Last week, Eli and I, along with two of my sisters, took a trip out to Sauvie Island to pick berries. The U-Pick
experience seems to be essential to a Portland summer; many people make a tradition of doing it at least once a year. For some, it is a way to return to childhood memories of growing up on or near farms, and for others it’s a novelty to see food growing in an up close and personal way, and/or a way to feel connected to local food production—if in a fairly superficial way. (I suspect there are quite a few of the latter here in Portland.) I don’t remember going to a U-Pick more than a scant handful of times during my childhood, and I’m fairly sure Hawai’i still has nothing in the way of a U-Pick, but I do have very fond memories of fresh summer fruits.
Growing up, I spent summers here in Portland with my father, stepmother, and sisters. (Sometime, ask us what Historic Irvington was really like before gentrification.) The neighbor in the house behind my dad’s had an enormous cherry tree. I don’t know what kind they were, but they were a deep red and delicious, only slightly tart, and perfect for pie. A few times a summer, the big kids would climb up onto the garage roof to pick cherries, and we would have an orgy of fresh cherries and cherry pie for a few days. Once, I accidentally swallowed an entire cherry whole—pit, stem, and even a small leaf.
Once or twice a summer I would get to stay with my aunt for a few days or a week. This was always one of the highlights of the summer, a time when I could stay up late, watch scary movies, and eat food that wasn’t supposed to be “healthy.” One of the best things about staying with Auntie Joanie was when she’d take me to a vacant lot near her place in Tigard to pick blackberries. Afterward, she’d make jam, and she always made sure to send me back to my father’s with a load of it. This jam would be mine to eat for the rest for the summer, and whenever I was allowed to make my own lunch, I would slather the hated slices of hippie bread with my blackberry jam until my sandwiches were more jam than bread.
Another good time were annual visits with Auntie Cynthia. Maiya (my little sister) and I would go out to Puget Island, a tiny island in the Columbia River near Cathlamet, Washington. Cynthia had vegetables, berries, and fruit trees growing on her property, and we could spend afternoons lying in the cool grass beneath the blueberry bushes, picking and eating the luscious fruit. That is, if we weren’t off riding horses, swimming in the Columbia, or playing with neighbor children on a dairy farm. If we didn’t bake a pie or three there with Auntie Cynthia, she’d always send us home with blue berries and raspberries for pie. Yeah, Portland and its surrounding areas can be a great place to spend a summer.
Well, last week Eli and I came home with just over fourteen pounds of blueberries and Marionberries (for a mere $18), and I spent most of the afternoon cleaning, measuring, and freezing berries since it was far too hot to jam out.
That night, Eli made a crisp out of fresh Marionberries, but we hadn’t done anything else with them until a few nights ago when I decided to make a Marionberry Upside Down Cake. I used oil since I was running low on oil, and baked it in a cast-iron skillet, like early upside down cakes were. The cast-iron beautifully caramelizes the sugar, and the crusty edges are to die for. It’s extremely moist and tender, and tastes amazing even days later. This Marionberry Upside Down Cake was quick to throw together, and makes a lovely coffee or snack cake, as well as a great summer dessert.
1 pint to 3 cp blackberries
¼ cp butter
½ cp brown sugar
½ cp chopped pecans
a dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg
2 cp flour
1¼ cp sugar
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cp milk
¼ cp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet melt butter with brown sugar, stirring til blended. Remove from heat and add chopped pecans and spices. Next, spread Marionberries evenly over the bottom of the pan. Set aside, and preheat oven to 375.
For the cake batter, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk, eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla in a bowl. Blend until mostly smooth. Pour batter evenly over Marionberries, and place skillet in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the cake has been thoroughly cooked. You can do a knife test to make sure it is done.
You may serve the cake directly from the frying pan or inverted on a plate to show off the berries. To loosen the cake, run a knife along the edges of the skillet before inverting.