Posted by: A Part of the Solution | July 9, 2010

Peak Experience: Blackberries

As a dedicated foodie, many of my peak experiences include, involve or center wholly around food: finding food, preparing food, eating food. This post is about blackberries. And the point at which they reached their apotheosis within the range of my personal experience. Boy, did they ever!

I was living in south London, behind Bob Marley Place and Marcus Garvey Way, on Spenser–just off Shakespeare Road (look ’em up in the London A to Z, they’re all right there). Shakespeare Road is long and straight, because it runs along a railroad track for most of its distance. As I walked home one evening in August, a bramble snagged my sleeve. I pulled the thorny branch from my clothes and looked again at the railway waste over the fence next to the sidewalk. Ahhhhh! Three hundred yards of virgin blackberry bramble, and they were all ripe.

Next day, I set out at 5am with a three quart container under my arm. I chose a likely looking break in the fence, squeezed through and picked blackberries the size of the top joint of my thumb. Forty-five minutes later, I walked back into the house with the container overflowing.

The blackberries were sweet. They were huge. They were practically seedless. And I was the only person in London collecting them.

Before the clock found six, I had a crème anglaise going on the cooker. Crème anglaise is one of those simple foods based on the same core technique which makes fruit curds possible, and it is the foundation of good ice cream recipes. All one requires is sugar, salt, egg yolks, vanilla and milk. A nice swirl of butter to finish is good, but not absolutely necessary. Especially if you pull the warm pan from the stove and pour it directly over a bowlful of blackberries still warm from the sun.

I’ve been picking blackberries since I was five. I’ve picked them in brambles at the beach. I’ve picked them in thickets edging fields. I’ve picked them in little glades in deep forests. But I’ve never had them as good as I did that morning. I’ll never stop picking blackberries. I had my first handful of the season just today. But I don’t expect I’ll ever beat, or even meet, the quality of the forage I had in Brixton that sunny August morning.

Crème Anglaise

3 egg yolks, beaten until slightly lighter and thicker

1 1/4 c. milk

1/4 c. sugar

1 pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 TBSP butter (optional but yummy)

Make a double boiler by fitting a bowl (metal or ceramic) into a pot such that the water in the bottom of the pot is close to, but not touching, the bottom of the bowl. With the water in the pot simmering, heat the milk, sugar and salt together. When the mixture is quite warm to the touch, stir it carefully–drop by drop at first, and increasing to a thin, steady stream–into the beaten egg yolks. Return the mixture to the top of your double boiler. Stir constantly, and gently, after 10-12 minutes it will begin to thicken and coat the back of your spoon. Remove it from the heat and stir in the optional butter, or set the bowl over ice and stir until somewhat cooled. Add the vanilla. Serve immediately, or within five days.

You may make this thicker by adding one more egg yolk, or decreasing the milk by 1/4 – 1/3 c. You may make this richer by using half-and-half instead of milk. You may make this sweeter by adding up to two more tablespoons of sugar. I like mine somewhat thin and not too rich or too sweet. Chacun à son gout!

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Responses

  1. You go, girl!

  2. I got thrown out of that flat because of them there blackberries!
    They were good though.

    • Oddly, that’s not how I remember it. I thought it had something to do with you shaving your legs in the sink upstairs. How do the blackberries play into that scenario?


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