Dewberries have been a favorite springtime treat since I was a kid. I used to go with my grandmother, aunt and sisters to pick as many dewberries as we could. Then my grandmother, Bessie Zemanek, would take the dewberries and turn them into delicious jelly or cobbler.
I love dewberry jelly. My favorite after-school snack was Ritz crackers topped with dewberry jelly. That combination doesn’t work with other crackers or with any other flavor of jelly. The buttery, salty crackers and the sweet, slightly tart dewberries work really well together. It’s so simple and so good, the perfect balance of sweet, salty, sour and buttery.
Dewberries are similar to blackberries, and they grow wild all over Central Texas. They’re a little smaller than blackberries and have a more tart flavor. Dewberries are usually ready to be picked in late April or May. You can tell they’re ripe and ready for picking when they turn a deep, dark purple, almost black, color.
When my sisters and I were kids, we would go across the street from my grandmother’s house and pick dewberries along the railroad track, where they grew abundantly. Now our favorite spot to pick dewberries is alongside a busy road in Bryan. There are always lots of cars whizzing by, and we get all kinds of questioning looks from drivers as they pass. We’ve even had some people pull over and share tips for other spots where they pick dewberries.
The last couple of years I have gone to Bryan to visit my aunt, Liz Zemanek, and we have spent the day picking dewberries and making jelly. I always come home with lots of fresh dewberries that I then make into a cobbler or save in the freezer to be used throughout the year. And I always come home with several jars of jelly that I savor for months as well. Luckily for me, no one else in our house seems to like the jelly as much as I do.
This year, unfortunately, there will be no jelly as all the rain this spring hasn’t been good for the wild dewberry crops. I did have some of last year’s harvest still in the freezer, so I used it and a handful of strawberries to create a batch of freezer jam, which is much easier to make than traditional jelly.
In addition to learning to make jelly, I learned quite a lot about cooking beside my grandmother in the kitchen of her farmhouse. Being the daughter of a Czech immigrant, my grandmother was, of course, a natural at making kolaches, and I spent many hours watching and helping her make them. Her favorite variety was poppy seed, and for Christmas a couple of years ago, Liz even gave me a poppy seed grinder, which is needed to make the filling for poppy seed kolaches.
Over the course of a few Christmas holidays, Liz gave me and my sisters crystal glasses from Mama’s wedding set, a DVD of my grandmother explaining the step-by-step instructions for making kolaches and a silver spoon that was worn down on one side from the many, many times it scraped the bottom of a cast-iron skillet. Every time I use that spoon, it brings back memories of cooking with Mama in her little farmhouse in Bryan.
Double Berry Freezer Jam
- 4 cups fresh or frozen dewberries, blueberries or blackberries
- 3 cups fresh or frozen strawberries
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 packet (1.59 ounce) freezer jam pectin
In a food processor, pulse dewberries 2-4 times or until finely chopped, stopping to scrape down sides. Pour into a medium bowl. Pulse strawberries in food processor 8-10 times or until finely chopped, stopping to scrape down sides. Add to the dewberries in bowl. Stir in sugar and let stand for 15 minutes.
Gradually stir in pectin. Stir for 3 minutes, then let stand for 5 minutes.
Spoon mixture into sterilized canning jars, filling to 1/2 inch from the top. Wipe jar rims clean. Cover with metal lids, and screw on bands. Place in freezer.
The jam will keep in the freezer for up to a year. Thaw in refrigerator when ready to use. Thawed jam will keep in the refrigerator for 3 weeks.
Makes about 5 cups jam.
Vanilla-Champagne Soaked Fruit
- 1 bottle (750 milliliters) Champagne or sparkling wine
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 pint fresh raspberries
- 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1 pint fresh dewberries or blackberries
Bring champagne, sugar and vanilla to a boil in a large saucepan set over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, 4-5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook 10 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half. Remove from heat and let cool.
Place the fruit in a bowl. Pour half of the cooled syrup over the fruit and mix gently. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours. Reserve the rest of the syrup for the Champagne Flip recipe. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
When ready to serve, spoon the fruit over the Goat Cheese Cheesecakes.
Makes about 10 servings.
Goat Cheese Cheesecakes with Berries
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Pinch of salt
For the cheesecakes:
- 1 envelope (0.25 ounce) unflavored gelatin
- 1/3 cup milk
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 4 ounces goat cheese log
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- Vanilla-Champagne Soaked Fruit (recipe above)
To make the crust, stir together graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and salt. Divide mixture among ten 8-ounce glasses, using about 1 heaping tablespoonful each. Press the mixture onto the bottoms of the glasses and chill for 30 minutes.
To make the cheesecakes, pour milk in a small saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over milk. Let stand 1 minute. Cook milk mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 3-5 minutes or until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat.
Using a stand or hand mixer, beat cream cheese and goat cheese at medium speed until smooth. Beat in sugar, lemon zest and salt. Slowly add milk mixture and beat until combined.
In a clean mixing bowl, beat heavy
cream at high speed until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the cheese mixture. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the mixture into each of the prepared glasses. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 6 hours. To serve, top with Vanilla-Champagne Soaked Fruit.
Makes about 10 servings.
- 1 pound ripe dewberries or blueberries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Finely grated zest and about 2 tablespoons juice, from 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the crust:
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the baking dish
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
To make the filling, combine the dewberries, sugar, lemon zest, juice and salt in a mixing bowl. Use the back of a spoon to press the mixture and burst some of the fruit. Stir and cover. Let the berries macerate at room temperature for at least 2 hours or up to overnight, stirring occasionally.
Pour the juices from the bowl into a small saucepan over medium heat and bring just to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes, until the liquid is syrupy and has reduced by about half. Pour the reduced liquid over the berries.
To make the crust, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl for a hand-held electric mixer. Beat on low, then medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Add the egg and vanilla, then beat on medium speed until well mixed, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until incorporated to form a soft, sticky dough.
Transfer the dough to a separate bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes or refrigerate for up to 3 days.
When ready to assemble, heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-by-12 baking dish with a little butter. Spread the fruit evenly in the bottom.
Allow the dough to come to room temperature for about 10 minutes.
Flatten some dough between your hands to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Lay it on top of the fruit and repeat to cover the filling as much as possible. Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour; the top should be a dark golden brown and just set. Let cool for 20 minutes before serving.
Makes about 8-10 servings.
- 3/4 ounce brandy
- 2-3 dashes orange liqueur
- 1/4 ounce cream
- 1/4 ounce simple syrup
- 4 ounces Champagne
- 1 pinch nutmeg
Shake brandy, orange liqueur, cream and simple syrup over ice cubes in a shaker. Strain into a Champagne flute, and carefully fill with Champagne. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve. Makes 2 servings.