Wildwood Blackberries


This weekend my family went blackberry picking.  Since moving to Seattle, I’ve spent many summer hours among the brambles, one foot holding down a thorny shoot while I reached for too-high clusters of perfectly ripe berries.  For some reason the best berries are always just out of reach.  Over the years I’ve tried and discarded various picking techniques.  Once, after having my hands stained light purple for several days, I committed to wearing latex gloves only to find that the thorns shredded them within minutes.  Another, I brought along my daughter’s mechanical pincers to grab shoots; unfortunately, a five dollar child’s toy isn’t as dexterous as the human hand.  Now, I’m back to basics—jeans, old shirt, and a bag full of medium-sized Tupperware containers.

This outing was a bit late in the season and it took us a few hours to fill our containers but we came home with enough berries to make our favorite cobbler.  The recipe I use is adapted from a cookbook we were given when we decided to move to Seattle from Georgia.  I remember flipping through its recipes on the front porch of our house in Atlanta wondering what life would be like here.  The book, Cory Schreiber’s Wildwood was my first real introduction to the ingredients and cuisine of the Pacific Northwest.  Schreiber’s restaurant was one of the innovators in a Portland culinary scene that is one of the best in the nation at present.  The recipes in the book read like an ode to the region’s offerings—wild mushrooms from the forest, berries from the alluvial lowlands, stone fruit from the dry side of the mountains.

Thumbing through Wildwood on my porch in Georgia, those recipes seemed like fresh possibilities for a new life. This many years later, when picking blackberries in summer or foraging morels in spring, I’m still enamored by the idea they represent.

Here’s the recipe.

Blackberry Cobbler with Cornmeal-Biscuit Topping


1 ½ cups packed brown sugar (I always use less)
3 tbs. cornstarch
¼ cup water
6 cups ripe blackberries
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Cornmeal topping:

1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup fine white cornmeal
¼ cup plus 3 tbs. granulated sugar
1 tbs. baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
3 tbs. packed brown sugar
3 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

  1. Preheat the oven to 325. Spray a 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray.
  2. To make the filling: In a medium saucepan, blend the brown sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in the water and 3 cups of the blackberries. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until thick and clear. Stir in the vanilla and let cool slightly. Pour the cooked mixture and the remaining 3 cups fresh berries into the bottom of the dish; set aside.
  3. To prepare the topping: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, ¼ cup granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the cream and mix until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a floured board and knead 8 to 12 times, or until smooth. Cut the dough into 9 portions and roll into balls. Combine the brown sugar and the 3 tbs. granulated sugar. Dip each ball in the butter, then the sugar. Place the balls on top of the fruit. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbling and the topping is lightly browned and cooked through. Let cool slightly and serve. Serves 9.

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