It's the peak of the summer berry season, and the blackberries you find in the grocery store or farm stand are big, robust and tempting. This is the best time to buy the fruit that you may remember plucking from vines as you trolled the countryside, back when there was a countryside.
Today, blackberries are grown worldwide and show up all year round. But not all blackberries are created equal. The sweetness you expect is often missing, and the blackberries' bitter taste makes you regret buying them. Don't despair. Help is just a few tablespoons of added sweetness away.
Blackberry or Black Raspberry?
If your plastic box contains berries that are round, hairy and can be squashed easily, meaning they have a hollow center, they're not blackberries, but instead black raspberries. Blackberries have a green or white core that's apparent when you look at their tops.
Both berries provide antioxidant properties, but the blackberries tend toward tartness and need a punch of sweet to keep lips from puckering.
When to Buy Blackberries
Granted, those shiny, firm bulbs of blackberries look appetizing – but more than likely, they were harvested too early. They'll taste tart. Look for a blackberry that's plump, soft and dull black. This means they've aged on the vine and their sweetness is tucked away inside.
You'll find them toward the end of summer and on farm stands. Commercial growers don't have the luxury of time and sun to wait for the berries to fully ripen.
Making Blackberries Sweet
Once the blackberries have been harvested, the natural sweeteners that sun and water give are taken away. You have to create you own formula for enhancing nature in order to turn your bounty into a sweet harvest. "Just a spoonful of sugar" is more than a song lyric – it's one ingredient that help create the memorable taste of the blackberry.
Surround Blackberries With Love
Blackberries alone need the help of their surroundings to turn from tart to sweet. Macerating them with sugar, honey or even a sweet liquor adds the sweetness component. Put them into a bowl; add the sweetener, stir, and let them sit on the countertop and absorb. They'll become a bit watery, but that's the sweet sauce your berries love to swim in.
Baking Helps Transform Blackberries
If you're making muffins, a cake, a crumble or cobbler, the dry ingredients surrounding the berries add the sweetening and hot temperature they need to turn from tart to sweet. A chef's note when using any heavy fruit, or even nuts, when baking is to toss them in a bag of flour before adding them to the batter. This prevents the berries from falling to the bottom as they bake.
Decorating with Blackberries
A custard tart garnished with a topping of blackberries and mint leaves is a vision to be savored. Just before serving, and when the tart is totally cooled, sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top. The blackberries take on a snowy appearance, and the sugar adds to their sweetness.
Sauces with a blackberry base decorate roast duck and ribs, and deliciously top a round of brie.
Make a Compote
There's nothing more heartwarming than a sugary, thick fruit compote poured over a bowl of rich vanilla ice cream. Blackberries are a good candidate to add to your mixture of summer fruit. All they need is a helping of sugar, water and occasional smashing with a wooden spoon to open them up and release their juices. Boil them down until they turn thick, but be mindful of overheating and burning. A dash of a favorite dessert wine or liquor adds to the happiness.
But Are Blackberries Healthy?
Smoothies and seltzers using blackberries are on the menu if you want a healthy substitute for milkshakes and sodas. Loaded with fiber, manganese and vitamins C and K, blackberries are also known for their antioxidant properties. So drink your martini with muddled blackberries, and toast to your good health.
- Bon Appetit: How to Fix that Carton of Sour, Sad Berries You Impulse-Bought
- Martha Stewart: Sweetened Summer Berries
- Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association: Grow Your Own Blackberries
- Food 52: Blackberries and Sweet and Savory Ways to Use Them
- Taste of Home: You Never Realized the Difference Between These Two Fruits