Blackberry season in south Louisiana is just past its peak, but loads of berries are still out there for the picking. From the countryside to the urban fringe, nearly every brushy thicket, ditchbank, scrubby roadside, or unmowed field is home to a patch of blackberry brambles. Last winter’s prolonged cold stimulated the berry vines to flower excessively, and a bumper crop of black- and dewberries makes for extraordinarily easy picking. No bending, stretching, or fighting through the thorns is necessary–just stretch out a hand toward lots of sun-facing, upward berries, waiting for a hungry human (or bird, raccoon, or possum).
My sister generously shared her overwhelming blackberry bounty with me. In a matter of minutes on a hot afternoon, we picked gallons of fat, sweet drupes along the edges of her bayou backyard. Her share of the berries ended up as the thick, fruity base for drop dumplings, and I turned mine into freezer jam and a blackberry cornmeal cake.
What is freezer jam? It’s jam for the truly lazy: simply stir together a quick-set, powdered pectin like Ball’s RealFruit Instant Pectin, sugar, and fresh fruit. Wait 30 minutes, then spoon the mixture into small, freezer-safe containers. Whenever the urge for jam strikes, defrost the prepared, frozen jam in the refrigerator, then eat it. No cooking necessary: no hot-water processing, no sterilizing canning jars and lids. (Thawed jam must be refrigerated and consumed within a week of defrosting. Read more about freezer jam over at npr.org.) The best part of freezer jam is the bright, uncooked, pure fruit flavor.
Thanks to self-rising flour, the cornmeal cake, reworked from an old Martha Stewart recipe, was nearly as quick to prepare as the freezer jam. Even after a week in the freezer, the blackberries were as juicy and tart-sweet as if freshly picked.
Blackberry cornmeal cake
- 1-1/4 cups self rising flour (I like King Arthur, but White Lily or Martha White self rising will also do)
- 1/2 cup cornmeal (white for a snowy cake, or yellow for a cheerful one)
- 1 cup of sugar (or less, if the berries are very sweet), plus 1 tablespoon of sugar for topping
- 1/2 cup of milk, soured with 2 tsp vinegar
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon butter to coat the baking pan
- 10 ounces of fresh blackberries, washed and drained (about two cups by volume)
- 9″ or 10″ cast iron skillet or baking pan (enameled cast iron like Le Creuset is ideal)
Preheat oven to 375. Brush a cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon melted butter and place skillet in oven to heat. Stir together self rising flour, cornmeal, and 1 cup of sugar in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine soured milk, eggs, vanilla extract, nutmeg, and melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until mixture is evenly moistened to make a thick batter. Remove skillet from oven, spread the batter into the heated skillet, then scatter blackberries evenly atop. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar atop the berries and batter. Bake for 45 minutes, until well browned and evenly risen. Allow to cool slightly before slicing.
This recipe is fairly bulletproof, so play around with it. A few suggested recipe hacks:
- Try rubbing 1 T finely chopped fresh mint with the sugar before combining it with other ingredients.
- Add 1 T finely grated lemon zest to the batter.
- Scatter a handful of sliced almonds or pecans atop the batter before adding the berries.
- Use light brown sugar in place of white sugar.
- Substitute yogurt in place of the soured milk.
- Use fresh or frozen blueberries or raspberries, or a combination of diced peaches and blackberries.