August 7, 2011

Wild fruit inspires wild ideas

by Nate Rafn
(Originally published September 2008, Salem Weekly.)

Blackberries are not your typical fruit. They are nutritious, yet often neglected. They are ubiquitous, yet difficult to obtain. Their abundance is unquestionable, yet they are rarely sold fresh in grocery stores.

Blackberry vines grow almost everywhere in the Willamette Valley- on the outer edges of farms, industrial areas, and suburban neighborhoods. The fruit, which ripens in mid to late summer, catches the keen eye of the gleaner, the poor, and the thrifty. The annual blackberry harvest provides families with an excellent opportunity to spend time together. It’s a chance to venture out among the thorns, collect the berries, and savor the simple pleasures of fresh air and conversation.

In the kitchen, blackberries are commonly used to make pies, tarts, and cobblers- all of which are worthwhile endeavors.

However, due to the blackberry’s wild and vigorous reputation, a unique method of preparation may be called for.

In an effort to challenge the preconceived culinary notions of a particular ingredient, some restaurant chefs are surprising their patrons with an outside-the-box approach.

I recently contacted Jeff James, owner of J.James Restaurant, to ask if he had any unusual ideas for preparing blackberries. Without hesitation, he suggested something that aligns seamlessly with his style of modern Northwest cuisine- Pork Tenderloin with Blackberry Ketchup.

Intrigued, I arranged to meet James at his downtown Salem restaurant to see firsthand how he makes it.

I arrive on a quiet weekday morning, before James begins prep-work for dinner service. As he fires-up a large pot of water on the stove, we discuss blackberries and why we both like them.

“I love blackberries,” says James, who was raised in Turner. “The great thing about the Willamette Valley is that our berries are just top notch.”

The first steps in making the blackberry ketchup are to cook the berries in simmering water, process the berries in a blender, then strain out the seeds.

James then adds a blend of spices, which include ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and black pepper. Brown sugar and cider vinegar are also incorporated, giving the ketchup both structure and balance.

Finally, James returns the pot to the stove, allowing the mixture to boil until thickened. The finished blackberry ketchup boasts a rich purple color and a silky, elegant texture.

To serve the final dish, James removes a portion of grilled pork tenderloin from the oven, slices it, and drizzles the blackberry ketchup over the top. It looks good and it tastes divine. The ketchup is spicy and robust, complimenting the charred exterior of the pork.

“It makes a great barbecue glaze,” says James, noting the ketchup’s versatility. “And it’s great on a turkey sandwich too.”

Will we see it on the J.James menu soon?

“I haven’t done it here at J.James in about seven years…I think it’s destined to go back on the fall and winter menu,” says James.

Related Links

Fresh berries in Oregon

More recipes from Living Culture

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