World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Cocktails

Blackberries at Night- Part II


Food memories have been sneaking up on me lately.  I don’t know if it’s melancholy, home sickness or most likely the coming together of a myriad of food memories but blackberries are on my mind. It could be that I am now able to sit in my itty bitty backyard in my new deck chair enjoying the summer air.  All those summertime childhood memories of blackberries, bats and fireflies. I grew up on a bumpy back road that followed a few of the bends of the Charles River outside of Boston.   During those long summer nights we would pass the time my sister, brother and the other neighborhood kids could be found picking and in quick form, eating blackberries by day; catching the lightening bugs in the early evening and then chasing bats by night.  Now I sit in my backyard with a martini glass in my hand.  Those summers were different, full, luxurious and relished.  I needed to get closer to that time.

So on this one Marin night feeling food nostalgic I started the evening with a cocktail concoction featuring blackberries and then moved on to a dinner of lobster ravioli which was in need of a sauce.  After some rummaging in the IBK* which produced some butter, a generous pinch of brown sugar, vinegar and a handful of blackberries all in a saucepan for a few minutes producing a reduction sauce, and a topping of a few toasted crushed hazelnuts.  To those of you who may think this odd try it first.

Blackberries are also called a bramble referring the thorny plant from which they are picked.  According to my botanical guide the name of the bush is derived from brambel, or brymbyl, signifying prickly. And that is the truth, all that sweetness is yours if you have patience and a good pair of garden gloves.

A few years ago on a road trip that took me and C. through Oregon we stumbled upon a few brambles of Marionberries that were the essence of that warm summer day. What I didn’t know then is that there are many, many varieties of blackberries–at last count about 250: boysenberry, thorn less evergreen and the marionberry.  These varieties constitute about 95% of all cultivated blackberries which in North America are primarily found in Oregon, California and Washington. In fact in Oregon farmers grow more than 30 million pounds of this most widely planted blackberry cultivar; it is available in season for only a few weeks beginning in mid-July and ending in early-August.

In California, we have our own special variation on theme. We have olallieberries. A berry of complicated lineage, olallieberries, were an unknown berry to me before living on the West Coast.  It’s a cross between the loganberry (which is a hybrid of the "marion" blackberry and raspberry) and the youngberry (which is a marriage between the "marion" blackberry and dewberry).  Given the strong predominance of blackberry it appears very similar to the blackberry.  Years ago some folks in Oregon were experimenting and came up with olallieberries but they didn’t take to the soil but the plant did like the California coast.

And in particular Swanton’s in Davenport. This weekend I found myself on a day trip south toward Santa Cruz and ended up at the annual Swanton’s strawberry u-pick which happily coincided with the 3-week olallieberry picking window. How lucky can a girl get?   Picking is gentle and hard work.  And now I am bursting with berries, 8#.  There were a few lucky recipients late Sunday afternoon when the blackberry truck pulled up to their door.

There are a number of recipes that are now in my queue which are link below.  In the meanwhile enjoy my post-work backyard cocktail, Blackberry Noir. It may not be fireflies, bats and the river road but it’s my own form of sublime relishment today.

To store: Keep blackberries in the fridge, without washing them, but they are delicate and need to be eaten as soon as possible. Blackberries can be frozen and included in pie or crumble fillings.

Blackberry Pudding with a Cinnamon-Dusted Crust

Smoked Turkey, Blackberry & Mozzarella Sandwiches

Blackberry Smoothie

*IBK = Itty Bitty Kitchen                                                        *Illustration by Paula Becker

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Shaken, Not Stirred


I love to drink Martinis,
Two at the very most
After three I’m under the table,
After four I’m under my host.

Dorothy Parker

Two thousand and six marks the 200th anniversary of the cocktail—or at least the first recorded mention of the word. And while the tradition of the American cocktail is long, and varied you can seek out Mr. Boston for details. There’s really only one clear choice and it is quintessentially Americanthe Martini. (Yes that’s an intentional capital.)

The elixir of choice for M.F.K. Fisher, E.B. White, Kingsley Amis and H. L. Mencken who deemed it "the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet." As Lowell Edmunds discusses in his scholarly deconstruction of the cocktail, Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail, the word "Martini" evokes not only a cocktail, but also an image and an idea. The symbolic potency of the Martini depends first on its uniquely inverted triangular cocktail glass in which it is traditionally, and secondly on its ingredients. This is where the quality of the gin or the vodka matters most. And to many purists it also rides on the name: if someone identifies a given drink as a Martini, then, for symbolic purposes, it is a Martini. Purists when calling for a martini are expecting the gin-based mix. 

There is no other cocktail that is more sophisticated, urban, adult and American than the Martini. It’s symbolic of a nostalgic past–of three-martini lunches, the Brat pack, James Bond and 1950s black and white films.

As with most food lore and history the most cited origin is that Jerry Thomas, a famous and influential 19th century bartender, invented the drink at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, sometime in the late 1850’s or 1860’s. A prospector, about to set out on a journey to Martinez, California, put a gold nugget on the bar and asked Thomas to mix him up something special. There are many other versions but what I know is that while history is valuable what we need to know is how to properly order one.

First things first, gin or vodka? At the risk of igniting a firestorm a bit more history. A traditional martini is made with gin, dry vermouth and either an olive or a lemon peel.  The migration to vodka began in the early 1950s. The glass was no longer stemmed but an Old Fashioned glass. To order the earlier version of the cocktail–chilled, in a stemmed glass, whether with gin or with vodka–one would state "straight-up Martini" or Martini "straight up." The expression was also shortened to "Martini up." James Bond was ever the diplomat and drank a hybrid version.

Like all things in the Land of Plenty you have many choices these days, Mexican Martinis, Chocolate-tinis, and others.  Just order it whatever way you prefer. And I prefer mine similar to Winston Churchill’s,(he’s a gin man, however}–straight up, extra dry and shaken. And just turn toward the direction of France and bow before straining into a shallow glass and garnish.

The James Bond Martini

From Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Three ounces of Gordon’s Gin

One ounce vodka

Half a measure of Kina Lillet

Pour ingredients over ice. Shake it to chill and for texture.

Serve in a deep champagne goblet.