Saturday, August 18, 2007

Blackberry Bliss

Summer fruits in season are more demanding than a two-year-old. (Come here! Pick me up! I wanna go home! Do something with me!) The difference is that complying with the demands of two-year-olds might spoil them. With summer fruits, not complying definitely will. Duty calls, and instinctively, I respond.
This week it is blackberries that have intruded on my plans. Eventually, I’ll get to the grilled beet, goat cheese, and corn pizza intended for this post, the discussion of the Trinity (if you’re not from Rhode Island, you’ll just have to look it up), of giant sea scallops or grass-fed beef, all of which have been put aside with the arrival of—berries. Such topics can wait: fruit cannot.
The local blackberries are huge, nearly as big as the ollaliberries of my California jam-making dreamin’. Perhaps because they are local and picked at peak perfection—not a hint of red or purple remains—, they are sweet and soft, without the big hard core and sour edge that commercial blackberries sometimes have. I often prefer my blackberries in jam or pie, but these are really wonderful, worth freezing some (by the same method as for blueberries; do it quickly because blackberries readily develop mold) and good enough to simply eat out-of-hand.
Still, after a few popped into the mouth my thoughts, triggered by their taste, leap ahead to tomorrow’s breakfast, and the possibility of these huge blackberries in a preserve on an English muffin, or of a warm, saucy blackberry cobbler. Of, in other words, decadent self-indulgence, the reward for complying with screams of “pick me up!” I pick them up. I do something with them. Everyone’s happy.
Blackberry Preserves
Like lobsters, blackberries were once considered beneath the notice of all except poor country people, and recipes for preserving blackberries are scarce in old cookbooks, a historical fact that has passed on, genealogically, to all except the most recent modern versions. Yet they are great for jam-making. Remember, when making jams with ripe local fruit, cooking times are likely to be much less than printed in cookbook recipes based on store fruit, so start testing your gel after 5 minutes.
4 cups blackberries
3 cups sugar
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
Toss ingredients in a bowl and let sit for a couple of hours if you have time; overnight on the counter is fine, but if so, add the lemon in the morning. Put into a large open pan, bring to a boil, and cook, stirring occasionally and skimming as needed, being careful to remove only the true sugar residue. When set to your liking, remove any remaining foam, give the preserves a good stir to distribute the fruit, and ladle into glass jars. Wipe the rims of the jars and seal. This batch took 8 minutes to reach the soft, spreadable gel that I prefer. Makes about 1 ½ pts.

Blackberry Roly-Poly Slices
This is suitable for a crowd that likes sweet things for breakfast. The large amount of syrup is partly absorbed into the dough as it cooks, enriching it and making a delicious sauce for spooning over the slices. Juicy sour cherries, peaches, or peaches and any sort of berry together, can be used as an alternative to blackberries alone.
1 ¾ cups sugar
¼ pure maple syrup
2 cups water
1 tea vanilla
pinch salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups a-p flour
2 tea baking powder
½ tea salt
½ cup lard or shortening
1/3 cup thick unhomogenized heavy cream, or whole milk
3 cups blackberries tossed with 1 tea flour, ½ tea each cinnamon and cardamom, and a dash of cloves
additional heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Make the syrup: combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat until it just begins to bubble and the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Make the roly-poly: Place the stick of butter into a 9x13 pan and put it into the oven to melt, being careful not to brown or burn. Set it aside.
In a medium bowl, place the dry ingredients. Cut in the lard or shortening roughly with a fork, until the mixture has largish, coarse crumbs. Add the cream or milk and blend with a fork just enough to incorporate flour; reach in and turn over gently a few times, pulling it together into a ball. Turn out onto a floured board and pat gently into a small rectangle, then roll, with a light touch, out to about 12 x 10 inches. Turn the spiced blackberries out onto the dough, spreading them in a line down the middle (alternatively, you can spread them evenly over the dough, which produces a different look when baked and is a bit easier to handle). Roll the dough up from the long side, tucking in any escaping blackberries and pushing the dough ends in lightly with your pin. If you have time, chill it for 10-15 minutes on a cookie sheet. With a floured bread knife, slice the roll into 12 slices, lift them with a dough scraper or spatula, and place cut-side up into the pan (reliquifying butter first if necessary). They will not fill the pan at this point, but will swell when baked. Pour the syrup around the slices and bake for 50-55 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack at least 15 minutes, then serve, spooning additional sauce onto the plates; a little cold heavy cream poured over helps balance the sweetness. This is nicest, I think, at the border between warm and room temperature (if too warm the sugar is too pronounced for my taste); it’s best fresh, but can be reheated if there are leftovers. If serving for dessert, garnish with vanilla or coffee ice cream.

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