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Arkansas blackberries are ripe for picking and enjoying

by Kelly Brant | July 2, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.
Cranachan layers toasted oats and fresh blackberries with honey-sweetened and whisky-infused whipped cream. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Arkansas blackberries have been outstanding this year -- plump, juicy and sweet. The sweetest we can remember.

Blackberries are native to Arkansas, and the botanical relative of dewberries, raspberries, loganberries and boysenberries can often be found growing wild along fence rows.

But chances are many of us will be feasting on varieties developed by the University of Arkansas.

The deep, dark purplish-blue drupe is the leading crop in the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture's fruit breeding program. The program has developed more than 40 varieties, including Ponca, Caddo, Natchez, Ouachita and Navaho (what I grow in my front yard).

The division's cooperative extension service offers the following tips for handling and cooking fresh blackberries:

- Select berries that are uniformly black, firm and plump. Berries from thorny plants should be glossy black. Thornless varieties should be dull black.

- Wash the berries just before use. Our old method of washing berries was to place them in a colander and let the cool water run over them, but a tip sheet from UA suggests "gently lifting the berries from the water." We take that to mean submerging the berries under water and using your hands to lift the berries from the bowl, letting any debris like stems or other matter fall back into the bowl. Spread the washed berries in a single layer on paper towels to dry.

- Berries from thornless plants may not release as much juice as those from thorny varieties. For pies and cobblers, try crushing about a third of the berries and then mixing them with the remaining berries and the filling ingredients.

Available by the pint, quart or box ($25-$30 for roughly 5 quarts to a gallon) from local berry farms, Arkansas berries are worth the drive for their superior flavor. If a box sounds like too many, remember, these beauties freeze well and don't require any special prep. Just spread them out on a baking sheet, freeze until solid and then transfer to freezer bags.

If you're willing to brave the brambles (and heat and thorns and creepy crawly stinging creatures), picking your own is an option at some places and it could save you a little money. Recent severe weather -- namely hail -- could have damaged or destroyed many of the crops. Always call or message the farm before you make the drive to pick your own.


This Scottish dessert, pronounced krawn-a-can, layers toasted oats, honey-sweetened and whisky-infused whipped cream and fresh berries. It's traditionally made with raspberries, but we opted for blackberries with excellent results.

Most Scottish recipes call for heather honey, but we used honey from a local apiary. For the whisky, however, we reached for one of our favorite Scotches. But feel free to use any whisk(e)y you like. To keep it local, one of Rock Town Distillery's bourbons would be excellent.

We didn't even try to find medium oatmeal. Instead, we used old-fashioned rolled oats.

- 1/2 cup medium oatmeal (we used old fashioned oats)

- 2 cups heavy cream

- 3 tablespoons honey

- 2 tablespoons whisky

- 1 1/2 cups blackberries, divided use

Toast the oatmeal in a skillet until golden and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a medium bowl, whip cream until thickened and then add the honey and whisky and continue whipping until quite thick.

Mash half of the berries into a puree.

Layer the whipped cream, oats, whole berries and berry puree as desired, saving some whole berries and oats for the top, in sundae or parfait glasses. Serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe adapted from "The British Cook Book" by Ben Mervis

Blackberry Buckle

This buckle -- essentially a skillet cake with fruit pressed into the top of the batter -- is delicious warm or at room temperature, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

- 1 cup granulated sugar

- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

- 1 egg, at room temperature

- 2 cups all-purpose flour

- 2 teaspoons baking powder

- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (less if using salted butter)

- 1/4 cup buttermilk (see note)

- 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided use

- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

- 12 ounces blackberries

- Coarse sugar for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan, pie pan or cast-iron skillet with baking spray.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, use a fork to stir the lemon zest into the granulated sugar until well mixed. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to infuse. Add the butter to the sugar mixture in the bowl. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed until well combined and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together; set aside.

In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, 1/2 cup heavy cream and vanilla.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour and alternating with the buttermilk mixture; beat well on medium speed after each addition. The batter will be thick.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges without smoothing the surface.

Distribute the blackberries evenly on top, pressing them lightly into the batter. Sprinkle the coarse sugar evenly across the top.

Bake for 45 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back halfway through, until golden brown and a wooden tester inserted near the center comes out clean.

If desired, whip the remaining heavy cream to soft peaks.

Let cool slightly, then serve directly from the pan, topped with a dollop of whipped cream if desired.

Makes 1 (9-inch) buckle.

Note: We substituted 1 tablespoon buttermilk powder and 1/2 cup water. Whisk the buttermilk powder into the dry ingredients and add the water to the heavy cream.

Recipe adapted from "Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook: Sweet and Savory Comfort Food From America's Favorite Rural Bakery" by Brian Noyes

Blackberry Mezcal Margarita

Sweet, tart, smoky, floral and fruity, this margarita riff is one of our favorite sippers on a hot day.

- 6 large blackberries

- Sugar

- 1 ounce tequila

- 1/2 ounce mezcal (I like reposado)

- 1/2 ounce elderflower liqueur OR orange liqueur

- Juice of 1/2 lime

- Ice

- Pineapple juice for topping

In the bottom of tall glass, muddle three or four of the blackberries with a pinch (more or less depending on sweetness of berries) of sugar. Add the tequila, mezcal, elderflower or orange liqueur and lime juice. Stir well. Fill the glass with ice and then top with pineapple juice. Garnish with the remaining blackberries.

Makes 1 drink.

Blackberry Jasmine Ice Pops

We love this combination of blackberries and jasmine tea. Use any jasmine tea you like -- green, black or Earl Grey.

- 2 teaspoons loose-leaf jasmine tea OR 2 jasmine tea bags (black, green or Earl Grey)

- 1 1/4 cups just-boiled water

- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds blackberries

- 1/2 cup granulated sugar

- Heavy cream, optional

Steep tea in boiled water for 2 to 3 minutes. Strain to remove tea leaves or discard bags.

Place blackberries in a large bowl and add the granulated sugar. Toss to coat berries in sugar. Pour hot tea over berries and let stand 5 minutes. Using a potato masher, mash mixture to form a semi-smooth puree. Pass mixture through a fine sieve. Pour into molds.

If desired, top off each with a drizzle of cream. Freeze 1 to 1 ½ hours, insert sticks and return to freezer until solid, about 4 hours more.

Makes 8 to 10 (3-ounce) pops.

Blackberry-Peach Galette

Peaches and blackberries are natural partners with complementing flavors and overlapping seasons, so it's only natural to combine them.

- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour PLUS more for dusting baking sheet

- 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust OR 1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie crust (1 crust), at room temperature

- 2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries

- 1 ripe peach, pitted and sliced

- 5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided use

- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

- Milk, for brushing crust

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or sprinkle lightly with flour. Unroll pie crust and place in center of prepared baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine blackberries, peach slices and the 3 tablespoons flour and mix well. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of the sugar over the fruit and mix lightly. Spoon berry mixture onto center of dough. Fold edges of dough over fruit to create a 2-inch border; pinch corners to seal as necessary. Dot berry mixture with butter. Brush edges of dough with milk and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake 45 minutes or until crust is deep golden and filling is bubbly. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

photo Blackberry Buckle (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
photo Blackberry Mezcal Margarita (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
photo Blackberry Jasmine Ice Pops (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
photo Blackberry-Peach Galette (Democrat-Gazette file photo/Staton Breidenthal)

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