Blackberries are to me the essential summer fruit. My memories of blackberries are blazing hot days camping – limbs brown as a berry, hair bleached pale blonde, a perpetually sunburned nose – I was a child of the creek, meadow, forest, lake and golden hills. Strong and lithe from running and climbing trees and swimming my mom could barely entice me out of what ever body of water we were near; it was pure joy.
At the last camping trip before school if we were lucky the blackberries that lined the creeks and rivers would be ripe, and we would test the berries daily to see if they were ready to be plucked by greedy fingers, wincing from the brambles. Old coffee cans would be deployed, some with strings tied through holes punched by an awl near the top rim and worn about the neck, and we were instructed to return when the can was full.
Wading through strong currents to reach blackberry bushes so laden they were almost touching the water my sister and I or my little friends and I would strive to get every berry possible, fingers and mouths stained purple. Perhaps half of our harvest was consumed on the spot for testing purposes. Occasionally a howl of anguish would be heard when we barked a shin against an underwater snag or when a particularly enticing berry slipped from our pruned fingers into the flowing water.
Damp, bedraggled of hair and clothes and purple all over we would trudge back to the campsite where mom would sugar down the berries in a bowl covered with a mesh umbrella to keep out the yellow jackets. The slim metal can that fit inside the old ice cream maker would be filled with her vanilla bean custard base and dropped inside the tub, then layered between crushed ice and rock salt. We would turn and turn that handle and eventually we couldn’t make it move anymore, when my dad or his pal Fred would reach down and give it 20 easy cranks; we would marvel at their strength. The ice cream maker would be swathed in beach towels and hidden in the shade to harden the ice cream while we ate dinner in the slanting sunshine of the late summer evening.
After our dinner fat curls of creamy ice cream would be dished out and we were allowed to fill our bowls with as many blackberries and sweet purple syrup as we could fit. The sweet juice at the bottom was always the best part and we would take elaborate pains to swirl the berries and ice cream together to create violet hued streaks with our spoons. If no adult was looking we would lick the bowls clean with our hummingbird-Labrador tongues.
Blackberries bring that feeling for summer bliss back the instant I eat one, even on a foggy blustery San Francisco winter night. It sounds funny to write about blackberries in the middle of winter but Driscolls Berries in Watsonville grows organic berries year -round, thanks to our mild climate. They invited me and a small group of food bloggers to attend a special dinner featuring their blackberries cooked by Rick Rodgers, a special chef and author from New York, a seminar on food photography tips and tricks by Caren Alpert, a local legendary food photographer and food styling and prop technique by Carol Hacker, a San Francisco prop stylist. It was quite a room full of talent and I learned a lot.
The event space was fun too, in the Dogpatch area of SF at the Hands On Gourmet space; their staff were top notch and it is a cool old converted warehouse complete with paned windows like they have at Fort Mason.
Down the rabbit hole! The delicious Blackberry Cobbler cocktail.
We sipped on wine and mingled, it was like a reunion with many of my favorite food blogger friends. I really enjoyed getting to talk to Rick of Driscolls Berries and our long chat about organic farming and the fruit industry in California throughout the last few decades was enlightening.
The event started with cooking demonstrations by Chef Rick then Caren and Carol would style and shoot the food item using Caren’s gorgeous camera tethered to a laptop. Although the photos shown here are my own it was fascinating to see the three of them work together and see the many conversations and adjustments that were made to the tableau to produce the desired shot. Despite my lack of photography equipment (I use an iPhone 4), it was very gratifying to see that my instinctual attempts at photography are perfectly in line with their teachings, after all isn’t having the eye and instinct 90% of being a good photographer?
The first demo was for the slurpable Blackberry Cobbler cocktail. It reminded me of a cocktail I had recently at Rye, my favorite watering hole. The bartender there used crushed ice and raspberries but the rest was essentially the same. I have included the recipe at the end of this article, go wild and try other berries!
The first course was a savory blackberry custard tart, shown above. Oh how depressed I was that I couldn’t even try one but given the rapidity of their disappearance from everyone’s plates they seemed to be exquisitely tasty.
If you would like a sweet blackberry tart recipe, Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy developed a gorgeous version for the party.
The entree was a pancetta-wrapped pork loin roast with a blackberry sauce which the chef called a compote, but I would make it again cooked down and strained. I love wrapping roasts in bacon and so that wasn’t anything new for me but the sauce was a big hit. He served the roast with a cold salad of roasted fennel, more blackberries and gorgonzola cheese. I believe this salad will become part of my regular repetoire this year.
Desserts were quite lovely; Chef Rick made a cobbler with a crunchy topping that was baked like a granola and served with Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous vanilla ice cream. He also made a blackberry bundt style cake that smelled delicious.
To thank us for coming the kind folks at Driscoll’s gifted us with basket after basket of blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, along with a perfect berry colander, an apron and one of Chef Rick’s cookbooks, mine was about Christmas – how timely! Also the staff at Baddish Group gave us each a pastry tamper, what a wonderful gift! I cannot wait to use mine, no more using my thumb or my pestle to make mini tart shells.
It was a very enjoyable evening and I learned a great deal as well as enjoying the company and the great food. The best take away for me for the whole evening was knowing the Driscoll’s berries are available all year long, and they taste just as sweet in the winter as they do in the heat of the summer.
Blackberry Cobbler Cocktail
1/2 cup ripe blackberries, plus extra for garnish
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
11⁄2 oz. gin
1⁄2 oz. Crème de Cassis
Splash of sparkling wine
In a mixing glass, muddle blackberries, lemon juice and simple syrup.
Add the gin and the Crème de Cassis. Top with ice and shake vigorously.
Pour into a tall glass and top with the sparkling wine. Stir from the bottom up and serve with more blackberries for garnish and a straw for sipping.
Serving Size: 1 cocktail
Read more about the event from the San Francisco Examiner