Friday, July 04, 2008

The Problem of the Bitter Berry

I am a recent convert to the cooking with fruit concept. For the longest time, I thought people to be quite batty when they would take perfectly good fresh-picked berries and run off to bake a pie. Honestly, it seemed quite wasteful. If I wander around picking blueberries, even if I come home with three bucketfuls, I will sit and eat them out of hand until I get sick. And sick I have gotten. Same goes for blackberries, which grow all over our property and which can stain one’s clothing beyond repair (as I’ve found when Little Miss Piggy stuffs them into her mouth with her less-than-coordinated fingers).

There are just very few pleasures in life that can compare to the flavor and texture of sun-warmed berries bursting in your mouth. And it is such a short-lived season that you don’t even have time to get sick of them before, poof, they’re gone.

Now don’t get me wrong. I plan to have too many berries someday. We have five blueberry bushes planted now, and I intend to add to our little orchard. If things go well, we shall be so inundated with berries that we’ll be able to freeze some for use in smoothies when the dark and dreary days of January arrive. But we are years away from that goal, and my little four-year-old gardener son can easily eat his weight in blueberries, so sharing is a bit of a problem.

I understand the appeal of fruit-based desserts, really I do. Cobblers and pies have their place in life, and it would be a rare day indeed for me to pass up one of these delicacies at a true Southern meat-and-three restaurant where the cobblers tend to be made with old family recipes. Hot, gooey fruit, covered with a crisp topping and then drowned in cold vanilla ice cream? Please. Pretty please.

But, see, given a choice of fresh-picked berries and a dessert baked from the same, I would choose the unadorned fruits every time. Maybe you’ve never tried produce that was picked moments ago. Those refrigerated fruits in the grocery store, picked days (or weeks) ago clear across the country (or the world) aren’t what I’m referring to. Those are not fresh. And they usually don’t even taste like real fruit. Peaches that taste like dry cotton, humongous strawberries with firm white insides, mealy blueberries, well, those just don’t count.

A week or so ago, I was flipping through my grandmother’s current issue of Southern Living when I ran across a very simple recipe for blackberry cobbler. After some histrionics on my part about nobody loving me when I could find neither pen nor paper, my usually oppositional little sister came through for me and I scribbled down the recipe and stuffed it into the nether regions of my giant bag.

The recipe seemed so ideal: local, seasonal fruit; idiot-proof baking instructions, a short list of ingredients. But I just couldn’t quite see past the stumbling block of having to waste perfectly good berries in a dish that would mask their true flavor. Then, last Saturday, The Carnivore and The Big Boy went traipsing through the woods and down the driveway and returned with a handful of the smallest, the tartest, most pathetic-looking blackberries I’ve ever seen. Apparently, two years of drought have taken their toll. I tried to keep my game face on, but the berries were bad. There was no sweet flavor, there was no juice dripping down my chin, there was no burst of plump skin. There was only tart, only bitter.

I have this one recalcitrant eyebrow that goes up when I'm mulling over an idea. It is an involuntary tic that I have very little control over and which has driven a few of my friends mad, and it shot up quickly over the problem of the bitter berries. “Can you go back and find four cups of these for me please?” I asked The Carnivore, trying vainly to hold the eyebrow down with my index finger. Without a single complaint, off they went, The Carnivore and The Big Boy, back to the thorns and the brambles, eager to help in the hopes that they would be rewarded with dessert.

I wasn’t sure it would even work, but it just seemed so logical. It makes sense to me that it was exactly for this problem that cobblers were invented in the first place. After all, what can you do with the most inedible berry harvest but add sugar to it and wrestle it into submission? Regardless, we were inundated with these miserable excuses for fruit and I couldn’t stand for them to go to waste. And that recipe was just lolling about in my bag…

But work, it did. The sugar tamed the tartness of the berries and created this perfect synergy of flavor. A little sweet, a little tart, with a crisp crust and just enough juice to muddle the color of the Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream that I topped it with. I loved it. The Carnivore loved it. The Big Boy wanted to swim in it. If I get my way, they’ll pick another four cups this weekend. And the one after that.


BLACKBERRY COBBLER (from Southern Living, serves 6)
  • 4 cups blackberries
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 6 Tbs melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Place blackberries in lightly greased 8-inch square baking pan.
  3. Sprinkle berries with lemon juice.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together the egg, sugar and flour until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  5. Sprinkle flour mixture over fruit.
  6. Drizzle melted butter over the flour topping.
  7. Bake for about 35 minutes, until topping is crisp and lightly browned.
  8. Serve hot.


Shari said...

I am so jealous, our blackberres are still blossoms.

Reverend Mom said...

I made this today, using frozen wild blueberries. It was a great hit. We served it warm with some ice cream on top. The frozen berries did require additional baking time, and it was delicious.

Sarah Beam said...

Glad to hear it, Reverend. Nothing like warm cobbler with ice cream to make the heart go pitter-pat.

Mama JJ said...


I picked blackberries on Sunday and immediately whipped up your cobbler. It was very yummy. I'll be posting about it in the near future...

Mama JJ