Darling, dewberries are just divine

Published 11:59 pm Friday, May 8, 2009

My husband brought in a large basket of what we thought were blackberries, but isn’t it early for blackberries? I started looking and reading around. What we had were dewberries. I had never heard of dewberries until I was recently reading a book on wild foods, Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons. He notes the species of blackberries and dewberries are numerous and the differences technical. He suggests we call the berries borne on upright canes blackberries and those borne on trailing vines dewberries. I further learned that dewberries (Rubus eubatus) are native to North America and there is a European dewberry. The plants do not have upright canes like some other Rubus species, but have stems that trail along the ground, putting forth new roots along the length of the stem. These trailing stems get covered with dew in the morning —hence the name. The stems are covered with fine spines or stickers and we have an added sticker — the barbed wire fence where most of these vines live on our place.

Mr. Gibbons also states that dewberry pie is a great favorite in the South. I’m from the South and had never heard of dewberries though I am sure some of those blackberries of my childhood were dewberries. I looked through my favorite Southern cookery books and only Martha Foose mentioned dewberries. Mrs. Foose is a Mississippi native and notes that along fence posts in the Mississippi countryside, brambles droop with the dark fruits—-dewberries being some of the first blackberries of the season.

We have been eating them with whipped cream or yogurt for breakfast, lunch and dinner but also making cobblers.

Blackberries are expensive in the store if you find them. So start looking on the roadsides or fence lines for the trailing dewberries and a little later for the blackberries.

This Mississippi version of cobbler is from the book, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, by Martha Hall Foose. (I just read in the paper this week that Mrs. Foose’s cookbook won the James Beard Foundation 2009 award for Best American Cooking.)

Dewberry Dumplings

Serves 12

6 cups fresh dewberries or frozen blackberries, thawed

2 cups sugar, or more to taste

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 cups Baking Mix (given below)

2/3 cup whole milk

Heavy cream, for serving

In a Dutch oven, combine 4 cups of the berries, the sugar, butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until boiling. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and juice. Add to the blackberries and cook and stir for 1 minute, until the mixture is translucent.

In a medium bowl, using a fork, combine the baking mix and milk. Drop the mixture by tablespoons into the simmering berries. Cook over low heat, covered, turning the dumplings occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the dumplings are cooked through. Add the remaining 2 cups berries.

Serve warm in bowls with a little cream if you like.

Baking Mix

The baking mix can be used in recipes in place of commercial baking mixes and makes a nice drop biscuit. Makes about 4 cups.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup cake flour

6 tablespoons nonfat powdered milk

2 tablespoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable shortening, cold

In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose and cake flours, the powdered milk, baking powder, and salt with a whisk. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work the shortening into the dry ingredients until no lumps remain. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

To make drop biscuits with the mix, combine 2 1/2 cups biscuit mix with 2/3 cup milk in a large bowl using a fork. Drop by tablespoons on a baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes or until golden.

I made this blackberry cobbler (Alabama Style) out of the dewberries. It was a wonderful cobbler and topped with cream or ice cream it is a great dessert. It is from Scott Peacock’s and Edna Lewis’s cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking. Scott is from Southern Alabama and gave the name to the cobbler.

Peacock Family Alabama-Style Blackberry Cobbler

Serves 8

The Blackberry Sauce

5 cups fresh blackberries (dewberries)

2 ½ cups water

½ teaspoon salt

¾ -1 cup granulated sugar

The Dumplings

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled

¾ cups half-and-half

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

6 tablespoons crushed sugar cubes

Vanilla Sugar for garnish (To make, take 2 vanilla beans and twist and bend, then split with a paring knife lengthwise. Put them in a one quart jar and pour the sugar over. Store in a cool, dark place for at least four days.)

To make the sauce: Put the blackberries and water into a non-reactive saucepan. Crush the berries gently with the back of a wooden spoon, and bring to a low simmer. Cook, partially covered, for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the berries through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing gently on the solids until all of the juice is extracted. Discard the solids, and add the salt to the juice along with ¾ cup of the sugar. Taste for sweetness—the juice should be rather sweet, so add more sugar is needed. Reserve the sweetened juice and allow it to cool. (you can do this step one or more days ahead.) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Make the dumplings: Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or two dinner forks, quickly work the chilled butter into the flour mixture until it is the texture of oatmeal. Pour the half-and-half over, and stir just until the dough comes together. Turn it onto a lightly floured surface, and knead briefly, six to 8 turns, with floured hands.

Pat or roll out the dough into a disk ½ inch thick. With a biscuit or cookie cutter, stamp our eight rounds 2 1/2 –3 inches in diameter.

Arrange the cut dumplings in a buttered 2-quart baking dish, and pour the cooled blackberry sauce over them. (The juice should cover the dumplings, but do not be concerned if the dumplings float.) Bake in the preheated over for 20 minutes. Remove the baking dish from the oven, and carefully baste the dumplings, then dot the tops with the small pieces of butter and sprinkle the sugar cubes over. Return to the oven, and continue baking for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the dumplings are golden brown.

Serve the dumplings warm with some of the blackberry sauce spooned over and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream…YUM.