Bred to be sweet even before they ripen, blackberries now grace our grocery store fruit displays all year long. But it’s the locally harvested crop that takes the cake (and the pie!). Bringing more tang than blueberries, which are also in season during the months of June and July, Lowcountry blackberries bake up beautifully.
McCrady’s pastry chef Sean Ehland confesses to a soft spot for this bramble crop. “My grandmother had blackberries growing in her backyard,” he explains. “My brother and I would devour them. She would send us home with a bag full when we left her house—they rarely made the trip.”
Ehland creates three delicate desserts with this favorite fruit. He speckles his blackberry cake with pieces of the broken berries so that they pop in your mouth. Its soft cornbread-like texture contrasts with a vibrant peach and plum purée and a vanilla-enhanced yogurt that he says “adds almost a whipped cream mouth feel.”
A fan of the blackberry and vanilla combo—“I’m a sucker for vanilla; I season a lot of my desserts with it as some would with salt,” he explains—he riffs on the classic crème brûlée for his vanilla pots de crème, which he says is “capped with a sharply flavored blackberry gelée” instead of a crust of burnt sugar. (“Vanilla beans do get pricey,” he admits, “but utilizing the scraped pods to make a vanilla-flavored sugar extends their use. Look for beans that aren’t dried out; they should be a little moist and squishy.”) Using his tried-and-true combo, he also whips up a crème fraiche mousse to pair with his blackberry sorbet, layering them on a bed of fresh berries.
Recently, Ehland traveled up to Maple Ridge Farms in Canadys to take a first-hand look at the fields of plump, flavor-packed blackberries that farmer Fritz Aichele brings down to the Charleston and Mount Pleasant farmers markets. Second-generation fruit farmers, the Aicheles also grow strawberries, blueberries, peaches, Asian pears, muscadine grapes, and mandarin oranges on their 44 acres in Colleton County.
Though many farmers deliver directly to McCrady’s, Ehland also purchases fruit at the farmers markets. The downtown market offers plenty of opportunity to stock up this month, as several of its vendors sell blackberries from their stalls. “That fruit is as close to the soil as you can get aside from picking it yourself,” Ehland says.