As a young boy, it was the period surrounding the Fourth of July when I first made the connection between ingredients and seasonality. The holiday festivities always included our annual family wild blackberry hunts. We would load up in my father's Bronco, plastic gallon ice cream buckets in hand, and set out to my grandfather's farm to search for these delectable treats that were speckled throughout the fields. After many years of this tradition, I came to realize that once fireworks stands had popped up across the county blackberry season would soon follow.
To my 7-year-old self, there was nothing quite like the excitement of foraging berries. It was an adventure to trek into the wild and fetch food for our family's table. This is why growing up blackberries were my most beloved fruit and these fond memories are why they still are today.
My grandfather has since sold the farm, but I can still remember all of its berry honeypot spots. Ingrained in my mind are a few canes that always trailed a particular fencerow here, a patch hidden in the corner of another field there, and the mother of all wild blackberry brambles that sat at the mouth of a massive hill. It must have been as big as a house, and my imagination would run wild as I looked up in awe at the towering thorny canes that resembled a haunted forest in a Brothers Grimm fairytale. At the end of these hunts, I'd go home proud with a purple stained shirt eagerly awaiting the cobblers and pies that my foraging had made possible.
A few years ago, my neighbor planted a few thornless blackberry canes that he had acquired from a friend. Once his plants had become well-established, he asked if I would like a few transplants. I graciously accepted, and with what started as three canes has now grown into a large blackberry patch about 12 feet long and 4 feet across. To be honest, it has gotten a little out of control taking up some prime real estate in my garden, but I can't bring myself to generously trim it back.
When I am picking berries, I am instantly transported back to my grandfather's farm and those rolling fields. I don't only reminisce of the memories of blackberry hunts but others as well, such as adventures in the creeks with my brother and cousins, rabbit hunts with my father and rounding up herds of cows. This wild, out-of-control patch in my garden is probably the closest possession I have that instantly connects me to a place that was so important to my childhood. The patch is a living time machine, and for now it will stay.
This past week, I arrived home from a business trip and was pleased to see my blackberries were starting to ripen. As always, they are right on time, ready a week before Independence Day. I was able to pick a couple of pints and thought it would be a perfect topic for this month's column.
The recipe included with this entry is a Blackberry Lemon Icebox Cake. This refreshing sweet treat is perfect for the dog days of summer. It consists of a homemade vanilla whipped cream with lemon zest and mint, fresh picked blackberries and jam mixture, vanilla wafers and lemon pie filling. These items are layered and frozen, creating a beautiful dessert consisting of vibrant sheets of purple, white and yellow colors.
Once it is pulled out of the icebox, it is coated with more fresh whipped cream to serve as a fluffy icing. The tartness of the lemon pie filling and blackberry mixture compliments the sweetness of the cream impeccably. The hint of mint adds a little zing and the wafers give the cake a much-needed crunch. It is extraordinarily simple to prepare, cool and refreshing, and perfect for the back porch on a sunny day.
Before I sign off, I want to point out that this is my one-year anniversary column. I would like to thank the Kentucky New Era for the opportunity to share my culinary adventures and the readers who have been so kind over the past year. When I started this journey, I was the definition of an amateur writer and home cook, but I have felt nothing but love during this first chapter. It has been a pleasure to write about my personal experiences, thoughts and memories. I very much look forward to seeing what the next year has in store. I hope that you do as well. Again, thank you, and happy eating.
Cody J. Noffsinger is an accountant at Hopkinsville Electric System and EnergyNet. Away from the books, he enjoys gardening and feasting with friends. He has a passion for old-style cooking and learning the history behind the dishes we eat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.