by Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
The ubiquitous blackberry. We curse them 10 months of the year but for a few glorious months they are exalted. Out we trudge to the berry patch, covered in our thickest clothes, armed with gloves and clippers to battle the bramble for the sweet, shinning berries of delight. Working in the golden light with hands and mouths stained purple, there is a peace that settles over one, that is until your flesh is ripped by a thorn. Yet the blackberries are worth it, yes, worth every single drop of blood.
Blackberries are not only delicious but also loaded with all kinds of goodness. They have high levels of antioxidants, which are what give berries their characteristic red, blue and black colors. Antioxidants are knights in red satin, protecting the heart and circulatory system, staving off mental decline and beating back the aging process. The darker the berry the higher concentration of antioxidants.
Berries are also loaded with that object we all seek, fiber. Those little pesky seeds are even good for us because concentrated in them are a number of polyphenols, such as ellagic acid, which have cancer-preventive effects. Other berry components include salicylic acid (used to make aspirin which can help prevent heart attacks and inflammation) vitamin C and folic acid.
Here are a few common sense tips to better your berry pleasure.
-To reap the most value from berries you should eat them whole, either fresh or frozen.
-Pick on a dry day after a dryish spell. Blackberries mold very fast.
–Pick the bright shiny looking ones. If they are over-ripe they start to lose their shine.
-Don’t pick near roads because of the pollutants from the vehicles which may affect the fruit and don’t pick on field or road margins where crops may have been sprayed with toxic chemicals.
-Cut an empty, gallon milk jug’s mouth off and leave the handle. String an old tie or strip of cloth the same length through the handle and tie it so that it is a loop. When you pick berries, hang the jug from your neck so that you have both hands free to fight off the thorns. (learned this trick from a blueberry farm in my youth)
-Don’t wash the berries until right before you use them and refrigerate them as fast as you can on a cookie sheet. They will squish each other if stacked.
There are many wonderful things to do with blackberries that aren’t sweet but let’s face it, I love me some blackberry cobbler! Here are a couple of recipes that are lightened up and made with healthy ingredients. The first recipe is for the gluten free crowd and is easy to throw together but dressy enough for company. Enjoy!
Beautiful, easy, delicious.
For the lemon mousse;
8 oz of cream cheese at room temp
3/4 cup of chilled whipping cream
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
Zest and juice of one lemon
Using your amazing electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of powdered sugar, lemon zest and juice till fluffy. In another bowl, but with the same yummy beaters, beat the whipping cream till it forms soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese concoction in 3 additions. Tuck in the fridge for at least an hour for the flavors to marry.
For the syrup
This is a smaller batch because it only last for a few days. Keep it in the freezer and if you aren’t going to use it right away.
3 soften (in hot water for 10 minutes) chopped fat pitted dates
2 Tablespoons of honey
Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 cups of fresh blackberries, washed and picked through
Blend dates and honey till in a fragrant paste. Add the blackberries to the blender until everything is pureed. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if needed. Strain the seeds out or not, depending on the texture you like. Use on everything.
The rest of the equation;
1-2 cups of fresh blackberries
Blackberry syrup of your choice
Toasted sliced almonds or Gingersnap cookies, crumbled (optional)
In a beautiful glass add in layers; a dob of the mousse, some blackberries, a few tablespoons of syrup and almonds or gingersnap crumbles. Continue to layer till the top of the glass and top with the syrup, blackberries and almonds (or gingersnaps). Everyone will “oh and ah” as they happily dive into these.
Blackberry Nectarine Cobbler
This lightened up cobbler is the bee’s knees! You can make this cobbler with all blackberries, or any berries for that matter, if you wish. Peaches can be substituted for the nectarines, just make sure and peel them. Zest your lemon before you juice it, way easier!
For the fruit
1/4 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
6 cups of sliced nectarines
6 cups of blackberries
1/4 cup of sugar
The juice from one lemon
For the pastry
2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of sugar
The zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
OR 1 teaspoon of ground dried ginger
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
5 tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups of lowfat buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly toss the peaches, sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl. Sprinkle the flour and a pinch of salt over the bunch of goodness, then fold in, gently inhaling the sweet scent of summer. Let it rest for 15 minutes while you make the topping, then fold in the blackberries and pour the mixture into a 13 x 9 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.
Meanwhile, bring out a medium bowl and combine the 2 cups of flour through the baking powder and stir well with a whisk. Drop the butter into the mix and stir again. Here’s the fun part. With (hopefully clean) hands, squish the butter into the flour mixture until you’ve got a crumbly coarse looking meal. (You can also use a pastry blender if you have one, or better yet a food processor, it’s just not so entertaining.) Add the buttermilk and stir till just moist. Plunk spoonful’s of the dough onto the fruit till it is reasonably covered, then sprinkle with some sugar. Bake for about 40 minutes till golden brown and bubbly. Enjoy the flavor of the season.