Blackberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Serves Up Southern Tradition with Style
NASHVILLE, Tenn.If you grew up in the South—and especially if you grew up in the rural South—you know that stretch of summer from the Fourth of July until the middle of August as blackberry season.
A generation ago, even suburban dwellers likely still had a relative with a farm, the kind with old fence rows, steep banks, or overgrown pastures brimming with blackberry briars. Filling buckets with blackberries involved a kind of warfare: thorny canes dangled bright black berries in front of any who dared brave the chiggers, weeds, sun and of course inevitable scratches. Broad brimmed-hats, long sleeves and pants, tucked-in shirts and sturdy boots were not enough to ensure berry-pickers would leave the patch unscathed. Once home with buckets of berries, however, traditional favorites like jams and cobblers made a berry picker’s efforts worthwhile.
Things have changed. Many people no longer have access to wild blackberry patches. Fortunately, says Tammy Algood, food expert and spokesperson for the statewide Pick Tennessee Products campaign, Tennesseans have new options both for getting their hands on those berries and for enjoying them once they’ve been procured.
“There are pick-your-own, or ‘U-pick’, farms in your area—as close as Grandpa’s farm used to be—and farmers markets, too, where you can find all the berries you need,” says Algood, “and they’ll be a lot easier to get than they were out there in the fence rows. Pick-your-own farms offer blackberry canes—often thornless ones—in neat, mowed rows where they’re a delight to pick. At the farmers market, somebody has already picked them for you!”
“This year, honor the traditional foray for fresh blackberries with a trip to a farm or market, and then try my Blackberry Cheesecake Ice Cream to reward yourself. There’s more than one way to pick blackberries, and there’s more to do with blackberries than limit yourself to jams and cobblers, too. This ice cream recipe will satisfy that need for summer traditions—it is blackberry, and it is ice cream—but don’t limit tasting this treat to times when you’re using paper bowls, sitting on the back porch in your gardening shorts. This tangy dessert is so elegant you could serve it at your nicest dinner party.”
“Pick Tennessee Products” is the promotional campaign developed by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Market Development Division to help consumers identify and choose Tennessee food products. Algood creates recipes featuring products grown or processed in Tennessee. Her recipes are featured on the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Web site at www.picktnproducts.org.
Blackberries were enjoyed by the ancient Greeks, who believed them to be a cure for diseases of the mouth and throat, as well as a preventative against many ailments, including gout. The blackberry leaf was also used as an early hair dye, recommended by a famous English herbalist to be boiled in a lye solution in order to “maketh the hair black.”
Here in the Southern U.S, blackberry tea was said to be a cure for dysentery during the Civil War. During outbreaks of dysentery, temporary truces were declared to allow both Union and Confederate soldiers to “go blackberrying,” foraging for blackberries to ward off the disease.
Today, research indicates that berries contain antioxidants, which help counteract the effects of cancer-causing free radicals.
“There are two types of blackberries to know about: thorny– the wild variety– and thornless or domestic canes,” says Algood. “Obviously, the thornless are easier to pick, but some people claim the thorny varieties have a brighter, more complicated and bigger flavor.” Blackberries typically are sold by the pound. A quart equals 1 1/2 pounds of fresh berries.
“Be careful not to over-purchase,” says Algood, “as blackberries quickly mold when left at room temperature, and only last a few days in the refrigerator. Berries should not be washed until they are about to be prepared; washing makes them more prone to spoil. You can easily freeze berries that you cannot use right away.
“After washing and allowing them to dry, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer until hard. Then, you can put the berries into a bag or other container, label them and keep them in the freezer. This way, they’ll pour like marbles from the freezer container instead of forming a frozen block!” Algood also reminds users of frozen berries that berries do not have to be thawed before using; use straight from the freezer.
“Always call before you go to the farm, “ says Algood, “and try to plan a morning visit, not just to avoid the heat, but because a large turnout can pick a field clean or empty a market stall before noon.”
“If you use your own containers, remember that heaping blackberries more than 5 inches deep will bruise the lower berries,” says the food expert. “Plastic dishpans, metal oven pans with 3” tall sides and large pots are good choices.”
To maximize enjoyment of the experience, especially if berry picking is a family outing, Algood reminds pickers to “Bring something to drink and a few snacks; you’d be surprised how you can work up a thirst and appetite! And don’t forget hats and sunscreen. Bugs usually aren’t a problem, but some insect repellent might be good to bring along if it has been rainy.”
A ripe blackberry is deep black with a plump, full feel. It will pull free from the plant with barely a tug. Like strawberries, blackberries do not ripen at all after picking, so pick only berries that are fully black and ripe. Don’t overfill containers or try to pack the berries down, and the berries will hold up nicely during picking, says Algood. Avoid placing the picked berries in the sunlight any longer than necessary. It is better to put them in the shade of a tree or shed than in the car trunk or on the car seat. Cool them as soon as possible after picking.
“This summer, you can still head down the path to the berry patch —not the one at Grandpa’s farm, perhaps, but one that will still assures you plenty of berries, treats and great traditional summertime memories.”
Find local pick-your-own blackberry farms, farmers markets, more recipes and more information about other Tennessee farm products at www.picktnproducts.org.