The Great Blackberry Feast

A dinner party idea: Pick an ingredient. Go collect as much of it as you can. Cook seven courses involving that ingredient to feed 10 people. Try not to be sick of the ingredient by the end.

Begin with a drink. Or two. Or three:

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The blackberry martini. Muddle a handful of blackberries in a shaker. Add ice and gin. (You can add an assortment of other things: squeeze of lime juice, squirt of simple syrup, fruit liqueur, etc). Shake and serve with fresh blackberries.

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The BlackFlower. Champagne, half-shot of St. Germain Elderflower, Blackberry.

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Blackberry Sangria: Red wine, brandy, blackberry puree (seeds removed), sliced citrus fruit. Play with proportions.

The meal began simply enough with a tray of hot dogs. Hot dogs in home-made buns (recipe from The Bread Maker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart), with a blackberry ketchup:

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The blackberry ketchup didn’t thicken up as we simmered it, so I added a small amount of corn starch in water and it thickened quickly. Some time in the fridge, and the ketchup was ready. It tasted amazingly strong of blackberries, sugar, vinegar – a perfect foil for the oil and salt on the hot dogs, and the mild rolls. Think of all the other fruits and vegetables you could turn into ketchup….

The dogs were followed by pizzas. Home-made dough topped with olive oil, fennel, goats cheese, and blackberries. Cooked until the crust was crisp and the berries were oozing. When the cutting board was empty, it looked like we had slaughtered something on it:

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As an interlude before the main course, we wrapped blackberries in brie and wild boar bacon (thank you, Savenors). Cooked under the broiler for 5 minutes or until the bacon was hot and the brie was melting.

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Main course: pasta with a red wine, port, blackberry puree reduction (it wasn’t good enough to give the recipe here. I’ll keep working on it) topped with sauteed duck breast. We served it alongside a salad of spinach, blackberries, and a sweet dressing with toasted almonds and poppy seeds (this was a creation of Rachel’s).

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To prepare for dessert, we served blackberries dipped in melted chocolate and cayenne pepper. Melt the chocolate slowly, and once melted, add little cayenne. Taste. Add more if you want spicier. With cayenne, move slowly – you always add more. Then dip away.

Dessert was a blackberry granita. (Like the previous recipes, but use 1 1/4 cup fresh blackberries, puree, and force through fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Mix with 1/4 cup lime juice and shot of port. Dissolve 3/4 cup sugar in 1 1/2 cup water and steep several sprigs of thyme in sugar water for 15-30 mins. Remove thyme, mix sugar water and fruit and freeze).

And the final dessert: Blackberry pie. Some of the fat in the crust is beef suet, the fat that surrounds the kidneys. It has an ideal texture and a mild flavor, which makes it great for pies. Leaf lard is another option, and is the same kind of fat, just from a pig.

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Were we tired of blackberries by the end? Perhaps a bit. Based on how many we had used during the cooking, everyone had eaten about a pint of blackberries (we had picked 17 pints earlier that day at Russell Orchards).

This was a group effort: Erin, Rachel, and Burden all helped with the picking and cooking. David was the host and cooked more than I did (he is the baker and bread maker, as he shall be for my future restaurant).

Coming soon: The Great Apple Dinner…

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