I bet you’ve never had blackberries. How is this possible? Those clamshells at the grocery store full of hopefully dark, plump, non-moldy berries can look okay, but upon tasting them, they are flavorless and consist of more seeds than actual juicy fruit. They’re more like cousins to blackberries. Cousins that have been grown to be able to survive the trek from typically California to wherever you buy them, rather than grown for their flavor.
Enter farm fresh blackberries. These are nothing, absolutely nothing, like their grocery store counterparts. And if you think you don’t like blackberries, do yourself a favor and seek some of these out. They vary in size from huge to quite tiny, but all of them are sweeter, have the best blackberry flavor you can imagine, and have fewer and less noticeable seeds. The thing is they can be exceptionally hard to find. I haven’t seen them at any local farmers’ markets since I’ve been shopping at them for the past few years. They usually are in the stores for a couple weeks each July, but I never saw them this year, though I am still holding out hope for a few late season berries. So my wonderful Dad headed to the nearest blackberry farm, about half an hour away from our house, to pick them.
It is not an easy task, I am told. As a girl who keeps her outdoor time to a minimum, this is something I would never do, but Dad likes to be outside and doesn’t mind doing these crazy things for his “little girl,” so off he went to pick berries. The weather was hot, though not as hot as it has been lately, and the process involves lots of walking, reaching, and being attacked by the blackberry bushes. Yet he says it’s not that bad and he kind of likes it, which is great because I love the end result.
They weren’t as big as I’ve seen, but they were among the best flavor wise. So delicate, juicy, and full of flavor, they can be crushed with the softest touch, the first sign that they are nothing like what is found in the store. The next is the burst of juice and flavor with each bite. The final, that the seeds are almost nonexistent.
I wanted to make something fabulous with them, so I headed over to Brown Eyed Baker’s blog for a recipe; I consider her the celebrity of the baking blogger world. I spend my days hoping she’ll notice me or even leave a comment on my blog as I hope I’ll one day run into someone like Matt Damon in town filming a movie or get a Twitter response from Alton Brown or Bobby Flay. I found Blackberry Pie Bars, a treat that looked amazing and unlike anything I’d ever made before. They took a little longer to assemble than I thought they would, but they did not disappoint. Not by a long shot.
A wonderful tender and crumbly shortbread crust with a rich creamy custard like filling surrounded the bounty of blackberries, topped off with a little crunch from some of the reserved shortbread. Each bite is pure joy and a different experience. It was the perfect thing to make with the blackberries. Even Dad, a blackberry hater, ate a whole piece, proving just how delectable these bars are.
If you’re a blackberry lover, and even if you think you’re not, seek out some great farm fresh berries to have your mind blown. Then make these bars, and you’ll want to eat blackberries every day.
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, cold, cubed
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup sour cream (I’ve been using Daisy and loving it)
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 6 cups fresh blackberries
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.
- Make the crust. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and orange and lemon zest. Rub the sugar and zest together with your fingers until it is distributed throughout and fragrant.
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse to combine the sugar and zest mixture, flour, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is evenly distributed and no bigger than the size of peas, about 15 times. The food processor bowl will be extremely full, so take caution. If you have a small processor and it does not fit, use a pastry cutter or forks to make the dough in a large bowl. After pulsing there may still be a few larger pieces of butter. Mix them in with your fingers. Reserve 1 ½ cups of the shortbread for the topping. Place it in the refrigerator until it is ready to be used. Press the remainder of the crust in the bottom of the pan. It will form a thick layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Cool while preparing the filling.
- Make the filling. Combine the eggs, sugar, sour cream, flour, salt, and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir until there is a homogeneous mixture. Very gently fold in the blackberries to prevent breaking as much as possible, though some is inevitable. Pour the mixture over the crust. Even out as much as possible. Distribute reserved shortbread evenly over filling.
- Bake 50-60 minutes, until the top is lightly browned and the edges are golden brown. It will still be very jiggly. Cool for at least 1 hour before cutting into bars. May be served warm, at room temperature, or cold. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or frozen, wrapped in parchment and foil and placed in a zipper bag for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature for about an hour.