Summer Jewels: Blackberries


Overripe wild blackberries, warm with the sun — preferably whiffed from a hiking trail or the saddle of a bike — are the smell of summer in the Pacific Northwest. I grew up navigating their prickly brambles on the slope of the creek where my sister and I played behind our northern California house. Our goal was to pick enough berries to both sate us in the moment, and to bake into a tart for later.

Those blackberries were likely Himalayan or an evergreen variety, the invasive species that grow in dense, thorny thickets, trailing vines that snake along our highways, country back roads, streams, and ditches. Come June, their stalks droop under the weight of the large, round, juicy-but-seedy berries that make better than serviceable jellies and jams.

For the more discerning palate, there are an astounding number of hybrid Rubus species from which to choose: boysenberry, marionberry, loganberry, Chester, olallieberry, Triple Crown, and tayberry. Closely related to strawberries and belonging to the rose family, the 250-plus species has earned its own name in scientific study: batology.

No matter where you find them, blackberries are rich in the micronutrients (or phytochemicals) that ward off disease, keeping both the plant and the people who eat their fruit healthy. Blackberries have a rich history, too, which dates as far back as the fourth century B.C., when blackberries were valued as a food source (fresh and dried), as well as for medicinal purposes.

The powerful combination of phytochemicals and nutrients found in berries in general suggests that we should consume them three to four times per week. When they’re in season, I’d gladly have blackberries three to four times per day! I recommend them in smoothies, with yogurt and granola, stirred into muffins and coffeecake, or spooned over waffles, pancakes, and Dutch babies. Add them to chicken salad, greens, and grains. Make a sauce or chutney for fish, game, and grilled meats. And I don’t have to tell you how many desserts you can make with blackberries. But start with a simple rustic tart, preferably made from the berries you gathered on your morning walk. (Nice ending!)

This smoky-sweet barbecue sauce is good on everything, from lamb and pork ribs to grilled flank steak, chicken wings, and cedar-plank grilled salmon. Its gorgeous color and bright flavor will have you looking for other ingredients to slather and dip! If you’ve got a stash of frozen berries in your freezer, this sauce is a delicious use for them.

Pastured pork ribs with smoky blackberry barbecue sauce

This smoky-sweet barbecue sauce is good on everything, from lamb and pork ribs to grilled flank steak, chicken wings, and cedar-plank grilled salmon. Its gorgeous color and bright flavor will have you looking for other ingredients to slather and dip! If you’ve got a stash of frozen berries in your freezer, this sauce is a delicious use for them.

Serves 4 | 45 minutes for the BBQ sauce; 20 minutes active time for the ribs

Barbecue Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, cut into small dice, about 2 cups
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons freshly grated garlic
2 large chipotles in adobo, finely chopped, about 2 tablespoons
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 pints blackberries, about 4 cups
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey

Put the oil in a small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, stirring occasionally until it is lightly translucent, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the ginger, garlic, chipotles, salt, and pepper, and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the berries, vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, and honey. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally until the sauce has thickened and turned slightly glossy, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.


4 pounds pastured pork or lamb ribs, patted dry with a paper towel
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons ground coriander
4 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 teaspoons Ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Remove the thin, papery skin from the back of each rack of ribs.

Combine the brown and granulated sugars, coriander, paprika, chile powder, and salt. Stir well to combine and rub all over both sides of the ribs. Place the ribs in a single layer in a shallow baking pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line 2 baking sheets with foil, place cooling racks on top, and arrange the ribs on the racks in a single layer, meaty side up. Completely cover the pans with foil and roast for 1 1/2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the rib racks. Spare ribs will take 2 1/2 to 3 hours and baby back ribs 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove the foil halfway through the cooking time. Remove the ribs from the oven and lightly brush both sides with the barbecue sauce.

Preheat the grill to medium high. Grill the ribs 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until they are nicely charred. Brush with additional sauce and cut between the bones to separate into individual ribs. Serve with the remaining barbecue sauce.

Freekeh and blackberries with creamy feta dressing and fennel

Freekeh is an ancient grain and staple of the Middle East. Freekeh is made from green wheat that’s harvested when the grains are yellow and the seeds are still soft. The grains are dried in the sun and set on fire. This imparts a bold, smoky, nutty flavor to the grains that is delicious when combined with sweet ingredients like berries and stone fruit. And salty ones. And acidic things.

This salad is all of that: smoky freekeh dressed in a salty, creamy, feta cheese vinaigrette. Add sweet blackberries, shaved fresh fennel, and acid in the form of pickled shallots, and — between the blackberries and the freekeh — you have a wonderful salad with killer nutritional stats!

Serves 6 | 30 minutes


6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh marjoram
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups cooked freekeh, wheat, spelt berries, or other grain
1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced, about 1 cup (reserve fronds for garnish)
1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries


To make the vinaigrette, put the red wine vinegar in a nonreactive bowl with the shallots and salt. Let sit 30 minutes to soften the shallots. Use a slotted spoon to remove the shallots to a small bowl and set aside.

Whisk the olive oil into the vinegar and add the cheese. It might separate, which is OK. Fold in the herbs, and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the freekeh with vinaigrette to taste. Begin with half the amount and add more vinaigrette if the grains seem dry. Fold in the sliced fennel and pickled shallots, adding more vinaigrette if desired, Finish with the blackberries. Fold them in gently or scatter on top of the salad to keep the berry juices from turning the salad purple. Garnish with the fennel fronds and serve at room temperature.

Rustic rosemary cornmeal tart with wild blackberries

This is the simple tart my sister and I made as children with the berries we collected along the creek behind our northern California house. The recipe has grown up with me and reflects my fondness for herbs with sweets and my propensity to add the crunchy, nuttiness of cornmeal everywhere I can! Make one big tart or individual galettes, and serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. If there are leftovers, have a second slice for breakfast with coffee.

Makes one 12-inch tart | 2 hours 15 minutes, including chilling and baking time


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 scant teaspoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces butter, chilled, and cut in 1/2-inch chunks
2/3 cup ice water
2 pints fresh blackberries, about 4 cups
3/4 to 1 cup granulated sugar, depending on sweetness of fruit
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt


In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, rosemary, and salt. Add the chilled butter and, using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, a food processor, or a pastry blender, mix until the butter is evenly distributed, leaving visible pieces no larger than pea-sized.

Add the ice water to the mixing bowl all at once and mix just until the dough begins to come together. Be especially careful not to overmix the dough if using a stand mixer or a food processor.

Gather the dough with your hands and shape it into a disk. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 15-inch round. Fold the circle in half and in half again, and transfer it to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Open the pastry up into a circle and chill the dough in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Place the berries in a large bowl and add the sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, and salt. Gently toss the ingredients together to thoroughly coat all of the berries with the sugar and cornstarch, and then distribute the filling over the pastry, leaving a 2-inch border. Brush the border lightly with water and fold it up over the filling, allowing the dough to pleat on itself as you lift. It should pleat about 8 or 9 times as you work your way around, leaving you with a shape resembling an octagon. If you have time, chill the tart for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the tart from the refrigerator, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling and has thickened slightly. Cool slightly before serving.

Pastry chef Ellen Jackson is a Portland-based cookbook author, food writer and stylist, and recipe developer. In addition to having a deep knowledge of regional food products, growers, and suppliers dedicated to the celebration of food, Ellen is passionate about the importance of cooking and protecting local and global biodiversity. Learn more at

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