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Cooking with fresh blackberries in sweet and savory dishes

The summers of childhood in the 1950s and '60s meant blackberry picking followed by tasty dishes filled with the juicy, black fruit. I hold treasured memories of those berry-picking days in western North Carolina and still love the taste of blackberries, now touted for nutritional qualities.

Blackberry is a popular flavor in food from ice cream to yogurt, and recipes range from salmon with blackberry glaze to cream cheese blackberry muffins. Blackberry cobbler is always sure to please.

Cultivated blackberries are now ripening in the Tampa Bay area. For a few weeks, I've kept watch on BlueYouth Berry Farm in Odessa. Carleen Gunter owns the place across the road from where she grew up long before blackberries were grown in neat, even rows, pruned and without the menacing thorns of wild ones.

Carleen's varieties, with American Indian names like Quachita and Natchez, were hybridized at the University of Arkansas. In 1964, professor James Moore began the blackberry cultivation program there that crossed thorny and thornless varieties. Without genetic modifications, these varieties produced the sturdy producers that grow at BlueYouth.

It doesn't take long to fill a bucket with the large blackberries at BlueYouth. While I'm picking, my thoughts drift back to a time when I often met trouble when sent out in the pasture with my tin pail to gather wild blackberries near Franklin, N.C.

Surely, one of my grandma's motives was to keep me busy while she and mom tended the garden or were busy preserving foods for winter. I often took liberties from berry-picking especially when I could find Old Jerse, our cow. I'd milk her for the sheer joy of doing it, then slurp down the rich, sweet milk from my blackberry pail while sitting on a rock in the sunshine.

My sister, the rule follower, would hightail it straight to the house to tattle. Grandma was gentle about things; Mom was more direct with a few swats on my hindside as a reminder NOT to milk Old Jerse midday even if she was gentle as a family dog and tolerant of my 5-year-old ways. Back I'd go to the pasture to my original chore with the usual words of warning to watch out for snakes that might be curled in the shade of the bushes.

In addition to the blackberry-picking hazard of the briar's sharp thorns that dug at tender young skin, there were also ticks and chiggers — also called "red bugs" — members of the mite family that bite in their larval stage and, for several days, cause intense itching from small, raised bumps.

On the plus side, once the berries were picked, delicious dishes followed, including favorites in the southern Appalachian region — cobblers, cakes and a sauce that was regionally called "larrup." Deep into the winter months, the snap of a Mason jar lid meant a breakfast of blackberry jelly scooped onto hot biscuits dripping with butter.

During the days of the Great Depression, blackberries, to many in the southern Appalachians, meant survival when jobs and food were in great shortage. Historians have noted that many mountain folks, in dire situations, survived on blackberries and wild greens during those tough years.

Nutritionally, a cup of blackberries has about 62 calories. They're a good source of fiber, as well as vitamin C, vitamin K and folic acid.

As if taste was not reason enough to enjoy blackberries.

>>EASY

Salmon With Blackberry Ginger Glaze

1 cup water

1 ½ cups blackberries

1 (1-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into coins

Juice from ½ lemon

¼ cup sugar

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 (8-ounce) skinless salmon fillets; thaw if frozen

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine water, blackberries, ginger and lemon juice. Over medium heat, bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until berries are tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl, using spoon to press blackberries through or use food mill to lightly grind. Return mixture to pan, add sugar and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until reduced to half, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat and cool.

Use nonstick foil or brush a baking sheet lightly with olive oil. Place salmon fillets on pan, brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brush cooled blackberry mixture over salmon and bake 4 to 5 minutes. Brush again with blackberry mixture. Turn oven to broil and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes.

Serves 4.

Source: Sunny Anderson,

Food Network

>>MODERATE

Blackberry, Turkey and Wild Rice Salad

¾ cup fresh blackberries

3 cups whole-grain brown and wild rice, cooked

1 ½ cups cubed cooked turkey

1 cup thinly sliced celery

¾ cup thinly sliced radishes

cup glazed walnuts, coarsely chopped

For the dressing:

cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Stir first six ingredients together. In separate bowl, whisk dressing ingredients and stir in just enough dressing to moisten the salad. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Driscolls.com

>>MODERATE

Blackberry Cobbler

1 cup of self-rising flour

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of milk (almond or soy milk can be used)

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

2 cups lightly sugared blackberries (see note)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish. Mix the first four ingredients and whisk until thoroughly mixed. Pour into baking dish. Spoon fruit evenly over top of batter. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. While baking, fruit sinks and batter stays on top to make a rich brown topping.

Note: This recipe can be made with a variety or mixture of fruits, including fresh sliced and sugared peaches, drained canned peaches, strawberries or blueberries; a great cobbler can be had by using a bag of frozen mixed berries.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Driscolls.com

>>EASY

Larrup (Blackberry Sauce)

4 to 5 cups blackberries

1/2 cup water

¼ cup cornstarch or cup flour

1 cup sugar

Place berries and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Mix cornstarch and sugar and add to berries. Continue to boil gently for 5 to 10 minutes until thickened. Serve hot to the table and spoon over fresh-baked hot, split and buttered biscuits.

Makes 2 to 3 cups.

Source: Gail Diederich

>>MODERATE

Blackberry Cream Cheese Muffins

cup (5 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

cup butter, softened

1 ½ cups sugar

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 large egg whites

1 large egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup low-fat buttermilk

¼ cup ground flax seeds (optional)

2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries

¼ cup finely chopped roasted pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine cream cheese and butter in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add vanilla, egg whites and egg. Beat well.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in separate bowl. With mixer on low speed, add, in alternating batches, the flour mixture and buttermilk to the cream cheese mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in ground flax if using. Gently fold in blackberries and nuts.

Spoon batter into foil cup liners in 2 (12-cup) muffin tins. Bake for 25 minutes or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 24 muffins.

Source: Adapted from Raspberry Cream Cheese Muffins from myrecipes.com

>>MODERATE

Blackberry Jam Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

3 cups flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 heaping teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ cups buttermilk

1 cup blackberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat well.

Mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg together in separate bowl.

In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in buttermilk and add alternately with dry ingredients to the sugar/egg mixture. Incorporate well between additions. Stir in jam. Bake in a greased 11- by 17-inch sheet pan for 30 minutes.

Serves at least 12.

Source: Mountain Cooking, recipes collected by John Parris, columnist and feature writer for the Asheville Citizen-Times, 1978

>>IF YOU GO

BlueYouth Berry Farm

Blackberries should be ready for picking now and prices will start at $8 per pound at the Odessa farm at 8201 Cosme Road, just east of Gunn Highway and south of Mobley Road. It's about 3 miles north of Citrus Park mall. To receive notices by email about when berries are ripe, as

well as picking days and times, visit

blueyouthberries.com.

For other pick-your-own opportunities in the Tampa Bay area, go to pickyourown.org. Always call ahead because weather conditions can affect days and times.

Cooking with fresh blackberries in sweet and savory dishes 05/12/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014 7:55pm]

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