Monday, July 6, 2009

Blackberry Mush

Worse than buying food shipped clear around the world, is wasting any food period. I hate food waste. When I waste food I feel terrible guilt and I feel like a bad person, so when confronted with several pints of non-local blackberries, I certainly wasn't going to toss them. They were good quality, perfectly fine berries and they were going to get eaten. What then, I thought, was the best way to honor the fruit? There was no way I could eat them all plain and raw. Should I make a pie or a cobbler? I didn't feel like dealing with the seeds stuck in my teeth for days. No, instead I would make blackberry mush.

Recently I became a member of Slow Food. In addition to promoting local edibles, Slow Food is committed to preserving heritage foods and recipes unique to certain cultures and areas. Every time I go to Delaware to visit relatives I am deeply saddened by the fact that no one of the younger generations (including my own) can cook my great grandmother's recipes, most of which are completely unique to that part of the world. My grandmother, her daughter, remembers many of the recipes, but doesn't like to cook and doesn't have anyone to cook for anymore. When she is gone, the recipes are gone for good. That's why I've vowed to preserve these dishes and to cook them as often as I can. One of them is blackberry mush.

It doesn't sound good at all. Mush makes me think of cornmeal porridge or something gruel-ish. Blackberry mush contains no grains and is more like an unusual pudding, yet it contains very few ingredients, none of which come from animals. It's completely vegan. I have never, ever seen it anywhere else in the world besides Southern Delaware. A google search of "blackberry mush" turned up very few relevent results, one of which was a discussion board from Southern Delaware where some people remembered their grandmothers making it. I think some of the people didn't know how to make it. Well, I do and I'm going to show you how it's done properly, just like my great-grandmother who was born in 1893 and grew up outside of Felton, Delaware on a farm called Paradise Alley, when local eating was the only option.

I loved Blackberry Mush when I was little, but no one loved it as much as my grandmother's sister, my Aunt Janet. She would eat bowlfuls of it every summer. It was her favorite food. There are several uses for the stuff, which is nothing more than a thickened, strained puree, but my great grandmother ate it over clabber, which was a homemade plain yogurt she also used to make. She lived to be a hundred, so I'm thinking she was on to something here. It's excellent on any kind of yogurt though and would also be good on hot cereals or ice cream. I'm like Aunt Janet. I like it plain. You can serve it warm or cold, but I like cold.


  1. I had a grandmother in Newark, DE who lived on a farm and cooked many dishes that, you are right, were unique to that part of the world and of course one of them was blackberry mush. Only she cooked it up in Cape Elizabeth, ME, with local blackberries, where she summered for forty years, and that is where I would sneak into the ice box (oh yes!) and spoon it into my mouth. We served it with cream to make it even more decadent. Your recipe looks just right and I bet you could make it with any berry though I have never had it with any other. Have not gone through your blog completely but would love some of those old Delaware recipes and may be able to provide some. We are trying to eat local but the blackberries I just ate not in mush were from Mexico - no restraint.

    Do you grow orchids and have garden?

    Fenn Harvey
    Newbury, MA

  2. I grew up in Lancaster and I remember my honorary Grandma making blackberry mush and raspberry mush. I always called it dragons blood. Thanks for the instructions.

  3. Blackberry Mush seems to be a traveler. My great-aunt made it having learned it from my great grandmother. My great-grandmother was born 1870 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. All her family and all her husband's family were Virginian from the Revolution and prior.

    Sounds like the same recipe. Just fruit, a little water, some sugar, and thickening. It was summer in a bowl! We ate it warm or cold and my father would sprinkle his with sugar and then pour milk over it.

    I, too, have searched online for Blackberry Mush and your blog is the first I've come across it.

    Maybe it is a "mountain" food - having traveled up the Appalachians from Virginia to Maine?? Wherever it came from, it sure is WONDERFUL!