Thursday, July 10, 2014

That Taste of Wild Blackberries

Japanese beetles also enjoy wild blackberries

Lately, fresh juicy heirloom tomatoes seem to be everywhere.  Magazine covers, cooking shows, Instagram and Twitter posts.  Last night, I even dreamed I was picking tomatoes at my farm.  Alas, that was only a dream.  Heart & Sole tomatoes should be ripe in a week or two, but for now, I content myself with pruning plants and attempting to contain them in their cages.  After working in the hot sun for a few hours, I noticed the wild blackberry canes that edge our field held ripe berries and I decided to take a break.

Recently, Swiss company Firmenich proclaimed Blackberry to be the most popular flavor trend of 2014.  The largest privately-owned supplier of fragrance and flavor with a business presence in sixty-four countries, Firmenich bases its annual predictions upon consumer demand and popularity of flavor profiles.  Firmenich's announcement is no surprise to me.

Blackberries are one of my favorite fruits.  Although I will occasionally purchase a small box of hybrid berries, compared to their wild cousins, the taste never fails to disappoint.  If you have never picked wild blackberries, make plans now to do so.  Bramble scratches, stained hands and possible mosquito and chigger attacks should not deter one from enjoying this delicious and healthy treat.  Of course, if you are very lucky, you may find some wild berries at the local farmer's market and their unique flavor is worth a premium price.  As I child, I happily picked wild blackberries for my neighbor, who paid me the handsome sum of fifty cents per gallon. 

Before picking berries, always seek permission from property owners and be sure to dress appropriately.  Because blackberry briers grow in a tangle, it is often difficult to see the ground, so long pants are necessary to protect legs from scratches and possible lurking snakes.  Snakes do not eat blackberries, but they prey upon birds that do.  Wear tall boots or protective chaps or leggings and long-sleeved shirts to protect bare arms.

Harvest berries that are firm, but completely ripe
Long regarded as a natural folk remedy, ancient Greek physicians treated gout with blackberries and the leaves, roots and fruit have medicinal uses in many cultures.  Rich in tannins, blackberry leaves and dried roots were used to treat dysentery and other digestive issues in Native Americans and people have chewed blackberry leaves to cure gum ailments for thousands of years.  Fruit juice elicits a dark purple natural dye and both fruit and juice have high antioxidant levels.

Health benefits aside, wild blackberries are delicious.  Add to smoothies or juice them; blackberries have unique flavor and make beautiful jams and jellies.  A quick, easy way to preserve wild blackberries is to freeze them.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread berries in a single layer.  Place the pan in the freezer until berries are frozen and then store them in plastic bags.

Try this recipe for a special brunch treat.  Fresh wild blackberries are naturally sweet, so there is no need to add a lot of sugar, but if you have a sweet tooth, increase the sugar in the cream cheese mixture.

Pancakes Stuffed with Cream Cheese & Wild Blackberries

Yield: 2 large pancakes, may double or triple recipe.

In a small saucepan, simmer 1 cup wild blackberries and 2 tablespoons sugar until berries release juices and are soft, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In small bowl, mix 4 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Fold in 1/3 cup blackberries.  Set aside while you make the pancakes.

Stir together:
1 cup flour (I used King Arthur All Purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over high heat.  When pan is hot, add 1/2 the pancake batter.  Use a metal spoon to spread the batter so the cake will be fairly thin.  Cook over medium high heat until the bottom side is nicely browned.  Flip the cake and cook the other side.  Use a large spatula to press the cake to be sure it is cooked through.  Remove the cake to a plate and add remaining batter to cook the second pancake.

While cakes are hot, spread half the cream cheese mixture on one side of the pancake circle.  Roll the cake to form a log.  Spoon cooked berries and juice over the top.  Add fresh berries for garnish, if you like.  Optional: top with whipped cream or sprinkle with powdered sugar. 

Oh, and just in case you missed Firmenich's 2013 flavor trend, it was Lime.