Home Grown Chef: Blackberries

Blackberry crisps in mason jars. / Photo by Dina Avila

I think of blackberry season as a temporary roadside attraction. Most of the year, I curse the prickly vines snaking around trees, bushes and up telephone poles. But in deep summer, the blackberry bush redeems herself. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, my three children and I migrate to a roadside mecca where we find the previously scorned vines beaming with indigo berries.

Despite the thorny challenge, I pick the darkest berries I can reach and drop them into my bucket. My littlest guy, picking from the bottom, shows me his haul of red and green berries. Not wanting to crush his effort, I smile. Nothing a little added sugar can’t fix. We hurry home to get the berries in a crisp, a pie or a jam before they disappear into mouths. Remember, about the time school is back in session, blackberry season is over.

Whether from alongside the road or at a U-Pick farm, I recommend choosing blackberries that are plump and shiny. Once picked, they do not last long so pop them in your mouth, freeze them or get them into a recipe as quickly as possible.

My family loves blackberry crisp with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which I also recommend eating—sans ice cream—for a breakfast treat. I prefer to bake this dish in wide-mouth halfpint canning jars for tidy, individual servings that give this simple dessert a flair it didn’t have before. Another reason I like this method is because I have a child with a nut allergy, yet I love walnuts. Individual servings allow me to forego the nuts in some and mark the nut-free jars with a toothpick. When they come out of the oven, I know exactly which one is his and, which is mine!

Blackberry Crisp

Makes 8 individual servings in wide mouth half-pint canning jars or one 9 x 13 inch baking dish

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole grain rolled oats

½ cup walnuts, chopped cup brown sugar, lightly packed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup cold, unsalted butter (1 ¼ sticks), cut into cubes

6 cups fresh blackberries cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Combine flour, oats, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together in a medium bowl. Using a pastry knife, two butter knives or your fingers, cut in the butter until it’s the size of peas and mixed evenly with the dry ingredients. Put the crisp mixture into the freezer for at least 30 minutes, and up to three months, in an airtight container. Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Stem and wash your blackberries. Let them drain in a colander until dry. In a medium bowl, gently mix the sugar and cornstarch with your berries. Fill each canning jar 2/3 full with berries and the remaining 1/3 with the crisp topping, leaving an inch for ice cream. Set your jars on a cookie sheet with sides or in a shallow roasting pan to catch any spills that occur during baking. Carefully slide the jars into your preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the berries are bubbling and your topping is golden brown.

If using a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spread your berries over the bottom. Evenly cover your berries with the crisp topping. Bake as above. Serve crisp warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy.

Note: Use caution when handling the hot jars out of the oven. In the unlikely event that any jars cracked during baking, discard them. Do not use this recipe for vacuum sealing the crisp with lids. Use the jars only as a serving vessel.

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