Food & Drink | July 2015

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Blackberry Summer

About five years ago, Jacquelyn Duke and her husband, David Achterhof, planted a couple of blackberry plants in the backyard of their Woodway home — two small plants. Today those plants have grown to be about 20 feet wide, and they’re so tall that Duke needs to use a ladder when she trims them.

The plants are the Brazos variety of blackberry, well-suited to the weather and soil of this area, explained Achterhof, a buyer at Caterpillar. The plants began producing after their second year in the ground, and output varies from year to year. This year’s harvest was a bountiful one.

“We did three batches of jelly. We gave away containers [of blackberries]. We made cobblers. We made blackberry mojitos. We picked several gallons,” Duke said. “They’re pretty tart, more tart than store-bought. There’s nothing like picking blackberries and just standing here and eating them.”

When the last batch was on the vines, the Duke-Achterhof family was in New Orleans, Lousiana, so they encouraged friends to come and pick berries so they wouldn’t go to waste.

“We never get tired of them,” Duke said. “We like to share with our neighbors and really try to give back.”

And Duke and Achterhof have plenty to share. In addition to blackberries, they’re growing several varieties of tomatoes, onions, okra, cucumbers, peaches and jalapeño peppers, along with basil, Thai basil, chocolate basil, sage, rosemary and mint. The family also has a coop with seven chickens, although the chickens usually wander around the yard, and the big red one — the curious one — actually gets to come inside the house. At one time they considered turning a rarely used hot tub into a tilapia pond.

“We figured out you have to have multiple tanks for tilapia. The big ones will eat the little ones. We could only grow about four in that hot tub,” Duke said, laughing.

She’s serious, however, about the family’s commitment to raising and growing much of their own food. That commitment extends to her job as a senior lecturer at Baylor University and riparian ecologist, studying the ecology of waterways along streams and riverbanks. The family also has a rain catchment system with two big barrels in the backyard. All the rainwater captured is used to water the plants.

“I think it’s just a more responsible way to live,” she said. “We grow a lot of our food where we can. I’m just passionate about it, about trying to be more ecological and grow my food locally. That’s why we share with our neighbors because we have neighbors who garden and produce things, and they share with us. Together, it builds community. Plus it keeps the neighbors happy when they have to listen to chickens.”

Duke and Achterhof have two children: J.D., a junior at Baylor majoring in environmental science; and Anjelica, a junior at Live Oak Classical School. Angelica’s gift to her teachers at the end of the school year was blackberry jelly, fresh from the family garden.

The Recipes

Salmon with Blackberry Creme Fraiche

  • 2 salmon pieces (about 6 ounces each, pinbones removed)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, halved and sliced into 1/8-inch half-moons
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 1 large handful blackberries
  • 1 small handful fresh tarragon, minced
  • Zest of 1/4 lemon
  • Salt and white pepper to taste

Cook the salmon in any gentle way (for example, steaming, poaching, oven roasting) until it is done to your liking. Don’t overcook.

While the salmon is cooking, in a skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the shallot along with a pinch of salt and cook until soft but not colored, for about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, add the wine and bring to a simmer until it reduces by two-thirds, for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the creme fraiche or sour cream and cook at a gentle simmer until it thickens and reduces by half. Add blackberries and let cook for a minute until they warm and soften, then add tarragon and lemon zest to make sauce.

Turn off the heat and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Serve salmon with sauce. Makes 2 servings.

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Blackberry Jelly

  • 3 3/4 cups blackberry juice (14-16 cups fresh blackberries)
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 box (1 3/4 ounce) dry pectin
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter

To make the juice, put some of the berries in a wire mesh strainer placed inside of a large bowl. Using a potato masher, lightly mash berries, catching the strained juice in the bowl. Once the berries are well-mashed, use the back side of a large serving spoon to further mash and release remaining juice. Discard berries and seeds. Continue adding berries until 3 3/4 cups of juice has been strained.

In a separate bowl, measure sugar and set aside.

In a large pot, mix berry juice and pectin together. Add butter to reduce foaming. (This is highly recommended as the foam can get pretty thick.) Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, one that does not stop bubbling even while stirring on high heat; stir constantly.

Add all of the sugar at once while continuing to stir constantly.

Return to a rolling boil and boil for exactly 1 minute. Do not stop stirring.

Remove from heat and skim off any foam. (The foam doesn’t have to be discarded. You can eat it with toast as you can and seal your jars.)

Ladle the mixture into sterilized jars, within 1/4 inch of the top. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel if there are any spills on the outside. Cover with two-piece canning lids and screw them on tightly. It’s best to immediately can and seal the jars while hot. If not, you’ll need to keep the jars warm until you are ready to seal. This will help prevent the jars from breaking with a quick change in temperature.

Place jars in a pressure cooker using the canning setting. Or place in a boiling hot water bath for 5 minutes. Once processing is complete, remove the lid of the pressure cooker and allow the jars to slowly return to room temperature (again, to prevent the jars from breaking). Check the lids to ensure all are sealed.

Note: Sugar and berry measurements must be exact in order for the jelly to set properly. You cannot use a sugar substitute with this recipe. Makes 7 or 8 half-pint jars.

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Lemon-Blackberry Bread Pudding

  • 1 pint blackberries
  • 8 ounces baguette, crust on, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 4 1/2 cups)
  • 2 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 F.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Evenly spread blackberries into the dish and place bread pieces on top of berries.

In a saucepan, warm milk, cream, 2/3 cup sugar, salt and lemon zest over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid is very hot and the sugar has dissolved, for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and egg yolks. Whisk the hot cream mixture, a little at a time, into the eggs.

Pour the custard into the baking dish over the berries and bread pieces. Use a metal spatula to press the bread pieces into the custard, coating them well. Bake bread pudding for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine cinnamon and 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. After 40 minutes, sprinkle cinnamon-sugar over the top of the bread pudding and continue baking until the tips of the bread pieces are golden brown and a knife inserted in the middle is coated with thick custard, for about 10 minutes.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes. Top with fresh whipped cream and additional blackberries to serve. Makes 8 big servings.

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Blackberry Mojitos

  • 4 limes, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup mint leaves, stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 can (12 ounces) frozen limeade concentrate
  • 2-4 shots rum
  • Club soda

In a pitcher, muddle together lime quarters, mint leaves and sugar. Add blackberries and muddle just enough to break berries into smaller pieces and release some of the juice. Add limeade and rum; mix well. Pour into glasses or 12-ounce Mason jars, trying to equally distribute limes and mint leaves. Add ice and club soda; stir to mix. Makes 4 servings.

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Blackberry Lemonade

For lemon syrup:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • Zest of 4 lemons
  • 3 cups fresh lemon juice

For blackberry lemonade:

  • Handful of fresh blackberries
  • Sparkling water or club soda

To make lemon syrup, in a large saucepan, combine water and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Add salt and lemon zest. Raise heat; bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Add lemon juice. Strain liquid through a fine strainer and discard the zest.

Pour syrup into a clean jar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes 1 quart lemon syrup.

To make lemonade, measure 3 tablespoons of lemon syrup into a glass. Add a few blackberries and muddle them lightly. Add ice and pour sparkling water or club soda to fill the glass. Stir well and serve. Makes 1 glass of lemonade.

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