Blackberries are such jolly fruit, their tiny juice sacs begging for pearly whites to burst them into juice. The inky nectar is a seductive blend of deep sweet-tart flavors, the flesh that encases it a counterpoint of gentle crunch.
Both the color and taste are prized in beverages, desserts and jams. The vibrant flavors lend excitement to yogurt, mixed green salads or cooked grains, as well as game, pork and grilled tofu. They are a welcome addition to cheese platters and smoothies, fruit salads and cocktails.
The alluring taste and texture is beguiling, but keep in mind that these berries, bless their little hearts, have very impressive nutritional value. They are the most nutrient-dense fruit on the planet according to the Nutrient Balance Indicator, a trademarked analysis that illustrates nutrient density in fruits and vegetables.
Blackberries are concentrated sources of the phytochemical ellagic acid, which acts as a powerful antioxidant. Quercetin, one of the main antioxidant compounds in berries and especially prevalent in blackberries, protects against cancers. It also works best in combination with vitamin C, and blackberries coincidentally are higher in vitamin C than many other fruits.
And my oh-so-mature noggin appreciates that the compounds in blackberries and other berries have demonstrated a capability to reverse defects in memory, cognition and motor function, especially as connected with aging.
When buying: Look for berries that are fragrant without any mold or mushiness. Dark black color is best because purple or dark red may be a sign that they were not ripe when harvested (they don’t ripen once plucked from the vine). If packaged in a container, look at the pad underneath the berries; if it looks saturated with dark juice, choose another container. Or if berries stick together when container is tilted, it could be a sign that there is mold and deterioration. Store unwashed berries in single layer in shallow container; cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
They are perishable, so if not using within a 3 or 4 days, freeze them. To freeze, place in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet and freeze; once frozen, transfer to zipper-style plastic freezer bag – push out air, seal and return to freezer. Use frozen or defrosted berries in cooked dishes because there is a texture change when frozen and thawed.
Wash briefly with cold water just before using. Drain, then place on paper towels or clean kitchen cloth to absorb water.
Mixed Green Salad with Blackberries, Candied Walnuts and Feta
Yield: 6 servings
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
10 ounces mixed baby greens
2 to 3 cups fresh blackberries
5 ounces crumbled feta, see cook’s notes
1 cup candied walnuts or pecans, such as Emerald Glazed Walnuts
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional garnish: halved orange slices
Cook’s notes: If you prefer substitute crumbled blue cheese for the feta. Or use grated smoked Gouda cheese.
1. Prepare vinaigrette: Whisk vinegar, orange juice, and salt in small bowl or glass measuring cup with a handle. Add oil in a slow, whisking constantly. Stir in basil. Set aside.
2. Put mixed baby greens, blackberries, feta, and nuts in salad bowl. Stir vinaigrette and drizzle on salad. Gently toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide between salad plates and if desired, garnish with halved orange slices.
A financier is a petite French cake that is light, moist and not too sweet. The lovely flavor is derived from the addition of brown butter and almond flour. To make the flour, sliced almonds are ground with all-purpose flour in a food processor. Adding fresh blackberries makes them even more tempting.
Yield: 24 to 28
1/2 cup plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup (packed) sliced almonds
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar; additional for dusting
5 large egg whites
2 tablespoons honey
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
About 2 cups fresh blackberries, halved
Optional for serving: sweetened whipped cream or French vanilla ice cream
1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until browned bits begin to form. Continue to simmer, frequently scraping up browned bits at bottom of pan, until fragrant and dark brown but not burnt, 6 to 7 minutes. Scrape butter and all browned bits into a medium bowl. Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, process almonds and flour in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl; add 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and stir with whisk to combine. Add egg whites; mix until smooth with whisk. Stir in honey.
3. Fold browned butter into batter. (For make-ahead preparation, this batter can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated well-sealed.)
4. Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Coat mini muffin cups with nonstick spray. Pour 1 generous tablespoon batter into each prepared muffin cup. (To make this easier I use a 1-tablespoon ice-cream scoop that I fill to almost overflowing.) Top with 2 to 4 blackberry halves, bumpy side up. Bake until cakes are golden brown and just cooked through, 15 to 16 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. Dust cooled cakes with powdered sugar just before serving.
Source: adapted from Bon Appetit magazine
(I love this little dish. My mother gave it to my when I was ten. She purchased it when she and my father took a Canadian vacation. Yellow flowers were always her favorite.)