happy, happy day

Last year at this time I was posting regularly about our backyard vegetable patch. I’d shared potato salad with our sugar snap peas, an earthy, herby frittata, and a rosy beet risotto. The garden was, while a bit overgrown, orderly and walkable. I visited it every day, scurrying through the gate in the morning after my runs to pick raspberries for breakfast, losing myself to daydreams as I stood with a hose each afternoon and soaked the soil under the tomatoes and peppers. I was oh-so-proud of our little plot, and oh-so-excited to share its progress with you all.

In December, after harvesting the last of the carrots for our Christmas dinner, Brian and I mourned the fact that those were probably the last vegetables we’d see come from our current backyard. We were planning to move this Summer, and didn’t think it would be very smart to put a lot of time, money, or energy into a piece of land that would no longer be ours in just six months’ time. It made me sad. Very, very, sad.

March came and went without us ordering organic compost to till into soil already rich from three years of amendment and gardening. There was no sprinkling of lettuce, kale, carrot, or beet seeds; no elaborate map drawn to show the exact location of each plant to come. May 15th, the last frost date for our part of Virginia, rolled by without us spending a Saturday planting tiny tomato, cucumber and pepper plants. The weeds grew, and grew, and grew…and I just let them.

Multiple friends who don’t know our plans to move, but do know the joy we get from growing our own food, have asked “how’s that garden of yours?”. This single question, innocent as it is, elicits a panicked look from Brian, who tries to change the subject before I can launch into our sorrowful (to me) tale. About how, no, we didn’t plant any vegetables in our backyard this year. And no, we don’t think we’ll be moving into a new house in time to establish a new garden. And yes, I am devastated that we’re not spending a portion of our weekends weeding and watering and planting and harvesting. Harumph.

In hindsight, we should have planted summer veggies. Things never move as quickly as anticipated, and our putting the house on the market was no exception. By now we could have been eating our own lettuce, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and beets. Instead we’re buying them at the farmer’s market, which is the next best thing, but still not quite as satisfying. I’m getting over it. Really.

However…our berries have been AMAZING this year. Strawberries, red and golden raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries. Thank goodness for hardy perennial fruit that grows no matter the neglect it’s received! Those shots at the top of the page are from my visit to the garden last Friday morning, when I first noticed that the blackberries are starting to ripen. I did a little dance, hurried back inside for my camera and a bowl, and proceeded to pick every single fully-black berry on the vine. Happy, happy day.

This cake was actually made with blackberries that we grew last summer and froze. We had 8 quarts in our own freezer, and many more were given to friends. I’m betting that our harvest will be doubled this year, and we’re not moving until I am proven right.  Stubborn?  Not me.

Even if you have fresh blackberries on hand, you should still freeze them for at least 4 hours before adding them to the batter. The frozen berries, with the help of the syrup, will stay firmly rooted to the bottom of the pan without rising to the top (which will become the bottom) of the cake.

The whole wheat flour provides the cake with a dense crumb, perfect for picking up between two fingers.  I made it for dessert, but I think it is even better for breakfast.  Not too sweet, hearty with whole grains, a nice compliment to a cup of coffee.

Blackberry Upside-Down Cake

from Sweet and Natural Baking, by Mani Niall

serves 10



  • 1/3 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate (or, agave nectar)
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 3 cups frozen blackberries


  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate (or, agave nectar)
  • 2/3 cup skim milk
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10-inch ovenproof skillet or springform pan with vegetable oil spray.
  2. For the fruit:  In a small saucepan, bring the fruit juice concentrate and oil to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan. Immediately arrange the blackberries in the pan in a single layer. Work quickly, as the syrup will harden rapidly. Place in the freezer while preparing the batter. (This will keep the fruit from floating to the top of the batter while baking.)
  3. For the cake:  In a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer at high speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the fruit juice concentrate, beating until stiff peaks form. Reduce the speed to low and add the milk, oil and vanilla, mixing until well combined.
  4. In another medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt until combined. Add to the liquid ingredients and whisk until smooth. Remove the pan from the freezer and pour the batter over the fruit.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on a cake rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the skillet or springform to loosen the cake. Invert onto a serving plate. Let stand for 5 minutes so that the cake can absorb the juices. Remove the skillet of release the sides of the spring form and carefully lift off the bottom. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

16 responses to “happy, happy day

  1. Oh, this looks fantastic, Andrea! (And I definitely would’ve done a camera-bound dance at the sight of just-ripened blackberries too!) Did you use the agave nectar or the fruit juice concentrate?

  2. Kristin – Thank you! I used the fruit juice concentrate, but I know it is hard for people to find. I use FruitSweet brand, which I get from a natural foods store here in Cville. It can also be found online.

  3. I feel your pain – we rent at the moment so don’t have an established garden (just herbs in large pots). We’re looking to buy a place, and I’m just hoping we find one and are settled in time to plant a garden (I’m in the Southern hemisphere so have a bit of time yet before spring).
    That cake looks delicious – unfortunately berries are nearly impossible to grow in our climate!

  4. I always have cake for breakfast the day after my birthday, when there are frosted leftovers lying around. But this sounds like a saner and more regular way for me to get that morning-cake fix. 🙂

    Best of luck with the whole moving process; I know how drawn-out it can be. But there’s no doubt that your next garden will flourish!

  5. Wow, those berry plants look gorgeous. I think we’re opposites here because although we planted a big garden, I’ve been quite sad I haven’t planted any berry bushes. If we were closer we could trade!

  6. It’s a bit hard to feel sorry for you when you have free bountiful summer berries, and I’m currently ensconced in winter , plus blackberries and reaspberries cost $10 a punnet here even when they *are* in season.

    However, I’ll do my best to put on a sympathetic expression 😛 You’ll have a garden again before long, I’m sure – this is just a temporary glitch!

  7. So jealous of those wonderful berries! I can’t imagine not having to buy them by the $5 pint 🙂

    Maybe your next house (once you figure out your move) will have spae for an even bigger and better garden!

  8. Those blackberries look like precious jewels. I admit I buy mine from the grocery store or farmers market. But you’ve inspired me to try growing my own now. Wow, how wonderful it would be to pick my own from my own backyard.

  9. I truly adore your photography. I love the clean and rustic images. I also love upside-down fruit cake. I will try to make this soon.

  10. This looks incredible. I’m so jealous that you get to bake with berries from your own garden.

  11. GORGEOUS photos. Wow.

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  14. Lovely cake – sweet story! The last time I had the pleasure of picking fresh blackberries was on a friend’s farm in Switzerland. I made a delicious syrup out of them which I took home on the plane with me. Today I’m enjoying some squares made with fresh coconut that I got from a palm in the yard – such a joy. 🙂 Here’s hoping you score many more berries!

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  16. That looks like an amazing cake to serve at a brunch or afternoon tea. I am dying to try it out. I am not so much a fan of agave so I like the fruit juice concentrate idea.

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