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Say Farewell to Summer With a Blackberry Binge

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

 

blackberries

Photo Credit: iStock

In 2005, Oregon declared pears our official state fruit.

Wait, so blackberries aren’t the state fruit of Oregon? I want to know how many pear trees you find crowding backyards, vacant lots or along riverbanks across the state. Sure, blackberries are invasive as hell, but they offer up free sustenance for anyone and everyone. Power to the people.

I usually lure my friends into blackberry picking with promises of cobbler and ice cream, but really, a girl can (read: should) only eat so much cobbler.

As we enjoy the last few days of heat, we’re thinking outside the oven for non-traditional but delicious uses for these local black beauties. 

Pick and Choose

But first, proper picking technique. Wear solid, closed-toe footwear, long pants, and if you can bear it in this heat, a long-sleeved shirt. You will get snagged and torn at, but it’s the price to pay for all the free fruit you can eat.

Only select fat, all-black fruit. The easiest test of ripeness is simply to give the berry a light tug. When they are perfectly ripe, the berry will fall into your hand like the true offering that it is. Don’t pick any fruit close to the ground, as they are more likely to have dirt or urine from your neighbor’s Labrador on them.

If you’re too hot/busy/ADD to pick your own, buy local berries at the PSU farmer’s market. Trust your nose and eyes to select those that are plump, fresh and very fragrant. Containers with stains often hide squished, decayed or moldy berries.

Only wash berries right before you intend to use them, or they’ll turn to mush in the fridge (learned THAT one the hard way).  Store blackberries in a colander in the fridge so that cold air can circulate around them.

Berry Well 

At only 62 calories a cup, blackberries are a great deal all around. Their luscious dark blue color means the fruit is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and bioflavinoids, promoting healthy, youthful skin. Blackberry consumption also keeps the mind sharp and the memory clear. Blackberry juice is used to relieve labor pains and to regulate menstruation, as it helps blood to clot. 

1. Blackberry Barbecued Ribs

Turn fresh berries into a tangy sweet sauce for the meat lovers in your family. This barbecue sauce can be brushed onto chicken, tofu or shrimp kebabs, or even hearty strips of grilled zucchini and eggplant.

Blackberry cocktail

Photo Credit: iStock

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries (about 1 pint)
1/2 cup tomato ketchup
1/2 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger or to taste
1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
1 (4 to 5 pound) rack pork spareribs

Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mash and strain the blackberries through a sieve or food mill to remove the hard seeds. In a food processor, place blackberries, ketchup, brown sugar, ginger, hot sauce, and pepper; whirl until ingredients are pureed.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, add the prepared blackberry mixture and bring to a boil; boil 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.
Rinse ribs and pat dry. Trim and discard any excess fat. In a large pan, either barbecue or bake 40 minutes until well browned, turning ribs over at 20 minutes. Baste one side of ribs with 1/3 of prepared blackberry sauce; turn ribs sauce side down and cook 10 minutes or until sauce browns and forms a thick, sticky glaze. Baste top of ribs with 1/3 of blackberry sauce, turn over, and cook 10 more minutes or until sauce browns and forms a thick, sticky glaze.
Ribs are done when they are tender enough to easily pull the meat from the bones and the internal temperature registers 180 to 200 degrees F. on a meat thermometer. 
(Recipe adapted from Jim Bambach of Sheridan, Ore.) 

2. Spicy Pickled Blackberries 

We’ve all learned to pickle cucumbers, so why not berries? Fruit pickles are an elegant and creative accompaniment to prosciutto and cheese platters. 

Ingredients: 
8 black peppercorns
3 allspice berries
2 juniper berries
One 1/2-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 small bay leaf
2 cups red wine vinegar
2 cups water
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1 shallot, quartered lengthwise
1 sprig fresh thyme
16 ounces blackberries (enough to fill two 8 oz glass jars)

Preparation: With a mortar and pestle, crush the peppercorns with the allspice, juniper berries, ginger and bay leaf. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, shallot and thyme. Bring to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let the brine cool completely. Strain the brine and pour over blackberries in clean glass jars. Seal and refrigerate for at least 1 week before serving. Pickled blackberries will keep in the fridge for about 3 months. 

3. Blackberry Fruit Leather

Fruit leather is ridiculously easy to make and keeps forever. Great for lunches on the go, making your own fruit wraps means forgoing the inevitable corn syrup overdose you’d find in store bought brands. 

Ingredients:
4 cups fresh blackberries
4-5 tbsp honey 

Preparation: Blend the berries in a blender or food processor until liquidy. Strain out seeds or leave them in for added fiber. Add the honey one tablespoon at a time, tasting until it is sweet enough to your taste. Pour the liquid onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets into 3 wide puddles. Dry in the oven at 135° F for 4-6 hours. When they are done the fruit leather will be pliable, not gooey. It might be a little sticky, even when it's completely dry. Store in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic or in tupperware.

Berries are the perfect addition to almost any alcohol. Photo Credit: iStock

 

4. Blackberry Ice Cream

Ice cream is a timeless and memorable activity to make on a lazy summer day with the kids. It also might make one realize (ahem) how much cream actually goes into making this irreplaceable summer treat. However, you do need a food mill and an ice cream maker.

Ingredients: 

1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
4 cups fresh blackberries (will make 1 1/2 cups strained blackberry purée) 
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preparation: To make the blackberry puree, dump 4 cups washed berries into a food mill and puree. Set aside. Warm half-and-half and sugar in medium saucepan. Pour cream into large bowl and set mesh strainer over top. In separate medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks. Slowly pour warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into saucepan. Stir mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir. When mixture is thick enough to coat the spatula, pour custard through the strainer and stir into cream. Mix in the blackberry purée and lemon juice, then stir until cool over ice bath. Chill thoroughly in fridge and churn the ice cream (following the ice cream maker’s instructions) within 4 hours after making mixture. Makes 1 liter or a little over 2 pints.
(adapted from Raspberry Ice Cream in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

5. Blackberry Liqueur

Berries are full of two things: flavor and sugar, which means they are the perfect addition to almost any alcohol. Mash 2-3 cups blackberries and stuff into a clean glass bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with brandy, gin, or vodka and let infuse for at least 2-3 weeks. Taste at least once a week. When the flavor is as heady and sweet as you like, strain out the liquor through a cheesecloth into a new glass bottle. This infused liqueur will keep indefinitely. Make luscious purple cocktails on New Year’s Eve and raise a glass to your think ahead-ness. 
Try a blackberry gin and tonic with lime and cilantro or do as the French and spike your champagne with a pour of blackberry vodka (the traditional French liqueur is creme de cassis).

Si delicieux, si dangereux. 

Homepage Photo Credit: iStock 

 

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