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Illinois hunting and fishing

Blackberries worth the ordeal

July 25, 2009 at 12:00 PM

SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER

Rock stars get their artfully torn jeans by starting slits with a razor blade and letting them fray in repeated washings.

The rest of us can get the same results simply by going berry picking in the summer.

Thorns from raspberry, blackberry and multiflora rose bushes tend to snag the jeans just above the knee – and the snags quickly grow into artful rips and tears.

Picking raspberries can be a walk in the park compared to blackberries that tend to grow up and in and around other vegetation. Sometimes, just reaching ripe berries can be an ordeal.

And the thorns are everywhere. Long sleeves are recommended.

Chances are blood will be drawn and ball caps snatched off heads by pesky thorns. The struggle, though, is worth it.

Blackberries are sought after mid-summer prizes that bake simply, but unforgettably into pies, cobber or stand alone on ice cream just fine.

And that’s a combination that can turn an ordinary cook into a rock star of the kitchen.

Chef Michael Higgins of Maldaner’s Restaurant in downtown Springfield is known for using locally grown – or found – ingredients whenever possible.

He’ll incorporate morel mushrooms in the spring. And now he’s using blackberries to top a dessert.

“We use them for our Savanna Cake. It is like angel cake folded into a white chocolate Grand Marnier mousse, and then we semi-freeze it and top with fresh berries, whipped cream and sliced almonds.”

But it doesn’t have to be complicated at all.

Higgins says blackberries need a bit of sugar and maybe a touch of flavoring.

“We don’t really cook them, just add a little bit of sugar — blackberries are really tart — and then we add maybe a splash of orange juice and a bit of raspberry puree,” he says. “If you cook them, they’ll fall apart.”

Blackberry pie is almost as simple. Standard recipes call for nothing more than a half-cup of flour and a half-cup of sugar poured over four cups of blackberries. The crust is the hardest part.

“The thing about making blackberry pie is getting the consistency right so it is not too runny, but not being overly set,” he says. “There is a fine line there.”

Sometimes a little flavor can add some punch.

“We’ll add a little bit of amaretto to blueberry cobblers or crisp, or a little blueberry brandy or kirsch,” Higgins says. “In our cherries that people pick around here, we add amaretto. In our raspberries, we will add a little bit of lemon zest; it gives them a little more flavor. For our blueberries, we’ll add orange juice.”

“It just gives them a little more depth.”

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