Friday, 19 July 2024

The Veggie Girl: Blackberries

Lake County blackberries captured in their natural glory near Lower Lake, Calif., by Marilyn Miller.


I was surprised to find that the blackberry was declared the official state fruit in both Alabama and Kentucky in 2004, a rather odd coincidence. When I think of blackberries, however, my own California childhood comes to mind.

There are more than 375 species of blackberries, and in the U.S. they’re most prevalent in eastern states and those that border the Pacific. They also grow abundantly in the British Isles and throughout Western Europe, but are known through most of the temperate and tropical world.

Though an ancient fruit, they’ve not been cultivated long within the scope of human history, probably because of their abundance in the wild. It’s theorized that the advent of agriculture made these berries even more prevalent because of the clearing of forests.

As urbanization increased, wild blackberries became less available to city dwellers, thus fueling an effort from the late 1860s forward, especially in the U.S., to find strains of wild blackberries that would do well in the garden.

Cultivated blackberries today are not that much different from their wild ancestors, except for the size of the berry, which is larger. However, when I think of blackberries, the wild brambles along roadsides and creeks that offer picking for all are what come to mind.

I spent many a summer day with friends getting my fill of these sweet berries, with plenty of scratches on my arms from the prickly brambles to show for it. They were the perfect fruit in those days: free and prolific, not to mention the joy of adventurous trekking to find the perfect picking spot.

What I didn’t realize then was just how much nutrition is packed into these little black jewels.

Blackberries are ranked fourth highest among all fruits and vegetables in antioxidant-richness; however, they’re the second highest in actual chemical effectiveness in preventing oxidation in cells.

In addition, this humble berry contains the highest LDL cholesterol inhibitor, and some tests indicate that it can reduce buildup of this undesirable cholesterol.

They’re also a fantastic source of immune-boosting vitamin C, skin-supporting and heart-protecting vitamin E, folate (known as folic acid within the B vitamin complex), manganese and fiber.

Blackberries are rich in salicylate and its leaves and roots are full of tannic acid, both of which are natural analgesics. They were prescribed by the ancient Greeks for gout and by Native Americans to relieve stomach ailments.

The recipe I offer today is a clafouti (pronounced kla-foo-TEE) made with blackberries. Clafouti, a cake with a comforting pudding-like consistency, originated in the Limousin region of central France. There it’s traditionally made with cherries.

When blackberries are not in season, the frozen variety may be used. Or you may wish to substitute other fruit, such as plums, peaches, sliced apples, other berries or the traditional cherry. All fruit should be pitted, and a similarly-flavored brandy may be substituted for the blackberry brandy in this recipe.

If you have a favorite picking spot, now is the time to collect these healthy little gems, as they’re in the height of their season. Enjoy the hunt, and be sure to wear long sleeves and pants to avoid those nasty scratches!

Blackberry clafouti

Butter for the pan (approximately a tablespoon)

4 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 tablespoon blackberry brandy (if unavailable, unflavored brandy may be substituted)

1 teaspoon lemon zest (the grated rind of lemon without the white pith)

1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups milk

3 cups fresh blackberries (or more, up to four cups)

Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an oven-proof dish, deep dish pie plate or cast-iron pan with a depth of at least 1 ½ inches.

Place eggs, 3/4 cup sugar, brandy, lemon zest, lemon juice, flour and milk in a blender and puree until smooth, or beat vigorously with a whisk.

In a mixing bowl, toss the blackberries with the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Place three-quarters of the blackberries and their juices in the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the batter over the fruit, and arrange the remaining berries on top.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is brown and a knife inserted into the middle of the dish comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool for five minutes before serving. The cake will sink slightly.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar over the top with a sieve. Serve the blackberry clafouti warm. Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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