Blackberry Balsamic Vinegar
In British Columbia, blackberries grow wild along fences, snaking through streets and taking over great swaths of real estate in Stanley Park. The last time I went for a visit in the early fall, every walk to the corner store was a graze-fest for me, plucking ripe berries until I had torn every shirt that I brought along and my fingertips were stained red for weeks afterward. In my brother’s apartment I rolled out pastry dough with a wine bottle and savored the sweet smell of blackberry pie bubbling away in the oven.
At home, we planted a couple of blackberry canes in the back yard. I chose a nice sunny spot where they could grow tall and strong, supported by the fence but with plenty of room to roam. They chose not to. In fact, each spring I watch expectantly as the poor bedraggled plants make a half-hearted attempt to bud and then just kind of slump down and start counting sheep. That said, between the few handfuls that we get from our plant, and the couple of quarts that we steal from my parent’s back yard, we do end up with enough fruit to sweeten the season. The bigger problem is that they never ripen at once.
The first week there will be a scant cup, enough to blend into a smoothie or eat fresh and warm from the sun. The week after, another cup. And then another cup. Never enough to make a pie, just enough to tease, so the random bits and berries get collected up and frozen until I have a stockpile. Oh, and by that time it is mid-way through the blackberry season, and all of a sudden the plants go mad, heaving and panting, dropping fruit by the bucket and it’s a challenge to use up all the fresh berries that are on hand. FINALLY, time for a pie! A blackberry grunt! A crumble, my heart for a crumble! Then the season is over as quickly as it came, the craving for fresh blackberries has been sated, and there are 4-5 half empty bags of berries languishing alone in the freezer.
This, my friends, is a great way to use them up. Blackberries and balsamic; like apples and cinnamon, coconut and lime, or strawberries and chocolate, some great things are just meant to go great together.
Blackberry Balsamic Vinegar
Yields just shy of 750 mL, or enough to fill a regular wine bottle
- 3 cups (around 1 lb/450 g) blackberries *
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 dried red chili
- 2 cups balsamic vinegar **
* Either fresh or frozen are both fine. If the blackberries are quite tangy or sour, increase the sugar up to 1/3 cup. If they’re saccharine already, decrease it to 3 tbsp. You really never know with fruit, do you?
** I don’t want to be a flake and say “good balsamic”, because the blackberries will improve even a barely mediocre balsamic. But…do you really want to live that way? Don’t skimp on your condiments, people. A complex aged balsamic would be wasted in this application so you certainly don’t need to break the bank, but don’t be a skin flint. Go buy something decent -not awe inspiring, just decent – because it will just get better.
Place the blackberries, sugar and dried chili in a medium pot set over moderate heat. Let the mixture cook down for 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly to make sure that the sugars don’t burn.
When the blackberries are syrupy and have started to reduce slightly, pour in the balsamic. Stir the mixture until it is combined and take the pot off the heat to cool.
Use a fine mesh strainer to separate the solids from the blackberry infused balsamic, pressing against the pulp with your spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard any solids that remain.
Pour the vinegar into a clean and sterilized jar or bottle and seal it until it is ready to use. If you’re going to have this on hand for an extended period of time, you may can/heat process half of the mixture in a sterile jar. This vinegar will keep in a cool dark pantry for upwards of 6 months as long as the lid is tight, or you can keep it in the fridge to further extend the shelf life.
Blackberry balsamic is delicious drizzled on seasoned slow roasted beef or veal, sweetening a liver pate, bleeding down through a bowl of plump strawberries, garnishing a perfect wedge of salty Parmigiano Reggiano, or swirled into an oil bath to dip your warm rosemary focaccia. Of, if you’re anything like me, you just can’t wait to use it in a salad.
Tender leaf lettuce, thinly sliced apple, icy blueberries and toasted pecans are perfect tossed with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and a splash of your own homemade blackberry balsamic. After all, you don’t need to source your own grape musk and then delay gratification for 12 years to actually make your own balsamic. Sometimes it’s just that little something, the homemade touch, that splash of love that can elevate an already good thing and, frankly, make you feel just a little bit smug.
For most of us (who don’t live in BC where the sun shines stronger, the tomatoes grow bigger, and there is only one weed to speak of) it is a few weeks past the season to pick fresh blackberries off the bramble, but fret not. It’s always frozen blackberry season!