At first, I didn’t know what to write about, and then I thought about the blackberries my mom is growing in her backyard. Since blackberries are ripening as I write, I decided to use them as my topic.
In the U.S., blackberries typically peak during June in the south, and in July in the North. Crops are ready at various times of the month depending on the part of the state.
The blackberry is a thorny, caning (meaning that it grows in long canes) shrub, and the berries are rounded clusters, sharing a common attachment to the stem. These in turn, grow in clusters that turn from light green, to deep purple, to black, ripening in mid-to-late summer into a wonderful, juicy, round berry – provided the birds don’t beat you to them.
Low in fat, blackberries have many health benefits: they are among the top ranked antioxidant-rich fruits, and contain high levels of fiber, manganese, copper, and vitamin C with only 61 calories and two grams of protein per cup. Blackberries are also a good source of vitamins A (as beta-carotene), B5, C, E, K, and folate. One cup of blackberries provides 4 percent of the RDA (recommended daily value) of calcium and 7 percent of the RDA of zinc.
A phytochemical in blackberries, cyandin-3-glucoside, may help fight cancer, as it has been shown to possess both chemo preventive and chemotherapeutic activity. The lignans (phytoestrogens) in blackberries may help postmenopausal women survive breast cancer. Studies suggest that those with a higher phytoestrogen intake have a higher breast cancer survival rate than those who have a lower intake.
Blackberries are considered an astringent because of their high tannin content. Tannins tighten tissue, lessen bleeding, and help alleviate diarrhea and intestinal inflammation. German health officials recommend blackberries for mild infections, including sore throats and mouth irritations, maybe because blackberries are a natural source of salicylate, an active substance found in aspirin.
Storage: Blackberries are extremely perishable, turning soft, mushy, and moldy within 24 hours. Once home with the berries, check the fruit carefully. Immediately serve the soft, overripe berries and discard any smashed or moldy ones. It’s best to spread the berries on a shallow plate and cover with paper towels, then with plastic wrap. They will keep for about two days.
Although blackberries are highly perishable when fresh, they freeze well. Place the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer them to a heavy plastic bag, seal tight (pressing out all of the air) label, and date. They will keep for six months.
Grilled Blackberry Chicken Salad
1⁄2 cup raspberry or balsamic vinegar
1⁄4 cup sieved blackberry jam
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Mixed salad greens
1 pint blackberries
1 1⁄2 oz. crumbled feta cheese
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1⁄2 cup snipped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine vinegar, jam, mustard, and sugar, and blend vigorously until smooth. Pour half the dressing over chicken in a shallow dish. (Reserve remaining dressing for salad.) Turn chicken to coat evenly. Refrigerate 30 minutes to one hour. Light outdoor grill. Grill chicken until done; transfer to cutting board; let stand for five minutes before cutting into thin slices. Mix greens with reserved dressing and divide among plates. Sprinkle with berries. Top with chicken, pecans, cheese, and chives. Season with salt and pepper.
Ultimate Blackberry Cobbler
8 cups blackberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca
2 tablespoons lime juice
Pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter
Combine all filling ingredients in bowl, tossing to blend; spoon into a two quart baking dish. In another bowl, combine all topping ingredients except egg and, using fingers, knead butter into mixture until it resembles coarse sand. Blend in egg, then arrange over the berry mixture, covering them evenly. Bake 40-50 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool about one hour, allowing sauce to thicken.
This is one of my favorite smoothies:
2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
1 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup honey
1 large ripe banana
Combine all ingredients in a blender; process until smooth. If desired, strain blackberry smoothie through a sieve; discard seeds.
Kay Bona is a staff writer for the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.