BY TOM YATES
Blackberry picking was a noble chore on our family farm in western Kentucky. During those blistering hot midsummer days, there were blackberries to be had and someone had to pick them. It was a rough and tumble business. You see, we didn’t grow blackberries on our old Kentucky farm. They simply arrived. Our blackberries grew in places my father’s bush hog couldn’t reach or mow. The tangled prickly brambles twisted through overgrown barbed wire fence rows, corner thickets, rugged ravines, crumbling abandoned farm buildings, and camouflaged critter camps. I was the fetcher of the blackberries. Ever mindful to leave the top berries for the birds while rustling up enough noise to ward off snakes, I was the hunter and gatherer of the summer field berries. Outfitted in long sleeved flannel shirts, heavy socks, and rolled up dungarees for protection, my pretend armor was a suffocating ruse. After every expedition, without fail, I hobbled home with ankle-high cockelburs, chiggers, deep scratches, bloody hands, and blackberries. A big win for an adventurous farm boy. During the weeks of blackberry season, the fruits of my labor brought on summer cobblers, pies, muffins, pancake syrups, and macerated ice cream sauces. For those few fleeting weeks, I felt like the noble prince of summer.
Nowadays, I leave the picking to our hard working farmers. See you later snakes, thorns, chiggers, and bloody heat. Hello, sweet plump summer blackberries. Ripe for the picking at our local farmers’ markets.
Goat Cheese Cheesecake With Blackberry Basil Coulis
Any fruit or berry would pair beautifully with goat cheese cheesecake. Right now, blackberries are having their moment in the sun.
I tumbled 1 pint Pulaski County blackberries into a saucepan, added 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, a pinch ground white pepper, and 3 whole fresh basil leaves. After cranking the heat to medium high to melt the sugar, I reduced the heat to a simmer and let it rip until the berries collapsed from the heat. When the blackberries released their juices and disintegrated into the sauce, I pulled the coulis from the heat, strained it through a fine mesh strainer, discarded the basil-flecked pulp, and set the coulis aside to cool.
To add a subtle savory bent, I crushed 3 tablespoons shelled pistachios in a food processor before tossing them with 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs and 3 tablespoons melted butter. After buttering 8 individual 4 ounce ramekins, I spooned the crumb mixture into each ramekin, tamped the buttered crumbs firmly into the edges, slid the ramekins into a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes, and pulled them from the oven to cool.
A fun little ride on the wild side.
After bringing 11 ounces cream cheese and 4 ounces goat cheese to room temperature, I tossed both into a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, I beat the cheeses together for 2 to 3 minutes before adding 2 Elmwood Stock Farm eggs (one at a time until incorporated), 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons sour cream, and a pinch of salt. To ensure maximum creaminess, I beat the filling on medium speed for 10 full minutes before carefully filling each buttered cup. After placing the ramekins into a hot water bath, I carefully slid them into a preheated 300 degree oven for 24 minutes, pulled them from the oven, let the cheesecakes rest in the water bath for 10 minutes, and transferred them to a wire rack to cool completely before sliding them into the refrigerator to chill overnight.
After bringing the cheesecakes to room temperature, I dipped the ramekins into hot water to loosen the crusts, ran a sharp knife around the edges to release the fillings, and inverted them crust side up to serve on puddles of coulis with fresh blackberries and garden basil leaves.
Both bold and delicate, the salty sweet crunch of the pistachio crust countered the soft creamy tang of the goat cheese cheesecake. While the basil-infused berry coulis provided a tart bright punch, the plump fresh blackberries added warming sweet pops of summer.
Summer berries. Savor the season.