Chef, author, and "vegetable shaman" Steven Satterfield shares his appreciation for blackberries, how to tell them apart from raspberries, and a cold brining method to get the most out of them this summer.
Summer is all about berries for me. They are just bursting with color, juices, and flavor, they're sort of the jewel tones of the hot weather. All berries are filled with lots of vital nutrients, and those deep, dark colors are indicators of those nutrients. In particular for berries, it's the anthocyanins, which are really vital for vascular health, blood vessels and such.
Sometimes it can be a little tricky to decipher the difference between a blackberry and a raspberry, especially when you have a red blackberry or a black raspberry, but the best way to tell is by looking in the center. A raspberry is going to be hollow, and the rasp, the little core that holds it in place where it ripens, stays attached to the plant. On the contrary, the blackberry always has the rasp inside the blackberry, so it's going to have the soft white center that's completely edible, and it just comes off with the berry when it ripens.
I have a lot of recipes that I enjoy with berries. One of my favorites is the pickled blackberry, and what I do is make a pickling brine that is tailored to the flavor profile of blackberries. Rather than pouring a hot brine over the ingredient, which is often the case for making pickles, what I do is chill the brine down completely, and then strain the solids out of the brine, which are juniper berry, peppercorn, allspice, fresh ginger, shallots, and thyme, and it's a red wine vinegar and water solution.
Once the brine has taken on all the flavors, I pour the cool brine over the delicate berries in order to preserve their texture. If it was a hot brine, it would kind of cook them and break them apart, and it would get sort of mushy. I think this is one of those ways that you can really show off the berry. It also imparts a lot of flavor, and it's a cool way to treat them, because you're adding a little bit of savory with the salt, shallot, and peppercorn, and then a little bit of sweet with allspice and sugar. It's a nice balance.
I first made the pickled blackberries several summers ago. It was for a picnic fundraiser, and we had to show up with a jar of pickles as one of the things we were bringing as chefs. The one thing we had the most of was blackberries. We came up with the cold brine pickle, and I think they are really great as an accent as a picnic. If you're having a bite of several different things, it's just a bright, fresh bit of accent and sweetness.
They are really nice scattered over some blanched green beans, or some grilled pork. You can also use the resulting liquid after it has sat for a few days for some of that blackberry flavor. It's wonderful for glazing quail or chicken on the grill, or spooning into a cocktail, like with gin and soda and mint.