Know your blackberries

  • By Sally Birks / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, August 7, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The Sunday Chef is on vacation, from work and from cooking. She asked a couple of close personal friends to fill in. Assistant Features editor Sally Birks has a cautionary tale about blackberries to share.

Whether you call them bumbles or brown betties, cobblers or crisps, trifles, tarts or slumps, or just plain pie, desserts made with local seasonal fruit make you feel very Northwest. You know, in harmony with the Earth. Very ecologically friendly. Very Gore-Tex.

That was my goal shortly after moving to this state a lot of years ago from the concrete canyons of Detroit. And my first opportunity to display my cohesiveness with my new Northwest neighbors came with my first dinner party – for the boss and his wife, also Midwest transplants.

I planned the menu carefully, edging toward things I that I knew how to make with confidence, but gleaned from the Northwest bounty: grilled salmon (OK, I had never made that before, since most of the salmon I saw in Michigan were shaped like croquettes. But hey, my husband is in charge of the grill. That’s his problem). Corn (on the grill again). Some sort of salad, easy enough.

And the piece de resistance, blackberry pie, using those delicious free berries that we’d lunched on while hiking up Big Four.

OK, blackberry pie, no wait, cobbler, even easier.

So I sent the kids off with buckets to pick the berries that seemed to be overtaking our subdivision. Enough for a pie, I said. Don’t eat them all.

Back they came, hours later, with blue tongues and barely enough berries. I washed those big glistening drupelets without tasting a one, though they were tempting, to save every smidgen for my cobbler. I shooed the berry snitchers out of the kitchen.

The dinner courses were going along swimmingly. The salmon came off the grill without sticking and shredding, the grilled-in-the-husk corn tasted just like those from the barbecues on the beach when I was a kid. Michiganders know corn. And the salad was … salad. Just fine.

After the main courses, we repaired to the deck with coffee and dishes of warm blackberry cobbler with gobs of creamy vanilla ice cream. Someone took a bite. The boss, I think. I’m afraid he broke a filling.

That’s when Mrs. Boss explained that there are two main varieties of blackberry that grow wild in Washington: Evergreen and Himalaya. One of them, obviously the kind we discovered along the trail, has a teeny tiny raspberrylike pit that you don’t even notice. The other has a rock the size of a pea in the center.

I still don’t know which variety is which, but I do sample before I bake now.

So here’s a good blackberry cobbler recipe. The nectarines, besides adding a piquant touch, will bulk up the fruit portion of the recipe if your pickers sample too many berries.

2/3-1cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

1tablespoon cornstarch

2-3nectarines, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3cups blackberries, picked over

1cup all-purpose flour

1teaspoon baking powder

1/2teaspoon salt

5tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

1/2cup milk

4tablespoons sliced almonds

Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl stir together sugar and cornstarch. Add fruit and combine well.

In another bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and add butter. Blend mixture until it resembles coarse meal and stir in milk, stirring until dough is just combined.

In a buttered 8-inch-square baking dish spread fruit mixture and drop dough onto it in mounds.

Sprinkle sugar over cobbler dough, then almonds and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes, or until top is golden.

Serve warm with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Makes 6 servings.

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, August 1994

Shopping list

To make dried cherry buttermilk scones, you will need:

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 egg

3 tablespoons brown sugar

21/4 cups flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries

Granulated sugar to sprinkle on top

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