June 25, 2012

Neighborhood Foraging

There are these trees that line the street around my apartment; in people's yards, in sidewalk planters and even across the way in the rec center's space.  The leaves on these trees are a gorgeous deep shade of burgundy until early winter when they all drop to the ground, leaving behind these dainty skeleton branches to stand bare for a few months.  But come February and March, the branches explode in soft pink blossoms, fluffy clouds of flowers, until finally the foliage comes backs to start the cycle all over again.  They really are beautiful trees.  And up until last week, I had no idea that they were cherry plum trees.

I had never even heard of a cherry plum until earlier this month when a co-worker showed me a bag full of them, having just spent the afternoon picking them off the two tress in his yard.  Then on a little neighborhood walk last weekend, as D and I passed the trees right out in front of our building, I noticed what looked like a bunch of smashed cherries on the ground.  And it was the same scene under the next two tress.  Either someone has been routinely dropping bags of cherries onto the sidewalk, or else these were cherry plum trees.

The fruits are just how you would imagine a cherry plum to be.  They're about the same size as a cherry, but more round like a plum and have a sweet flesh with tart skin and a pit in the center.  You can find me out front now, scouting for the fruit and pulling them from the reachable branches.  I like to call it urban foraging.  And just up the hill from us is a little park just covered in blackberry bushes.  You can bet I'll be foraging there as soon as the little green berries turn a deep purple and finally turn sweet.

Until then, the markets are abundant with summer berries (spotted this Saturday: olallieberries), just begging me to take them home.  I love a good berry-based dessert when the weather is warming up, and I really love a berry cobbler.  The way the berries soften and release their juice, the crisp top and edges right after you take it out of the oven, the ice cream just beginning to melt into the whole mess because it's best served still warm that very same day.  This recipe isn't a cobbler in a traditional sense, it's not a biscuity topping dolloped over a mess of fruit and sugar, but more of a cake/cobbler hybrid.  The fruit gets scattered across the batter and topped with sugar to create a delicate thin crust when it's done baking.  And did I mention the cardamom in the batter?  It adds this exotic, perfume-like quality that I find totally irresistible, and just a hint unexpected.

Blackberry and Cardamom Cobbler
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

This is probably not what you'd typically classify as a cobbler, but it's delicious all the same. A little bit cake, a little bit cobbler and a perfect vehicle for those summertime berries that are becoming so abundant. I especially like the way the cardamom played with the mostly sweet, barely tart berries, adding an exotic and perfume-like quality, but if cardamom isn't your thing, you can certainly leave it out. You can also double this recipe and bake it in a pie dish if you're feeding more than just a few people.

4-6 servings

3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
scant 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 heaping tablespoon
1/2 cup milk
6 oz. fresh blackberries
vanilla ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter a small baking dish.

Melt butter in a small dish in the microwave, set aside to cool a bit.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom and scant 1/2 cup sugar.  Slowly pour in milk and whisk until just combined.  Add melted butter and whisk again just until butter disappears into batter.  Pour into prepared baking dish and evenly distribute the blackberries over the entire surface.  Sprinkle the remaining heaping tablespoon sugar over the top.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the top is golden and the edges crisp.  Serve warm or room temperature with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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