Minding the Sky | Blackberries and other local jewels at Hedgebrook

Posted in Blogs, Culinary, Literary

Aug. 8, 2014

The plums of Honeymoon Bay are ripening; the blackberries are on the way to dropping in handfuls from the weight of their juices warmed by the sun. Summer is almost past her prime—but not quite.

A few hot days in a row made us thirsty for swimming and sunning and lolling about; they have fostered an urge to stretch the few really spectacular moments we have left in the season and make them last as long as possible. Optimistically, there are three more weeks of August and then three more potentially gorgeous ones in September, until the official Last Day of Summer sets behind the Olympics.

Homemade jam and homemade biscuit equals one teaspoon paradise  (photo by Judith Walcutt)

Homemade jam and homemade biscuit equals one teaspoon paradise. (Photo by Judith Walcutt)

Many of those days are the most beautiful of the year. How will we spend them? Personally, I’ll be harvesting as many berries as possible from here on out, in order to capture this gasp of blue and golden skies in a jar of jam to evoke their warmth when winter comes. I’ll be sending a few of those jars out to friends who need a touch of island flavor to remember their fruitful times hereabouts.

Last year, I made enough jam to feed a substantial alumnae gathering at Hedgebrook, celebrating 25 years of women writing on the land and making their voices heard around the world. It felt appropriate to take fruit from the literal garden there (an abundance of plums were on hand) and make an offering to those who had become the metaphorical bounty of that place, that garden, that kitchen table. I felt honored to be among them and to feel the nourishment again of the radical hospitality that is the way of the place.

The author at her last cottage  (photo by David Ossman)

The author at her last cottage. (Photo by David Ossman)

My residency there comes back in a flash and all I want to do is move into a cottage again (or maybe just the pump house?) on a full time, permanent basis. I am not the only alumna who feels the same desire. But in the wisdom that comes with practiced restraint, I find that moving on, so that others can move in, is the right-minded action. Besides, there are other ways to stay connected there. Instead of a stowaway resident, I have become one of many volunteers who does what she can to help—from volunteering in the garden, which is fun, to reading submissions for residencies, which is hard.

For all those who have wondered how Hedgebrook residents are chosen or those who have not applied, conjecturing that surely everyone there is already famous, published, or practically perfect in every way, just like Mary Poppins—I’m here to dish the truth. Some are and some aren’t.

First of all, there is an application process (available online at https://www.hedgebrook.org/newsdetails.php?id=123) and it is not intimidating. Space for answers is limited, so a person must condense her thoughts to the essence—which is a good exercise! The questions are important ones to consider and write about, if you really want to be there and be part of the Hedgebrook community afterwards. A writing sample of no more than 10 pages is required. Teams of alumnae (in pairs) around the country read a portion of all the applications.

Authors Nancy Pearl and Karen Outen: Alumnae residents sharing the fruits of Hedgebrook.

Authors Nancy Pearl and Karen Outen: Alumnae residents sharing the fruits of Hedgebrook.  (Photo by Judith Walcutt)

Last year, I read around 200 applications out of the total number of over 1,500. We were allowed to advance roughly 10 percent of those to the second round of readers, and another 10 percent to the third round consisting of writers, educators, agents, literary managers and editors, as well as alumnae. From these finalists, 40 residencies were awarded. This year the process has been tweaked so that pairs of readers—from all over the world—will read flights of 30 applications at a time online. The selections of those readers will be read by a triad of readers who then nominate finalists for another team of readers. By the end of the process, those selected for residencies will have been read by 10 different pairs of eyes. The process is built to ensure integrity.

The name of the applicant is kept as anonymous as possible from the readers. If you happen to recognize someone’s work as someone you know personally, you are ethically obliged to turn that one back to be read by someone else.

It is as fair as it can be and those accepted for residence are as varied as they come.

