Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blackberry winter

Blackberry Doobie with Lemon Ginger Ice Cream by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Spring comes early in Georgia, and like the best dinner guest, knows when to leave. We can spend Easter afternoon in flip-flops and shorts and Mother’s Day poolside, but every now and then we get a taste of what the old-timers call blackberry winter, a cold snap just as the wild blackberries come into fruit. Blackberry winter is in contrast to Indian summer, the warmish spell in autumn. The chilly temps are said to sweeten the ripening berries.

Evening temperatures usually hover in the 50s in late April, rising to the 60s in May, just enough chill in the air to make you grab a sweater before leaving for work in the morning. Every now and then the white witch of winter will sweep her frosty gaze across the land in May, and we scurry to locate sweatshirts and long pants and only recently forgotten socks. In addition to the wardrobe change, blackberry winter can put a hurting on tender annuals and other blooming glories of spring, like azaleas and rhododendrons, turning their vibrant blooms to brown mush.

Blackberries by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Blackberry winter visited us last week, two nights of temps in the upper 30s, which meant making a place inside for the herb seedlings I’d left in pots on the porch. Down went a bathmat by the front door, and I placed upon it pots of chives, basil (both sweet and purple ruffle), Italian parsley, rosemary and thyme. (I will consider myself a true gardening success if I can get the thyme and rosemary to grow – both plants can put up with the suffocating heat of July and August in north Georgia, but I need to get them through a frosty May first.)

Blackberry, the plant, and I are old friends. I don’t have the barefoot memories of picking berries as a youngster, but since we cleared the land for our house, I know a lot about the thorny vines. We pull on our long pants and long sleeves and gingerly approach the fearsome plants, more afraid of the chiggers, (some call them red bugs), than the skin-piercing thorns. My granddaddy used to dust his ankles with stinky sulfur powder to keep the chiggers away when he went hiking. On our scrubby, woodsy acres, we’ve pursued the wild blackberries, pulling them up by the roots, until they’re nearly gone. To be honest, I don’t miss the tiny, seedy berries, and I certainly don’t miss the thorns and red bugs. I do, however, like to pick a couple pints of fat blackberries from the market and make Bellwether’s blackberry doobie, an old-fashioned stewed fruit dessert with buttery dumplings that soak up the sweet, tart berry juice. I serve this bubbling fruit stew with frosty lemon ginger ice cream – a month of weather extremes reflected in dessert.

Bellwether's Blackberry Doobie with Lemon Ginger Ice Cream by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books

Bellwether’s Blackberry Doobie
Bellwether Vance is a wonderful, witty writer and cook on the Florida Gulf Coast. Her stories appear on Open Salon every couple of weeks and I look forward to her posts as much as I do my children's artwork (that is to say, very, very much - they are treasures). This is her Blackberry Doobie recipe taught to her by her grandmother.

For the blackberry broth:

2 (12 oz.) packages fresh blackberries

Water to cover

½ cup of sugar (or more, depending on the sweetness of the blackberries)

Juice of ½ lemon

1. Place the berries in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover the blackberries. Stir in the other ingredients. Simmer over medium heat for fifteen minutes - tasting and adjusting the sweetness and acidity along the way. Set aside to steep and cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Strain using a fine-mesh strainer, and return the strained juice to the saucepan. Heat to a low boil.

For the dumplings:

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

½ cup buttermilk (whole, if you can find it)

1. Combine the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. Add the buttermilk, kneading it into a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and press out to ¼-inch thickness. Using a knife, cut into strips that measure about 1 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches long.

2. Drop the dumplings, one at a time, into the bubbling broth. Once all the dumplings are in, lower the heat slightly and let it simmer at a slow bubble for 10-12 minutes, stirring gently every few minutes. Remove from the heat and let it sit for at least 20 minutes to cool and thicken. Serve warm with a scoop of lemon-ginger ice cream.

Lemon-Ginger Ice Cream

3 lemons, zested and juiced

2/3 cup sugar

4 cups half-and-half, divided

5 egg yolks, whites saved for another purpose (angel food cake!)

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 2-inch slices crystallized ginger, finely diced, divided

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 cup of half-and-half, the sugar, the lemon zest and ½ of the chopped, crystallized ginger. Stir with a whisk until sugar is dissolved and let it come to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool for at least15 minutes.

2. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thick and lemony in color. Slowly add the half-and-half mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats a spoon. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl.

3. Add ½ cup of lemon juice, the vanilla, and the remaining chopped, crystallized ginger to the strained custard, whisking until combined. Add 3 cups half-and-half, whisking again. Pour mixture into ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Store in airtight container in freezer.

Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.


Linda said...

Lucy, this is lovely and evocative writing. You brought back my memories of childhood blueberry picking and the shocking violet of blackberries in my parents' garden dropping onto our concrete patio. What a scrumptious looking dessert, one I will definitely try.

Lucy said...

Lucy...this post was beautiful. Very nice writing.

lucy@acookandherbooks said...

Lucy, thank you for reading! Blackberry winter is just a memory now, isn't it?