For the love of the blackberry
August 28, 2009 · Updated 2:38 PM
Silverdale-based soda company Hummingbird Hill finds a boon for business at the Bremerton Blackberry Festival, What's Up finds tasty treats among Kitsap's deliciously invasive species.
For years, local soda purveyors Mike and Dee Armstrong of Silverdale's Hummingbird Hill weren't allowed at the Bremerton Blackberry Festival. With a corporate cola company being one of the festival's major sponsors, there wasn't much room for competition.
Until the Armstrongs came up with a blackberry soda — then they couldn't be denied.
"Last year, we outsold Coke," Mike Armstrong recounted jovially. "And that was just selling the blackberry soda. We were sold out by Sunday afternoon."
Without the support of any of its 11 other flavors, the Hummingbird Hill blackberry concoction was so popular that the Armstrongs had stormed through more than 120 cases before the festival even entered its final day.
So for this year's event — the 20th Annual Blackberry Festival slated for Sept. 5-7 at Bremerton Harborside — the Armstrongs have stockpiled more than 200 cases of their blackberry beverage.
"Once the Blackberry Festival is over, I'm not gonna make any more," Armstrong said, mixing the blackberry extract with sugar and water while talking with What's Up recently at their Bremerton kitchen. "When it's gone, it's gone. It's just a specialty thing."
Hummingbird Hill sodas are also available at local restaurants including Monica's Waterfront Bakery in Silverdale, Tizley's Europub and Marina Mart in Poulsbo, in addition to more than a dozen restaurants throughout the east side of the Sound. The Armstrongs also man weekly booths at the Bremerton, Silverdale and Poulsbo Farmers Markets throughout the summer, but the Blackberry Festival is a special event for them.
Not only is it one of the few specialty festivals the couple attends, last year, the weekend also proved to be one of the biggest money-makers for their five-year-old soda company.
There are blackberry festivals across the country — from McLoud, Okla., West Virginia and North Carolina to the Illinois Valley, Ukiah, Calif. and Sutherlin, Ore. Most celebrate either the berry itself, or the industry its created in the region. In this part of the country, however, the blackberry is an invasive species, according to the Washington State University Agricultural Extension.
But Blackberry Festival vendors still come from all over the Northwest and beyond to Bremerton for what started as something of a spoof, according to festival organizer Carol Atkinson.
“It’s one of those things that just tenacious, you can’t get rid of them,” Atkinson said.
And while blackberry brambles are technically a noxious weed, they produce one of the most tasty noxious treats there are — prompting neighbors to scour patches scattered throughout Kitsap each August.
In addition to the many blackberry pastries, soda, fritters and wine you’ll find at Bremerton’s Blackberry Fest, here are a few recipes from the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association to help put your patch of the invasive species to good use.
For more on the Bremerton Blackberry Fest — live music schedules, a wide array of events and more — see www.blackberryfestival.org.
7 quarts fresh, ripe blackberries
5 cups water
5 pounds sugar
Zest of 5 lemons, in strips
1 gallon brandy or vodka
Pick over the blackberries, but avoid washing them unless absolutely necessary. Put them into a stoneware crock. Peel the zest from the lemons, being careful to get as little of the white pith as possible. Over medium high heat, boil the water with the sugar and lemon zest in a saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved, approximately 10 minutes after it comes to the boil. Pour immediately over the berries and let stand 12 hours. Add the brandy or vodka and cover. Store in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks. Strain through clean, wet cheesecloth, but do not force the berries. Bottle in sterilized bottles or jars, but do not vacuum seal. Store in a cool dark place for at least 3 months before using.
1 cup blackberries
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup olive oil
Rub berries through a fine sieve to remove seeds and to render up and juice. Combine juice, pulp, and all ingredients except oil in a small sauce pan. Cook, stirring over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool and whisk in oil. Put in salad oil container. Shake up before serving.
2 c. white corn meal
1/4 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. sorghum molasses
1 1/2 c. blackberries (wild or tame)
Into mixing bowl, add corn meal, soda, salt, buttermilk, egg; stir well. Add molasses, stir well. Add blackberries, stir into mixture without mashing them. Pour into a well greased iron skillet and bake slow at 350 degrees until pone begins to brown. Reduce heat to 200 degrees until cooked.
1 cup blackberries
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tbls sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup butter, melted
Beat eggs until light and fluffy. Beat in buttermilk and soda. Sift flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, beating well to make a thin batter. Add blackberries and butter. Fry on a hot buttered griddle until puffy and golden brown, turning cake only once. Serve very hot.
BLACKBERRY COFFEE CAKE
2 cups Flour
1 cup Sugar
2 tsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 cup Margarine
1/2 cup Pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 cup Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/3 cup Brown sugar
3 1/2 cups Blackberries
1/4 cup Flour
2 Tbsp. Butter
Sift together first five ingredients and put in a large bowl; cut in margarine until mixture looks like crumbs. In another bowl, mix together eggs, milk, and vanilla. Pour over flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Spread in a greased 8" x 12" pan; distribute berries on top. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, flour, and butter. Mix with a fork until crumbly. Add nuts and sprinkle over top of cake. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
2 Tbsp. Cornstarch
1 1/2 cup Sugar
1 Tbsp. Lemon juice
4 cup Blackberries, picked over, rinsed & drained well
1 cup Flour
1 tsp. Baking powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
6 Tbsp. Unsalted butter, cold, cut into bits
Vanilla ice cream
In a large bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water until cornstarch is completely dissolved. Add 1 cup sugar, lemon juice, and blackberries, and combine the mixture gently but thoroughly. Transfer to an 8-inch cast-iron skillet.
In a bowl, combine well the flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1/4 cup boiling water and stir the mixture until it just forms a dough.
Bring the blackberry mixture to a boil on top of the stove, stirring. Drop spoonfuls of the dough carefully onto the boiling mixture, and bake the cobbler on a foil lined baking sheet in the middle of a preheated 400 F. oven for 20-25 minutes or until the topping is golden. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
WILD BLACKBERRY PIE
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3 tablespoons boiling water
3/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
To begin making pastry dough, sift 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cut in 1/2 cup butter or margarine. Add boiling water to the flour mixture. Stir until mixture clings in a ball. Divide dough in half, and roll out two crusts.
Combine sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Mix with the berries. Place berry filling in an unbaked pie crust. Sprinkle with lemon juice and dot with butter or margarine. Fit and seal upper crust. Bake on lower shelf in a 425 degree F (220 degree C) oven for 30 to 40 minutes.
THE ULTIMATE BLACKBERRY PRESERVE
4 heaping cups blackberries (1 lb. 6 oz.)
3-1/2 cups sugar (1 lb. 4 oz.)
1/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
Makes 3 to 4 half-pints, and is best as small batches like this. Sort fresh berries, discarding any that are soft, moldy or otherwise suspect. Rinse them and drain them well. Thaw frozen raspberries, saving all their juice. Stir the berries (including the juice from thawed berries), the sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl, using a rubber spatula; let the mixture stand, stirring gently once or twice, until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 hours (many times I let it sit all day in the refrigerator or overnight).
Wash 4 half-pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.
Scrape the mixture into a large skillet or sauté pan. Add the butter. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a straight-ended wooden or nylon spatula, and boil rapidly for 6 minutes. Remove from heat.
The butter helps reduce foam, but if some remains after you’ve removed the skillet from the burner and let the jam settle for about 10 seconds, skim it off. Ladle hot preserves into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes (at 1,000 to 3,000 ft-process for 15 minutes; 3,000 to 6,000 ft-20 minutes; above 6,000 ft.-for 25 minutes).