In general, alleys are dark, creepy and dirty stretches of patchy pavement and rainwater runoff. Unwelcoming and smelly, they usually serve as a home to the cast aside or in DC, what I refer to as the “flattened rat phenomenon.” Except for the alley of my childhood which, was not a traditional alleyway but more of a haphazardly paved and tree-lined cut through at the end of my street. Technical or more urban definitions aside, it was known simply as “The Alley” and therefore was just that.
We greeted each other every morning and afternoon on my walks to and from elementary school. Those were the days, and Princeton the type of town, where a second grader could stroll unsupervised to school and parents see them off with no time wasted waiting for a bus or lost piece of mind. In the morning, the alley meant independence, adventure and the unknown and in the afternoon, a welcomed comfort and the familiarity of home.
I loved how the branches of the old trees stretched out and over like leafy spiderwebs to trap the late summer heat above and provide a cool canopy of shade below. Fall left the alley blanketed in leaves of red, orange, yellow and brown. Their irregular-by-design pattern always reminded me of the Oriental rugs my mom loved to collect. In winter the broad branches and thick trunks shielded the sharp wind and provided refuge and a dark embrace from a tiny, yet terrifyingly ferocious, dog nipping at my heels.
Spring meant honeysuckle and wild blackberry bushes extending their offerings like a handshake through the chain link fence. Though a bee sting in my armpit (of all places) left me with quite a fear, I braved the buzzing and called a truce for the chance to dine at their sides. Other members of my family also made a daily trek to the alley for something sweet. Though not interested in the honeysuckle and blackberries, our food loving dachshund preferred instead to snack on leftover Krispy Kreme doughnuts a neighbor secretly put out the back door. Eventually we discovered her weekly rendezvous as her long hot dog shape morphed into that of a football.
A few weeks ago, my mom shared a recipe for Blackberry Cornbread she found in a recent issue of Southern Living Magazine. The idea, so simple, yet wonderfully brilliant, immediately had my attention. Though store bought or cultivated blackberries don’t possess the extreme tartness of the wild blackberries I found in the alley, I recommend sampling yours beforehand and adjusting the sugar in this recipe as needed. A more tart berry will benefit from a bit more sugar. In addition, make sure to use self-rising white cornmeal as it contains the salt and baking soda, among other things, not included in this recipe.
2 cups self-rising white cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 (16-oz.) container sour cream
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups fresh blackberries
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stir together the cornmeal and sugar in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, and oil and add to the cornmeal mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Gently fold in the blackberries and pour batter into a lightly greased 9 inch square or round pan.
Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, shielding with aluminum foil after 25 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. For muffins, lightly grease two muffin pans and fill each cup 3/4 full. Bake for 15-17 minutes and cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack before removing from the pan. Makes 2 dozen.