Country Mice

Right before we drove away from San Francisco, Fred's aunt, Jenny-King, told us about all of the wild blackberries, ripe and ready to harvest, growing all around the family cabin in Inverness. And though I am a total weirdo about almost everything fruit-related, I do love a blackberry. Perhaps it's their tartness. Jenny-King then went on to tell us about her recipe for a blackberry crumble that she and her girls loved to make each year when the berries are in season and growing rampant around the Inverness house.

She even made us a little kit with all of the crumble elements mixed together in a Ziplock bag. Just add blackberries. And butter. A stick of it.

And we were off. Driving north, headed toward Tomales Bay.

This was the part I was waiting for, the part I was really the most excited about. The little house tucked away in Inverness, Tomales Bay, Point Reyes, all very magical to me. I remember when Fred took me up there the first time, a few months into dating each other. He made a point to tell me that though it was a very special place for him, it wasn't for everyone. It was rustic, he told me. There was no television, no internet, probably no phone service. There were spiders. But it was a house that was a part of him, his family - the paternal side, and so also a little bit of his father who passed away some time ago. It was filled with good memories; memories of fishing and grilling oysters and board games – and blackberries.

Though those reasons alone would have made me fall in love with the house and with Inverness, it would have most certainly happened without them. I'll tell you right now that I am no camper. At least, I don't think I am – it's been at least fifteen years since I've camped (back in my late teens/early twenties, Paz, Spencer, Sam and I went camping on the beaches of North Carolina every Summer). The Inverness house is in no way camping, but rustic, yes.

Perfectly, beautifully, serenely, romantically rustic. And very clearly filled with happy memories of family, children growing up, dogs, friends, love, and fun. My favorite room is the kitchen. Its windows look over the Tomales Bay and it's very bright. It is filled with odds and ends that family members and guests have left over the years, a mishmosh of different sized wine glasses, cast-iron, old sippy cups for small children, wonky knives and my personal favorite, a boom box that plays cassette tapes. There is a Motown tape that I listen to over and over and over again each time I visit. And it never gets old.

During the days we wander around and collect cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery, Brickmaiden Bread, salume, duck eggs and bacon from the local Marin Sun Farms butcher shop, and clams, mussels and oysters, oysters, oysters from the Tomales Bay Oyster Company and Hog Island Oysters (because one just can never have enough). Then we drive out to Point Reyes, walk out to the tip of the world to the lighthouse and stand and look out over an almost 360 view of water before hiking back up over three hundred steps to begin the strikingly scenic drive back to town. Back in the cabin, we pour some local wine, make a cheese board, grill oysters on the deck, and retire inside by the huge fireplace listening to that Motown tape until we fall asleep in each other's arms, a little drunk, a little full, and extraordinarily content, blissful, with Smokey Robinson crooning (a little roughly as a result of that over-played tape) in our ears.

And then we wake up with the sun coming up over the bay. And we do it all over again, save for maybe picking one of the precious (and delicious) local restaurants for our one meal out.

I mean, come on.

This last trip up, we took my dad and his girlfriend, Dale, with us. We were a little nervous that they wouldn't think it was as magical as we do. But one step, maybe two, in the house and they were sold. And so we shared with them our Inverness experience. To the T. Including the magnificent blackberry harvest.

After the lighthouse afternoon and our lunch of oysters on the bay, both Dad and Dale were spent. Nap time. So Fred and I went on a hike to forage for those wild blackberries. In hindsight, I A) packed horribly (as I always do) and B) wore the absolute, complete wrong outfit for the mission. Why did no one tell me about all the thorny parts?! So my cute, rolled up pants, sandals, and cable knit sweater that gets pulls in it super easily were, perhaps, not the best plan. Cest la vie. We still got ourselves a bounty. Fred practically had to drag me away, saying something about saving some blackberries for other people in the neighborhood, or some such thing. I couldn't stop myself. Perhaps because, at that point, after all of the thorn pricks on my hands, arms and ankles, and clearly destroyed sweater, I was in it to win it - I had given in to The Experience.

When we returned to the house the old folks were just coming out of their nap haze. So I opened a bottle of rosé, made up a cheese board and put on the Motown tape (which Dad quickly changed to a classical music radio station). We then made a simple presentation of fresh, steamed clams (pulled from the Tomales Bay that day) with drawn butter and a crusty bread followed by a pretty classic dish of sautéed mussels with white wine, cream and garlic, all with a huge chopped salad. Which pretty much knocked Dale out.

And three remained.

So, we built a fire, opened a bottle of local Pinot Noir (a glass of rum for Dad) and I got to that blackberry crumble.

In our 'kit' from Jenny-King there were about two cups of Trader Joe's Ginger, Almond and Cashew Granola cereal, about a half a cup of flour, maybe a quarter of a cup of sugar, a few dashes of powdered ginger, and I'm pretty sure that was about it. Oh, some cinnamon?

So I preheated the oven (which is all lit by propane and runs about fifty degrees hot) to about 350. Put all of the rinsed blackberries in a deep cast-iron pan with a little lemon zest, sprinkled the 'kit' over the top, sliced up a stick of butter and scattered that over the crumble along with some brown sugar and put in in the oven.

Jenny-King told us we would know it was done when all the blackberry juices bubbled up through the crumble and the top was slightly browned. And she was absolutely correct. This was about thirty or so minutes. While the crumble was cooling, Fred put a little heavy cream and some sugar in a bowl and got to whisking.

The night was cool, the windows were open, the fire was roaring, the wine glasses were full, and the classical music played on as the three of us sat by the hearth scraping clean our bowls of fresh, hot blackberry-that-we-foraged-ourselves-from-the-property crumble, topped with fresh whipped cream.

And so once again, twice in one trip, a Cosmic Muffin moment. There was no where else I could have possibly wanted to be. Talk about perfection.

And now, now I'm back in Los Angeles. And it is go time. One month to wrap things up: my life of thirteen years, my friends, my job, packing up my house, and hitting the road with Fred and our pups for the long way home. The extended drive across the country, through the cities, towns, communities, restaurants and kitchens of our country, and specifically the South, until we pull up to our new house in Richmond, Virginia.

Are you ready for us?

Jenny-King's Wild Blackberry Crumble

Serves 4-6

*This is all approximate as I was not given an actual recipe. But winging it can be fun!

4-5 cups fresh blackberries
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter, sliced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt


In a large bowl combine granola, flour, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. 

In another large bowl combine berries, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest and toss to coat. Pour berry mixture into large cast-iron or casserole. Top with crumble topping and evenly distributed slices of butter.

Bake until top is golden and fruit is bubbly, about 35 minutes. Serve warm.

Top with whipped cream or ice cream.

Two years ago: LQ@SK

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