When my friend Pat Hackney called last week and said she was bringing me a bucket of blackberries, I was excited, but my mind immediately traveled back to my first best friend and picking wild blackberries in a vacant lot behind his house.
We were only 4 or 5, but we were inseparable. He lived next door and we spent our summer days together. Sitting atop the pink mimosa tree in his front yard watching cars go by in the small town of Hazlehurst was about our favorite thing to do. We didn’t get to go inside and watch TV, and we didn’t even know about video games back then, so we entertained ourselves outside playing games and exploring things like the funny-looking moss that grew under Grandma’s old house, which had a huge area where we could crawl underneath.
I’m not sure we were supposed to be in the vacant lot; it was pretty overgrown, but we couldn’t resist the berries, in spite of all the thorns. We learned how to search for the big, plump berries that were a little soft because we knew they were the sweetest. We would leave the lot with black-blue stained hands and scratches on our ankles and arms. It didn’t matter; we would go right back the next day.
The wild blackberries aren’t as plentiful as they were back then. Maybe we’ve built too many buildings, or maybe we’ve killed them off trying to contain undergrowth. I have spotted a few vines with the not-ripe red berries growing on the edge of the woods behind our house, but the birds usually get them before I do.
Thankfully, the great people at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens have come to the rescue. No more getting tangled up in thorny bushes in overgrown areas trying to find a perfectly ripe berry! They’re all planted in neat rows with plenty of room between them for you to walk and pick your berries. Thanks to Pat, who graciously picked and brought me a bucket full, I can attest to their excellent quality. I’m ashamed to even admit how many I ate before I got them home that day.
When Pat delivered the berries, she also shared her mother-in-law Nell's cobbler with me. I couldn’t wait to get home and make it. We make cobblers at the restaurant all the time by baking our fruit in a batter. Pat’s recipe is more like what I call “Yankee Cobbler” because it has drops of dough on top of it. I was curious to see how it measured up to our cobblers. I was ready not to like it, and I didn’t — I loved it! The combination of the sugar, cinnamon and allspice dough with the juices of the blackberries bubbling up over the edges was just divine. You have to try it!
Jo Ann Morrison was also gracious enough to share her Crisp Topping for Cobblers/Crisp. You can use this instead of the dough topping on any fruit cobbler/crisp recipe. Jo Ann added the note that she often doubles or triples the crisp and freezes it to throw together a quick dessert.
After all the eating and baking — I had dessert before dinner — I used the berries to make a Blackberry-Basil Simple Syrup. I adore the flavors of fruit and herbs. Blackberries pair well with sage, basil and mint, all of which I had in my front garden bed, but I chose basil for this batch. The simple syrup can be added to lemonade, tea or even drizzled over ice cream or yogurt. It will hold in the refrigerator for a month, maybe longer.
I used it to make a Blackberry Bramble, which Steve and I enjoyed on the back porch while he grilled the Blackberry Vinaigrette marinated chicken breasts for the salad we had for dinner. I reasoned that if you start the meal with dessert, you should finish it with a salad!
Below are the delicious recipes we enjoyed, so head on over to the Gardens to pick your own blackberries and enjoy. They’ll only be available for another few weeks, so don’t dillydally! Be sure to go early to get the best selection.
Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie’s Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to www.sophiesmarketplace.com.
Nell’s Fruit Cobbler
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ½ teaspoon allspice
• 4 cups fruit (blueberries, apples, peaches, cherries, etc.)
• 1 stick butter, softened
1. Mix ½ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and spices together and toss with fruit lightly.
2. Pour fruit mixture into a buttered 8x8-inch baking dish.
3. Mix softened butter and ½ cup sugar together, then blend with 1 cup flour.
4. Form dough into round patties or lightly roll and cut biscuit-size circles. Dough is very soft.
5. Place patties of dough on top of fruit. Bake at 350 F about one hour, or until the fruit is bubbly and the topping golden brown.
Jo Ann’s Crisp Topping for Cobblers/Crisps
• ½ cup flour
• ½ cup butter
• ½ cup oatmeal
• ½ cup brown sugar
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ¾ teaspoon nutmeg
• ½ cup nuts
1. Cut butter into flour until it is coarse, resembling large peas. Stir in all the remaining ingredients.
2. Place fruit filling of your choice into ramekins or casserole dish. For ramekins, use about ¼ to 1/3 cup of topping.
3. Bake at 375 F about 30 minutes, until the fruit is bubbly and the topping golden brown. Can be served with vanilla ice cream on top.
Blackberry Grilled-Chicken Salad
• 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
• Salad greens of your choice
• Avocado, sliced
• Red onions, sliced
• Crumbled feta or blue cheese
1. Marinate chicken breast in half of the Blackberry Vinaigrette (see recipe) for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Remove chicken from marinade and discard the marinade.
2. Grill chicken on medium coals until thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 165 F. Remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice into strips.
2. Assemble salad ingredients and top with chicken. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette.
• ½ cup blackberries
• 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil
• 2 tablespoons honey
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 1 teaspoon soy sauce
• 1 large clove garlic, minced
• Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients well.
This is my version of a bramble. An actual bramble cocktail has blackberry liquor, but I used St. Germaine, an elderflower liquor, in its place. Serves 2.
• 4 ounces gin
• 1 ounce St. Germaine
• 1 ounce lemon juice
• 2 ounces Blackberry-Basil Simple Syrup (see recipe)
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker and shake to blend. Fill two Old Fashion (10-ounce) glasses with crushed ice and divide mixture between the two. Garnish with blackberries.
Blackberry-Basil Simple Syrup
Great for a flavoring tea and water, drizzled on ice cream or yogurt. Makes a great bramble, too!
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water
• 1 ½ cups blackberries
• ½ cup fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
1. Coarsely chop basil. Add basil and remaining ingredients to a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let mixture simmer until sugar has dissolved and berries are tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Remove pan from heat and let cool completely. Strain into jar with a lid, making sure to squeeze any excess juice from the blackberries and basil.
3. Store in refrigerator.