Obsessions can be a healthy thing. At least that's what I tell myself every time I get wrapped up into some new possibility, some new restaurant, some new wine... or some new food. I think it's fair to say that each summer I begin anew my obsessions with everything ripe and growing on trees, vines, bushes or compost. Thus my previous posts on cherries and berries (which you know I'm just obsessed with because free is the greatest price to pay for a job-seeking former intern).
Right now my obsession has been turned to the ripening August blackberries that fall heavily from every thorny vine on every sunlit side street around here. It's totally obscene, the amount of blackberries you can pick in half an hour. The bushes are full of them into September, but the best ones are found right now, the first berries to turn that deep shade of magenta-purple-almost-black. The first ones are the biggest, and to me they taste the best, if only because after 11 long months you've forgotten just how divinely, deeply sweet they are. I can go out and pick forever, my hands moving back and forth from vine to bowl, just grazing the sharpest thorns and leaving track marks on my right forearm, evidence of the addict that I truly am. My bowl mounds higher and higher, until I realize that I have a cramp in my left thumb holding the plastic bowl, and I snap out of my juicy berry reverie.
I realize, as I'm picking, that this is women's work. I'm gathering food as women have for thousands of years. The guys can have their spearsh and they can go chase their wooly mammoths for fun for all I care. But this? This comes naturally to me, and I get the impression that it certainly doesn't to Mark. I must have asked him ten times before if he'd like to go picking, but he always replies in the negative. Of course, when I arrive home, he can't keep his hands from the purple mass of sweetness in my big red plastic picking bowl.
Blackberries, ounce for ounce, must be one of the most medicinal and nutritionally-dense foods that are readily available to us. They get their deep purple color from phytochemicals called anthocyanidins. These are potent antioxidants - similar to those in red wine - that can calm inflammation in the body. They also contain ellagic acid, a compound which is believed to be cancer-fighting. They are also high in fiber due to their seeds, and we could all use a little more fiber... come on.
Blackberries and raspberries, as well as other wild berry varieties like salmonberries and thimbleberries, are all consider caneberries. They all have long, thorny stalks or canes. What is really interesting about caneberries is that each berry that we consider a single fruit is actually a composite of sometimes 100 or more tiny 'fruitlets' each with its own seed. So each tiny fruit is actually a hundred little stone fruits! So cool.
I had so many blackberries this past week from obsessively stalking new bushes in the neighborhood that I had to cook them all down. I don't know quite yet if I'll leave the fruit for jam, or turn the sweet stuff into a few pies... or maybe both. Right now there is about a gallon of black-purple goo sitting in the fridge, waiting for something exciting to happen to it. For now, my morning toast will be excitement enough. Or maybe I'll turn a spoonful into yogurt, over vanilla ice cream, or heaped into a banana smoothie.
Blackberry Jam, Sauce, or Pie Filling (a very loose recipe by Chrissy Weiss)
Get a bunch of blackberries, picked while meditating on how life can be compared to this fruitful exercise (the good ones are always out of reach, to get the sweet you have to deal with the thorns, you never know what's hiding under the next leaf, etc.)
Bring them home and wash them (or don't).
Stop your significant other (most likely male) from eating the whole bowl.
Put them in a big pot and very slowly bring to a boil.
Turn down the heat to simmer, and stir.
Reduce the berries by cooking off the excess liquid... maybe reduced by 1/4 in volume. This could take some time depending on the amount of berries you're cookin'.
Add honey. Really, use honey. I promise you'll wilt to the floor with the results. Blackberries and honey were made for each other. Sweeten it to taste. Start with 1/4 cup per 3-4 cups of sauce in the pan and go from there.
Once you're happy with the sweetness, use cornstarch, arrowroot powder, or pectin to thicken. Again, you'll have to play with the amount, depending on how viscous your sauce is to begin with. Just remember that it thickens up very well after cooling.
Now eat it with a spoon (or not) and feel good that you're eating your afternoon's work.