it an hour had passed by.
Returning home I had more than enough berries to share with our guests in the form of lemon-berry muffins. Wild berries have a more intense flavor than cultivated ones although they are a little less sweet. I used a baking powder batter which give a biscuit-like texture to the muffin and plays up the flavor of the berries.
Wild Berry-Lemon Muffins
2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, melted
Juice and grated zest of one lemon
1 cup wild blueberries and blackberries mixed
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix dry ingredients together
Whisk egg, lemon juice and and half of the zest into cooled butter.
Stir wet ingredients into dry until just mixed.
Fold in berries
Place about ¼ cup of batter into greased muffin tins
Mix together remaining zest and 2 tablespoons of sugar and divide equally on tops of muffins
Bake 15-20 minutes. Do not overbake.