Before I planted blackberries in the garden, I used to go forage for them. They grow all over the place, tenaciously clinging to their chosen spot and taking over the neighborhood: the clump expands rapidly and any cane that touches the ground roots to produce yet another plant. They are ferocious too with long hard and sharp thorns that will draw blood as you gingerly try to pluck a berry. It takes quite a while to pick a gallon of wild blackberries
But not the plants I have: they are thornless with large and flavorful berries. Labels have – of course – been lost, but at least one of them (based on its behavior) is “Triple Crown”, the other might be “Apache” and “Navaho”. They are beautiful in bloom and mesmerizing in fruit. Last winter, I did not prune them. I mean, I meant to prune them, but it never happened. And that Triple Crown took full advantage of it, pushing itself over the timid raspberries, flinging its 10-ft long canes in the asparagus bed, and blocking all the paths around it. On the bright side, it’s producing lots of berries. Which for now need to be picked every other days, but soon, it’ll be every day.
And so I have to do something with them. Here are some ideas:
– the fastest: eat them. But there is only so many you can eat, right?
– so, next, the easiest: dump them in freezer bags and freeze. If you have room, that’s perfect. You can worry about them later, let’s say in January when there is no local fresh fruit to get excited about.
– Any cobbler recipe works for blackberries. Until recently, based on an unfortunate past experience, I was convinced that blackberries yielded seedy little blobs when baked and therefore would not made good cobblers. What was I thinking? Blackberries are delicious cooked! Cobbler is one of the easiest baking you can do: 10 minutes to assemble, 20-30 minutes in the oven, and the most enticing aroma of cooking blackberries fills the kitchen. I just did not realize that blackberries would taste so much better after they were cooked! I see a lot more baking using blackberries in the future
– Frozen desserts: while ice-cream and sorbet require some time to make (but not a whole lot of it), a mix of fresh & cooked blackberries in cooked and lightly sweetened blackberry puree really liven up apple sauce, yogurt – or if you want some luxury – barely whipped cream. Add some toasted oats, drizzle some real honey and you aren’t far from that classic Scot dessert, the cranacan (don’t forget a shot of bourbon).
– canning: because I have limited freezer space, and encourage by the blackberry cobbler, I am canning blackberries this year, with a tiny bit of sugar and using the low pasteurization method, i.e. a longer water-bath at 185-190 ° F, instead of a shorter boiling one. The berries keep their shape and color much better that way!
– jamming – I am making both jams (weight sugar is 80% of the weight of berries) & spreads & sauces (weight of sugar varies between 10 and 30% of the weight of berries)
– liquoring. I have a weakness for steeping fruit & botanicals in alcohol, but I wanted more than just blackberry liquor, where the fruit is steeped is strong alcohol. I adore creme de cassis, and wanted to see if you could make a creme de mures, with a similar unctuous quality. Yes, I can, and so I share what I did with you.
Creme de Blackberry
A sumptuous very sweet drink. Sip lightly.
While some of the alcohol evaporates, there is residual alcohol in the beverage, so serve it accordingly. Adding brandy further fortifies the drink and makes it less sweet. Use wisely.
Choose a pleasant drinking wine. Nothing fancy is required. In fact, I have been known to use left over wine from a party. A local red would be perfect, wouldn’t it?
- 2 quart perfectly ripe recently picked blackberries
- 1 bottle (750 m) red table wine
- brandy or rum (optional)
Pick through the berries. Wash gently if necessary. Put them in a 1/2 gallon glass jar, crushing them as you go. Then add the wine. It should totally cover the berries. if it does not, crush some more. Cover the jar with a clean towel.
Let rest a room temperature for 2 days. Pass the whole thing through the food mill, set up at the smallest-size mesh.
Measure the juice and pour in a non-reactive thick-bottomed pan. For every quart, add 3 slightly heaping cups of sugar (i.e for every liter, add 625 g of sugar). Gently bring to a low boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer (on bare simmer) for 5 minutes. Do not overcook, as you want a syrup, not a jelly!
Remove from heat and funnel into hot sterilized heat-proof bottles. Cap; let cool and refrigerate. Alternatively, for long term storage, funnel into warm heat-proof bottles, seal and process in a hot-water bath at 180-185 F (82-85 C) for 30 minutes – not hotter as you only want to pasteurize the creme, but not set the pectin in the fruit. Believe me: jelly in a bottle is no fun!