Well, it is the first day of July and the farmers markets are in full swing here in North Carolina. Last Friday I picked up a basket of the biggest, sweetest blackberries that you have ever seen. In, A Skillet Full, a Cookbook of Traditional Southern Lodge Cast Iron Recipes and Memories, 87 year old Bertha Russell Gonce is quoted as saying, "We have blackberries growing beside the fence in front of our house. We pick them in July, but we have to watch out for ticks, chiggers and snakes." I guess that I got off easy because all I had to do was pull over at a roadside farm stand outside of Boone, NC to find these beauties. You will find Miss Bertha's recipe for Blackberry Cobbler below.
Blackberries, the fruit and the bush, are known as brambles in parts of the UK. Brambles are actually thorny plants in the genus Rubus, in the rose family, and not surprisingly raspberries and boysenberries belong to the same group. So I'm calling this a Bramble Custard because 1) it sounds charming and 2) you can certainly make these with raspberries or any other berry in season for that matter. Above you will see that I have made them it little 2 1/2 ounce ramekins...a great size for a light dessert. See photo below for a larger version, about 1/2 cup, which had to be cooked about 10 minutes longer. I adapted this recipe from one in Petite Sweets, by Beatrice Ojakangas.
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 cups fresh berries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fine lemon zest
1 teaspoon corn starch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Have ramekins available. This made 16 servings in my little white ramekins and 7 in the larger green ones.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the ricotta and mix until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla, sugar, and cream and mix until combined.
Spoon the batter into the ramekins and place them in a large rimmed baking sheet and place the sheet on the oven rack. Carefully pour enough hot water in the baking sheet, around the ramekins, to reach about halfway up the sides. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until set. The tops will not have browned at all. Remove ramekins from the water bath and set aside to cool slightly, then refrigerate until chilled through.
To make the fruit glaze and topping: Place 1 cup berries in a saucepan with the water, sugar and lemon zest and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes while you occasionally stir and mash the berries to release all of their juices. Remove from heat and strain the berry mixture to remove the pulp and seeds. Wipe any remaining seeds out of the saucepan and return the now smooth berry sauce to heat gently. Stir in cornstarch mixture and stir for a minute or two until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the remaining blackberries. Set aside to cool. (note: you can make a sauce like this from any type of berry and you can adjust the amounts of water, sugar, and cornstarch as needed, based on the size and sweetness of your berries and on the berry/sauce ratio that you prefer. It's a flexible process.)
Top the chilled custards with berries and sauce and either serve right away or refrigerate until needed. You can make the custards the day before you need them if you like and cover them, refrigerated. The berry sauce can also be made ahead of time and kept covered at room temperature but I would wait until you are within a few hours of serving to top the custards.
Blackberry Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Pecans
Andrew Swallow, of Mixt Greens restaurant in San Francisco, is the creator of this beautiful recipe. He calls it "Berry" (using strawberries and blackberries) and has published it in the Spring section of his new book, Mixt Salads. Perhaps in California, good blackberries can be found year round but for me this is pure summer. In any case, it is a genius combination of flavors. (The changes I made to this recipe were very slight, except for one, which I won't describe because I think it must have been a typo in the original.)
2 cups pecans
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme leaves
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup canola oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces mixed greens
1 pint blackberries
2 teaspoons of fresh mint, finely slivered
2 teaspoons of fresh basil, finely slivered
4 tablespoons goat cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a bowl, toss together the pecans, sugar, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper and 1 tablespoon water. Spread this mixture on a sheet pan and bake for about 10 minutes, or until just toasted. Watch carefully.
For the dressing: Combine the vinegar, shallot, mustard, thyme, and honey in a blender. Slowly add the oil in a stream and blend until emulsified Season with salt and pepper.
For the salad: Gently toss together the greens, blackberries, mint, basil, and pecans with dressing and serve with a tablespoon of the goat cheese. Makes 4 servings.
Here is Miss Bertha's cobbler, as mentioned at the start of this post. Note that the topping does not form a crumbly crust but rather sinks into the cobbler. While this may not be the the most beautiful of desserts, it is mighty fine served just barely warm with a couple of scoops of premium vanilla ice cream.
1 1/4 cups flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, plus 3 tablespoons
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups fresh, unsweetened blackberries
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine 1 cup of flour, baking powder , and salt, Set aside, in a mixing bowl, beat together 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and beat. Combine milk and vanilla and add with dry ingredients to the butter mixture, Pour into a greased 2 quart casserole. Spoon the berries over the batter. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour. cinnamon, and 3 tablespoons butter. Mix until crumbly. Sprinkle over the berries. Bake for 30-35 minutes.