Skip navigation
Ripe for innovation

Ripe for innovation

Summer mornings for Linda Fondulas mean taking a walk, with her cat on a leash, to forage for wild blackberries near her home in Killington, Vt. The berries go to her husband, Ted Fondulas, chef-owner of Hemmingway’s restaurant, and pastry chef Lucy Glod, to serve fresh, make into sorbets, or use in cocktails or desserts or as garnish.

Fondulas has been foraging for blackberries and other berries for the restaurant since the 1980s, but others nationwide have been joining in on the hunt lately. This year blackberries seem to hold a special allure.

Take a look at today’s culinary trends—local, seasonal, healthful, a little out of the ordinary but not too exotic—and it’s clear why the blackberry is the fruit of this summer.

This brother of the raspberry, stepbrother of the strawberry and cousin of the rose is finding its way into drinks, smoothies, sauces and desserts across the country. The high antioxidant content of blackberries makes them popular among the health conscious, and the wild varieties, in particular, can even inspire nostalgia.

“I always loved blackberries as a kid,” says Lou Lambert, who grew up in west Texas and owns restaurants in Austin and Fort Worth, including Lamberts Downtown BBQ in Austin, and Lambert’s Steak, Seafood and Whiskey in Fort Worth. “It was one of the few berries that grew in that climate.”

Traditionally local blackberries are cooked into cobblers and pies, he says.

“One of our best-selling desserts is blackberry fried pie with a little honey-buttermilk ice cream,” he says.

The fried pie is just blackberries and sugar folded into leftover pie dough like an empanada and deep-fried. It’s served with a vanilla-powdered sugar glaze.

But Lambert also uses the berries in sauces for game and fish.

For game he adds them to his barbecue sauce, an idea inspired by the Asian meat sauces he learned about when working at Postrio in San Francisco. For fish, he adds a bit of blackberry purée to the initial acid of a beurre blanc, and then he finishes it with lemon juice and whole blackberries.

“You impart some of the richness from the blackberries with the purée,” he says, “and if you add them at the end you get the textural difference and a little sweeter, fresher flavor.”

“With a fresh fish off the grill in summertime, it’s really great,” he adds, noting that the smoke of the grill gives the fish an earthiness that goes well with blackberries.

Cynthia Wong, pastry chef of Cakes and Ale restaurant in Decatur, Ga., uses the berries from a bramble in her backyard for a wild-blackberry brown-butter tart.

“The wild berries are a little bit bitter and almost astringent,” she says, “so they’re a good foil for the richness of the brown butter.”

She augments the wild berries with cultivated ones she buys from a vendor in North Carolina to make a blackberry soda, which she then makes into a float by adding chocolate ice cream.

Wong says the wild berries don’t have enough juice to make into soda, but their bitterness is agreeable, especially with the chocolate ice cream.

“They really do have a kind of wild flavor to them,” she says.

She adds sugar to the blackberries, purées them and strains them through a jelly bag. She mixes that with seltzer and adds house-made chocolate ice cream.

Cultivated blackberries are going to be arriving a bit late this year, says Kat McKenzie, marketing director of the Oregon Raspberry & Blackberry Commission. Oregon is the world’s leading producer of blackberries, says Janie Hibler, author of “The Berry Bible.”

The recent long winter and long, cold spring have resulted in slow ripening of the berries. Marionberries, the earliest variety of blackberry to ripen, usually are ready for harvest starting the first week in July, but this year they probably won’t be ready until mid-July, McKenzie says.

“The crop is doing very well,” she says, noting that this year’s harvest will be average to above average in volume.

They might be especially tasty this year, she adds, since the Pacific Northwest’s traditionally cool spring evenings slow the ripening of the berries and give them a chance to develop richer, sweeter flavors.

“They are going to be on the vine a little bit longer because of the cool spring,” McKenzie says, but she won’t really know how they are until they’re ripe.

Hibler points out, however, that about 90 percent of Oregon berries are frozen, and they’re bred to stand up well to freezing, making them available year-round.

Local pizza chain Hot Lips, which has five units in Portland, Ore., even bottles its own soda from the fruit. They also serve it on draft at the restaurants.

Owner David Yudkin says they put the whole fruit into a 200-gallon steam-jacketed kettle, heat it, add sugar and let it macerate. The juice is filtered and pumped into a mixing tank to have its brix and acidity adjusted with cane sugar and lemon juice. Then it goes into a carbonator, where carbon dioxide is dissolved into it.

Hot Lips uses Chester blackberries, which ripen later than other varieties, for the bottled soda. Since Chesters spend more time on the vine, they tend to be more flavorful.

Sometimes, for its draft soda, Hot Lips uses a new variety, released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1996, called the Triple Crown, which farmer Anthony Boutard says is “a complex cross with strong Arkansas ties, and unrelated to Chester.”

“The flavor reminds us of summer apples,” he says.

Elsewhere, 732-unit Jamba Juice released a blackberry smoothie, available through the summer. The drink actually contains blueberries and strawberries as well as blackberries, but the company decided to promote the more distinctive fruit.

Back in Texas, Jason Robinson, chef of the Inn at Dos Brisas, an hour outside Houston, uses a local wild-blackberry variety, called a dewberry, in many dishes. Robinson says they grow in abundance in the area, ripening in the spring and then again in the fall, though a late frost killed much of the spring berries this year, he says.

Still, he managed to make a dewberry-rhubarb compote to go with seared foie gras and Texas pecans. It was served with dewberry ice cream and veal-vanilla jus.

His pastry chef made a sort of purple cow, with house-made dewberry soda and ice cream. She also makes lemon chiboust cake with dewberry gastrique, dark-chocolate dewberry ice cream and dewberry muffins.

In Denver, at Panzano restaurant, chef Elise Wiggins augments blackberries’ intrinsic earthiness by adding herbs to them.

“Blackberries are wonderful by themselves,” she says, “but for a sauce you have to add some sugar, and herbs have a way of brightening and lightening the sauce.”

She slowly heats blackberries with brown sugar and then adds leftover basil stems and lets it steep for an hour. She removes the stems, purées the sauce, strains it and serves it with a cannoli for dessert.

This summer she’s planning to serve blackberry-rosemary jam with duck confit.

The principle is the same, except she doesn’t strain it, and she steeps the rosemary stalk off of the heat so she doesn’t extract too much tannin.— [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.