Blackberry Season Arrives
Use the hard-to-pick tart berries in a Homestead grunt with peaches.
Homestead co-owner Elizabeth Sassen looks forward to picking blackberries with her kids.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
If peaches and strawberries are the good boys of summer fruit, then blackberries are the bad boys. They’re a little wild, a little prickly, and play hard to get.
Elizabeth Sassen, co-owner with her husband of Oakland’s Homestead, is well aware of the challenges and sweet rewards presented by blackberries. She grew up in a rural part of the Central Valley outside of Fresno on a property that included a wild blackberry bramble.
“It was such a pain to pick them,” she recalled. “The plant is very prickly, and also all the bugs love the berries as well, so you always had to watch out.”
The family would mount one or two big hauls of berries each summer before chopping back the plant, an invasive weed, in anticipation of it growing back with a vengeance.
Sassen described their flavor as “luscious,” particularly when they’re at peak season. Which they are in July, says Sandi McGinnis-Garcia of McGinnis Ranch, which grows cultivated blackberries among many other products at its 16-acre farm near Watsonville. She said the blackberry season generally lasts from June through November, but right around July 4 is usually when they’re coming in the heaviest.
So when you see them for sale then, buy some: Not only are they at peak flavor, they are cheaper because it’s high production season. And that’s important because the labor-intensive nature of harvesting blackberries means they tend to be pricier than other summer fruit.
“Blackberries are a little bit of a splurge, and so most people will have something specific in mind or save buying them for a special occasion,” she said.
Look for a deep purple-black color without a lot of red. They keep for about a week in the refrigerator — store them uncovered atop a paper towel in a Pyrex bowl — or freeze them to use in jams or pies year-round.
One of Sassen’s favorite uses is in a grunt, a simple cobbler that takes only minutes to put together. She mixes in peaches, whose smooth texture mitigates the seediness of the blackberries, and adds lemon juice to balance the fruits’ sweetness and preserve their flavor. For Homestead, she’ll source berries from farmers markets or roadside stands — or from her own backyard, which is home to a wild blackberry bramble and which (per family tradition) she fondly does battle every year.
Homestead’s Blackberry-Peach Grunt
1 pound raw peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 pound blackberries, picked through and washed
1 cup granulated sugar
juice of ½ lemon (give or take, depending on the sweetness of your other fruit)
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup, 2 tablespoons of heavy cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
.5 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon coarse sugar tossed with about 1 coin of candied ginger minced fine
Preheat still oven to 375-degrees F. Toss the fruit with the sugar and lemon and arrange in the baking pie pan. Dot with small pieces of butter. Set aside while you prepare the topping. For the topping, whip the cream to soft peaks. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and granulated sugar. Sift over the cream. Fold with a rubber spatula until just barely brought together so mixture is soft and crumbly.
Dollop the raw fruit filling with the topping batter. Sprinkle with the ginger sugar mixture. Place the pie pan on a sheet pan (the sheet pan will catch any drips that might bubble over). Place this kit into the oven and bake until golden brown and the dough is cooked through — about 30 minutes or so.