Friday, August 27, 2010
Blackberries are in my blood.
The drill at my grandparents house was to suit up (long pants, long-sleeved flannel shirt, hair tucked under one of Grampa's hats, an old syrup tin bailed with a clothes hanger and belted across the chest. This was the only time I ever saw my grandmother wear pants... and then, under her dress!) then, climb in the back of the truck and drive back in the woods where Grampa knew the best berry patches.
The stories began of who logged the area, when, and for what. Stories of bears in the berries and how we should listen for them. Stories of epic berry patches in history. And then the picking started: we kids would be set to pick around the perimeter of the briar patch and the adults would walk right through into the thick of it. We filled bucket after bucket of berries 'hanging off the briars as big as your thumb'. We were covered in scratches from thorns despite the long legged and sleeved protection and we were dyed blackberry-purple wherever skin showed... especially around the mouth.
Hours later, buckets and bellies full, we hefted them into the truck and headed back to the kitchen. Grandma would 'look over' a bowlful and bring out the sugar and cream. We ate berries til our backs hurt; berries with ice cream, on cereal, in pannicakes, just plain and again with sugar and cream.
The real work began in the kitchen with Grandma looking over all the berries we picked and sorting them into berries for pie, jam, thick berries and just eating. Her nimble fingers picked out bugs, worms, leaves, odd bits, bad ones, and other inedibles. Then the putting up began. We rarely saw the whole process, done when we weren't under foot and Grandma could work her magic alone.
So, now I pick berries. Its in my blood... and soon in my belly. I have a thornless variety in my yard I got from my brother's patch, and I pick the ones at the edge of the neighbor's field. It's a small patch compared to the miles long ones of my childhood, but the briars still bite, the berries still stain and they still taste good with sugar and cream.
One recipe I've started using is Blackberry Sherbet. It's from an old recipe in Southern Living, 1999. I've modified it some, but you can find the original here.
4 cups of fresh blackberries (or however much you have or want to make)
1 1/2 cups sugar (it calls for 2, so adjust to your taste, and you can use honey, too)
1 to 2 cups of milk (or buttermilk, or cream, half and half...)
2 Tbls. lemon juice (this is only if you don't use buttermilk)
Mix the sugar with the berries, mash together and let it set room temp. for awhile to let the juices out (more than a half hour). Press the berries through a strainer... I used a little 3" diameter one but a bigger one would be nice. Be sure to press the pulp through, the back of a wooden spoon works well. You should have just seeds left with a little pulp. I mixed the milk into the seeds and strained that at this point, to get as much flavor out of the seeds as I could. It should be a beautiful purple now with the milk marbling into it as you mix it up well.
Pour this mixture into a 13"x9" pan; stainless or glass, and place it as flat as possible in the freezer. Set the timer for 2 hours. It should be fairly frozen and you can take a spatula and scrape it off the bottom of the pan and 'fluff' it around. Freeze again and scrape again. When you're ready to serve it, put the frozen mixture into the food processor and blend it til smooth. Serve at once!