It’s August and blackberry mania is open us! The first sign of it is when you pass a group of people with purple hands and clothing clustered together in an obscure rural location. Adults, teens and kids will be standing in ditches (barely out of the traffic pattern) and intently peering through towering thickets of fruit. Swinging their berry buckets, they risk life and limb as they reach around thorns and through spider webs to harvest the season’s first berries.
Wild blackberries are seasonally plentiful in Oregon and we all know the drill. Most of them are not native to the area. Most were brought in from Europe and are considered to be invasive weeds. Truly, the Himalayan and evergreen blackberry are pretty obnoxious plants. They have tall, thick and stiff canes that seem to grow 20-foot long lengths overnight. You can get whipped to death if you trip over them!
So unless you’re trying to discourage trespassers I don’t suggest that you try and cultivate “just a few berry vines” in your garden. It doesn’t work. Trust me. I tried. My husband (the master gardener) warned me but I didn’t listen. We had one year of a nice self-contained berry patch and about five out-of-control years trying to get rid of them. Never again!
Native blackberries are better behaved. The problem with the natives is that they are small, harder to find and harvest; quick to mold. Believe me, you do not want to ingest a moldy blackberry. So we all eat from whichever bushes are handy. Usually, its the non-native berries that are more prolific, have larger fruit and are better keepers.
We have a favorite ‘secret’ spot where we go in late August to pick berries and bring them home to gorge on. The Himalayans seem to be the most prevalent. Some go on cereal, others go into pies or cobblers, jams, cakes and muffins; most go into the freezer.
Here are a couple of hints about picking berries. First, try and be sure that you’re in a ‘no spray’ area. You don’t want to be eating pesticides. Then, wear sturdy shoes and long pants. I nearly had a heart attack one year when a snake slithered across my feet! I have even been known to carry a hoe so that I can grasp berry vines that would otherwise be out of my reach. Finally, only pick dark berries that slip easily off the stem. Red ones aren’t ripe. Squishy, dull ones are dead.
When you get the berries home, separate them into small batches and refrigerate as soon as possible. Do not wash until you’re ready to use them. If freezing, cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper, spread the berries in a single layer and freeze solid. Pack them in plastic bags or containers and use as needed.
Berries should be removed from the freezer an hour or so before using. Wild berries will need to be washed in a couple of changes of cold water. Remove the stem caps, drain and discard any that show signs of mold or decay. Drain well.
The following recipe looks a little tedious but it’s not. Be sure and read through it first so you’re prepared for the torte’s three layers: crust, berries and custard. It’s garnished with whipped cream and more berries. Delicious and best when served slightly warm. The second recipe is similar to the first but very fast and simple. Enjoy!
4 cups fresh blackberries, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Crust (recipe below)
Custard filling (recipe below)
Whipped Cream (recipe below)
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 Cup flour
1 large egg
(1) 9-inch springform pan, ungreased
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients; using a pastry blender cut in butter into small particles. Stir in egg until dough forms a ball. Press dough onto the bottom and 2-inches up the sides of the springform pan. Set aside.
4 egg yolks
2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
1/2 cup sugar
1-teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat the egg yolks slightly; add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth.
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whip cream until almost stiff in a chilled bowl. Slowly add sugar and vanilla. Beat until cream holds peaks. Refrigerate.
Put it all together:
Preheat oven to 325° F.
Lightly mix the blackberries, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl.
Place the blackberries over the prepared crust in a single layer. Reserve remaining berries in the refrigerator for garnish.
Carefully pour the custard over the blackberries in the pie shell.
Place in the oven on a cookie sheet lined with foil to catch any drips. Bake 60-90 min. or until center is almost set (test with a cake tester). Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Don’t worry when the center of torte falls. It’s supposed to!
To serve, remove sides of pan and place on a serving platter. Cover with whipped cream and remaining berries. Alternately, it can be cut into serving pieces and garnished individually. Serves 8 generously. Refrigerate leftovers.
1 cup sugar
1 8-ounce carton sour cream
3 tablespoons flour
4 cups fresh blackberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted
1 unbaked 9-inch pastry shell
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Combine first 4 ingredients; stir well. Place blackberries in unbaked pastry shell; sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar over berries. Spread sour cream mixture over berries. Combine breadcrumbs, sugar, and butter; sprinkle over top. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until center of pie is firm.