Ronnie: I bought something from you last week and I'm very disappointed.
Shopkeeper: Oh yeah? What's the problem?
Ronnie: Yeah, well, my blackberry is not working.
Shopkeeper: What's the matter, it run out of juice?
Ronnie: No, no it's completely frozen!
~ BBC One, The One Ronnie
It's a sign of the times when you tell people 'we got free blackberries last weekend' and they think you scored a new mobile phone.
I remember going fruit picking all the time as a kid: getting scruffy knees from kneeling down in strawberry fields in the height of summer, getting prickled by boysenberry brambles when bush walking and coming home with ice cream containers filled with ruby gems and purple fingers. A whole day of entertainment for us kids. Free child labour for our parents. Wins all round.
Nowadays, all the strawberry fields in Albany have turned into subdivided suburbia and most of us get our berries in clear plastic punnets and our veges all hygienically dirt free from the vege aisle in a fluorescent lit supermarket. So what an absolute treat it was to find wild blackberries growing on the side of the road on our way home from a trip out to Moeraki Boulders last weekend.
We'd spent an amazing day at Moeraki (an hour out of Dunedin) on the beach posing with the boulders and feasting at Fleur's Place and were on our way home when, on a whim, we decided to take a little side trip down a windy road and lo and behold, eagle-eyed Erin spotted blackberries in the bush. The road was lined with rambling bramble bushes.
Most of the blackberries within reaching distance had already been picked by camp-goers in the nearby campground and the prime bunches laden with berries were just out of reach, fiercely protected by thorny branches. But we managed to get a few handfuls with a bit of bush crashing and thanks to Nat's long limbs. Just enough to make Rhubarb and Wild Blackberry Crumble Bars.
A berry good haul indeed.
I was inspired by the gorgeous dessert we had had at Fleur's Place after our spectacular meal (review here). We shared an apricot and strawberry crumble with creme anglaise and strawberry ice cream. The crumble layer was incredibly light and crispy, like they had crumbled on top a very short shortbread cookie. It was revelatory. Crumbles I've had are usually crunchy nutty oaty toppings (which are delicious mind you) but this crumble, with its buttery cookie-like texture, was a decadent delight: so light, so buttery, so crisp.
I think I came close-ish. The always trusty Smitten Kitchen had a beautiful looking Blueberry Crumb Bar recipe which I tweaked a little to try and get it a bit shortbreadier and used rhubarb and blackberries in lieu of blueberries. I had really wanted to use plump juicy Central Otago apricots a la Fleur's Place, but it seems their fleeting season had come and gone with the end of summer, so I went with good old rhubarb instead.
The bars turned out crisp, buttery and scented with vanilla and the filling, delightfully tart with bursts of blackberry mixed with the lightly floral rhubarb. Noms. Cannot wait to try this out as a crumble topping.
Rhubarb & Wild Blackberry Crumble Bars
Adapted from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen.
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour
240 g cold unsalted butter
1 large egg (size 7+)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups blackberries (you could also use blueberries, raspberries, boysenberries or even a mix)
2 1/2 cups rhubarb stalks, chopped into 2 cm pieces (I think next time I'll add a little more fruit, say 1/2 cup more?)
1/2 cup caster sugar
4 teaspoon cornflour
1 Tablespoon cold water
1. Preheat the oven to 190oC. Line a 27cm square deep baking dish with baking paper.
2. In a bowl, whisk 1 cup of sugar, flour, baking powder and salt together. Rub in the cold butter with your hands or a fork (this way takes ages an my hands got real tired!), or a pastry cutter (I think I need to invest in one), or in a food processor until it resembles bread crumbs. In a separate small bowl, lightly whisk the egg with the vanilla. Mix the eggy mixture through the flour mixture. The dough will appear quite dry. Don't panic! It's supposed to. Press in 2/3 of the mixture into your prepared baking dish to form an even bottom layer.
3. In a large bowl, tip your berries and rhubarb in alternately to get a roughly even mixture. Mix the 1 Tablespoon cold water with the cornflour to get a slurry, mix in the 1/2 cup sugar and then gently toss the sugary slurry through the rhubarb and berries.
4. Sprinkle the fruit over the base evenly. Then take handfuls of the rest of the dough, squeeze it in your hands to get chunks and sprinkle over the fruit.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown on top. Wait until completely cool to cut into bars. Store in an air tight container for up to 3 days.