Ripe for the pickin'

In Season

August 08, 2007|By Bill Heard | Bill Heard,Tribune Media Services

As summer wanes and fall is still a promise, we make our annual exploratory trip to check on what we like to think of as our secret blackberry patch. (Actually it's not that secret, since we have permission from the landowner to pick.) We inspect every outcropping of canes, pinching the knobby fruit and nibbling an occasional berry to gauge ripeness.

Lucky for blackberry lovers, this succulent and prolific fruit can be found throughout North America.

Blackberries aren't ready for picking until late summer or autumn, depending to a great degree on region. Under cultivation, blackberry plants (members of the rose family) may produce for up to 15 years, yielding between 5,000 and 10,000 pounds of berries per acre.

Blackberries are among the top 20 foods recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as having the most antioxidants. Varieties of commercially grown blackberries that are considered to be among the best are the Kiowa, Brazos, Rosborough and Chickasaw.

Bill Heard writes for Tribune Media Services.

BLACK AND BLUE COMPOTE MAKES ABOUT 4 1 / 2 CUPS

3 cups blackberries

3 cups blueberries

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water (divided use)

11 / 2 cups brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1 / 2 cup light corn syrup

1 / 4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch

fresh lemon juice

Place blackberries, blueberries and 1 cup cold water in a heavy saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until berries are softened slightly, 5 to 10 minutes.

Uncover and add brown and white sugars, corn syrup and salt. Return mixture to a boil. Meanwhile, in a cup or small bowl, stir together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water until smooth. Add this mixture to saucepan, stirring. Simmer until compote has lightly thickened and berries are tender, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat. When compote has cooled slightly, add lemon juice to taste. Serve warm or cold; it's perfect poured over waffles, pancakes, ice cream, yogurt or custard.

Per tablespoon: 41 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 11 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 11 milligrams sodium

From "From the Farmers' Market" by Richard Sax

TIPS FOR USING BLACKBERRIES

BUYING

If you're selecting commercially grown blackberries, look for deep, rich color.

The black raspberry is often mistaken for the blackberry. The two could be twins, but they aren't. The black raspberry has a unique taste that's not like either the blackberry or the raspberry. Black raspberries taste good and also contain powerful antioxidants that are being evaluated for potential benefits in the treatment of cancer.

STORING

Blackberries spoil quickly, so if you plan to eat them fresh, don't wait long because they're 85 percent water. And don't wash them until you're ready to eat or cook them. Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker, recommends storing ripe berries covered in the refrigerator.

COOKING

Use in pies and cobblers or to make jam or juice. When straining a blackberry puree to remove seeds, use a food sieve with an extra-fine screen size if possible, the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission recommends. If your food sieve has a larger screen size, try inserting a double layer of cheesecloth.

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