Some writers are published, in the middle of their careers, and need a space to get new work started. Some writers are brand new and mothers of three, in need of respite from daily life to have a clear thought, let alone get anything down on paper.

Some writers have lived long, fruitful lives and are just now putting down the details of their gathered experiences, needing just that one place of refuge in which to get it done. Some are completely unknown to anyone, but their writing sample is so utterly knocked-out, fabulously unique in perspective, they must be given encouragement to go on with the work. Every case is different, but ultimately rests on the writing.

As an application reader, I can assure you, I read all of every application I am given. My teammate and I read them separately from each other and then we get together and compare notes. We agonize; we weep; we beat our chests in dithyrambic cries and, finally, we decide who of all these very worthy writers we can recommend for advancement.

It is torture. Why? Because there is so much good writing being done by women in so many places, under so many different conditions, that we mourn the ones we must put aside, if only for now.

Hedgebrook ripens writers with radical hospitality  (photo by Judith Walcutt)

Hedgebrook ripens writers with radical hospitality. (Photo by Judith Walcutt)

And that’s the good news of it: so much really good writing is being done by women­ now—we can’t decide among these riches. It seems to us a promising sign of the times and for the future of women writers globally whose rising voices can and will be heard.

To those who have applied or are thinking of applying to Hedgebrook — the deadline is Wednesday, Sept. 3 — please hear this now: we readers know your heart is in our hands and we are handling it with care. If you do not get a “yes” your first year of applying, we say this collectively: Apply again! Joyous perseverance matters! And every year, a different current of writing rolls in the door that changes the feeling of the reading process for all.

If you have a yen to be part of Hedgebrook no matter what, please look at the events listed on the website—literary salons, master classes, the annual writers gathering, Vortext—these are all ways and means of being part of what Hedgebrook stands for in the community of women writers worldwide—a refuge, a place to become a writer within, and a home to grow good writers from the fertile garden on the land and the magic woods behind it.

And speaking of growing good writers, Hedgebrook is co-sponsoring—with Young Women Empowered—a summer camp for young women writers from Aug. 26 to Aug. 31 at Whidbey Institute. If you know a young woman between the ages of 14 and 18 who could benefit from such an experience, check here for further details.

There are still a few participant places open with scholarship aid available. If you are an adult who wants to be around some young writers writing—the energy boost is tremendous—you may want to volunteer at the camp. They need some help with meal prep which provides a great opportunity to work with the team. Call Hedgebrook for details: 360-321-4786.

If you have never been to Hedgebrook and want to see the land itself, come to the annual open house from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13 and experience some radical hospitality first hand. And by all means, peruse the website https://www.hedgebrook.org to find out what events, workshops, and opportunities are coming up to bring yourself or some you know to a new threshold of the writing life.

Judith Walcutt is a writer living on Whidbey Island, who makes jam as a spiritual practice.

Honeymoon Bay Blackberry Jam

Island blackberries: Jewels on the vine!  (photo by Judith Walcutt)

Island blackberries: Jewels on the vine! (Photo by Judith Walcutt)

4 cups fruit
3 cups sugar (or less, since blackberries are naturally pectin rich)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 strips of lemon peel

Mash berries in 2-quart sauce pan. Add warmed sugar after fruit comes to a roiling boil, stirring in slowly. Add lemon juice and lemon peel. Turn heat down to low and let cook with top off on the back burner, remembering to stir when the fruit reaches a boil. This will happen several times as the fruit reaches the jam state. Continue boiling and stirring and cooling, boiling, stirring, and cooling—until the fruit is glossy and begins to have pull at the bottom of the pan.

I sometimes let my pan cool overnight before putting up, so I can see how set it actually is. If it’s really set, I reheat on low while I prep my jars. BTW: Lemon peel will be transparent around the edges when the jam is nearly ready. When you dip a spoon in the pot and the fruit stays on rather than dripping off—you are done!

For canning instructions, consult the box of canning jars. It is easier than you think!


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