A wonderful Maine treat that is in full season right now is the blackberry, also known as brambleberry, from “bramble,” meaning “prickly,” as anyone that has ever picked blackberries can attest to. The ancient Greeks used blackberries to treat gout and the English applied the leaves topically to relieve burn. Not sure how true this is, but it is said that truces were called during dysentery outbreaks that occurred during the Civil War so soldiers could gather blackberry leaves to make tea to treat intestinal illnesses.
In truth, the blackberry isn’t a berry at all, but an aggregate fruit. Like raspberries and boysenberries they are made up of lots of tiny seeds encased by fleshy fruit called drupelets. When ripe, blackberries become dull-black in color and are just beginning to soften and get sweet. When at their peak, the small depression in each drupelet should be well filled. They should be solid and have plump, juicy fruitlets.
Blackberries contain protective antioxidants such as ellagic acid, quercetin and anthocyanin, which also give them their deep purple color. The anthocyanins are believed to help protect against sun damage to the skin. Just one cup of blackberries provides half the recommended daily value of the antioxidant vitamin C, only 60 calories and a whopping 8 grams of dietary fiber. Blackberries are also a good source of manganese and vitamin K.
It is great that we can pick blackberries this time of year and have them fresh, but they are often available in the grocery store year-round. Blackberries can be eaten plain as a snack or used in many dishes from fruit smoothies to jams, pancakes, cobblers, pies or bars.
• Pick only berries that are ripe. Blackberries won’t continue to ripen once picked.
• Handle fruit gently to avoid bruising. Bruising shortens the life of fruit and contributes to lower-quality products.
• Sort through berries carefully and store loosely in a shallow container to allow air circulation and to prevent the berries on top from crushing those underneath.
• Berries are highly perishable, so store immediately in the refrigerator.
• Don’t wash berries before refrigerating.
• Blackberries last only a couple of days in the refrigerator. Blueberries can be stored longer.
• To prepare berries, rinse gently in cold water. Lift out of the water and drain. Don’t allow berries to soak.
• If freezing berries, place berries on a baking sheet in single layer. Place in freezer and once berries are individually frozen place in a zip-close bag or container for later use.
Blackberry Breakfast Bars
Makes 18 bars
These bars are a great way to start the day. Would also be a great addition to a child’s lunch box.
2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries or raspberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
⅔ cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup margarine or butter, melted
For filling, in a medium saucepan combine berries, sugar, water, lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for about 8 minutes or until slightly thickened; stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
In a mixing bowl stir together flour, oats, brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and baking soda. Stir in melted margarine or butter till thoroughly combined. Set aside 1 cup of the oat mixture for topping. Press remaining oat mixture into an ungreased 9-by-9-by-2-inch pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Carefully spread filling on top of baked crust. Sprinkle with reserved oat mixture. Lightly press oat mixture into filling. Bake in the 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes more or till topping is set. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.