My vegetable garden is struggling this year. Peas and lettuce were late and now are bolting in the heat. The beans leapt out of the soil and have continued to stretch for the sun, battling the peas (which were supposed to be finished by the time the beans sprouted) and wrapping tendrils around the nearby tomatoes, instead of the poles provided.
The tomatoes, of course, are unhappy with the cold and rainy start to the season, and the wet conditions that have followed. I can only hope the tomatoes the plants are producing develop and ripen before the plant itself succumbs to wilt.
Zucchinis… well, there are blossoms. I’m not holding my breath.
However, nature has provided me with a bountiful harvest of blackberries this year. Where grass segues into brush and then into woods, blackberry bushes trim our backyard. Randomly admiring the view one day last week, I was stunned to realize that the bushes were heavy with ripe fruit. In just minutes, a pint container was brimming over, my finger tips were purple, and only one bramble was embedded in my thumb.
The berries, such a dark purple that they appear to be black, are a great source of vitamin C. According to The Farmers Almanac, blackberries “are very high in ellagic acid, which is an antioxidant that acts as a scavenger to help make potential cancer-causing chemicals inactive. Ellagic acid reduces the genetic damage caused by carcinogens like tobacco smoke and air pollution. They also contain other antioxidants that help lower cholesterol and ward off cardiovascular disease.”
All that, and they are delicious. I would never call blackberries sweet. But the tangy attack mellows swiftly on the tongue into a rich, full flavor. It is the taste of summer that rolls to the back of the mouth and down the throat.
It is difficult to restrain from eating them by the handfuls, as is. Once the initial excitement is overcome, any berries harvested can be put to good use in the kitchen. It doesn’t have to mean hours of cooking, straining, and jarring blackberry jam, although that is a popular option.
A small amount of light olive oil whisked into lightly crushed blackberries combined with a little orange juice, lemon rind, fresh thyme, basil, and chives makes a novel sauce for grilled swordfish. Liven it up with a bit of crushed red pepper, if desired, but don’t overwhelm the subtle berry flavor.
Who wouldn’t swoon over blackberry muffins in the morning? Would there be complaints about these scrumptious morsels stirred into yogurt or dumped by the handful onto a bowl of granola? Fill some sweet crepes with cottage cheese, roll them up, and top with blackberries drizzled with maple syrup or honey. Stir blackberries into pancake batter, then top with more fresh berries. I’m pretty sure there will be no whining.
A spinach salad dressed in a honey and lemon dressing practically begs for the addition of blackberries and a few toasted almonds.
Blackberry sorbet takes a little more forethought and attention, but can provide a remarkable summer dessert, as can a meringue cake layered with — you guessed it — fresh blackberries.
I do feel blessed that the natural world around me is provident. When hoeing is futile and weeds win out in my garden, I am buoyed up by a leisurely walk along the edge of the yard, harvesting the fruits of the season. It is proof to me that sometimes, man’s (or woman’s) interference is unnecessary.
Red Wine Blackberry Sorbet
1 C red wine, such as Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet or a blend
1/3 C honey
12 ounces blackberries, fresh or frozen
Whisk honey and wine together and place in small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer briskly until reduced to ¾ cup of liquid.
Chill for several hours.
Puree blackberries and strain to remove the tiny seed (unless you don’t mind the seeds getting stuck in your teeth.)
Place well-chilled wine and pureed blackberries in electric ice cream maker and process according to directions.
The result may be softer than when making ice cream. Scrape into a freezer-proof container and freeze for several hours, stirring occasionally.
Serve garnished with more fresh blackberries and sprigs of mint.
Whole Grain Blackberry Pancakes with Blackberry Syrup
Puree one cup of fresh blackberries and strain to remove seeds. Stir into 1 cup maple syrup (not pancake syrup) in a small saucepan.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until reduce to about 1 cup total. Set aside.
2 C whole wheat pastry flour
½ C old-fashioned oats
1 tsp ground flax
2 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
(optional: ½ C toasted almond slices)
Stir together thoroughly in medium bowl.
Add 1 heaping cup fresh blackberries, and toss gently.
In another bowl, whisk:
2 large eggs
2 Tb canola oil
1 ½ c unsweetened soy milk
½ c plain yogurt
½ c orange juice
¼ c honey
Combine wet and dry ingredients. Batter should fall easily from the spoon but not be runny.
Using a 1/3 cup measure, drop batter onto moderately hot (about 375 degrees) griddle. Cook until bubbles on surface begin to pop, then turn once.
Do not press down on pancake!
Continue cooking until steam no longer rises from pancake.
Serve hot with butter and blackberry syrup.
Makes about eight to ten pancakes.