By Julie Grimes

It's always a thorny challenge, a real-life Itchy and Scratchy adventure: While on a country or edge-of-town stroll, we spot the berries hanging heavy on their canes. Blackberry bushes favor ditches, back roads, power right-of-ways, hedgerows. As summer ripens, the fat fruit turns from raspberry red to an intense inky purple. There's about a six-week window, and it varies a lot across the continent. So when we find some, we have to pick. And now matter how carefully the project is undertaken, the thorns bite back. The more reckless on our staff have returned with a good, two-bucket haul looking like they've been in a back-alley battle with a gang of angry cats: streaks of dried blood on legs and arms. But it's worth it. Blackberries are delicious fresh, and cooking applications abound: cobbler, vinaigrette, and barbecue sauce, to name a few. Our latest obsession is Blackberry Curd: thick, tart, beautiful. Well work a few nicks.

Blackberry Curd TartHands-on time: 51 min. Total time: 3 hr. 34 min.

4 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1 cup)1/3 cup powdered sugar1/4 cup almonds, toasted and finely ground3/8 teaspoon salt, divided8 tablespoons chilled butter, dividedBaking spray with flour (such as Baker's Joy)3 cups fresh blackberries1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided1/4 cup fresh lemon juice2 tablespoons cornstarch2 large egg yolks1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar3 large egg whites1/3 cup water

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level. Combine flour, powdered sugar, almonds, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a food processor; pulse to combine. Cut 7 tablespoons butter into small pieces. Add to flour mixture; pulse just until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press in the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch round removable-bottom tart pan coated with baking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

3. Combine berries, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, and juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 6 minutes. Place mixture in a blender; let stand 5 minutes. Blend until smooth. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a medium bowl, pressing on solids. Discard solids. Wipe pan clean; return mixture to pan. Combine cornstarch and egg yolks, stirring until smooth. Stir yolk mixture into berry mixture; bring to a boil over medium-low heat. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Scrape mixture into a bowl; cover surface directly with plastic wrap. Chill.

4. Combine 1/8 teaspoon salt, cream of tartar, and egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Combine remaining 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/3 cup water in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 250°. Gradually pour hot sugar syrup in a thin stream over egg whites, beating at medium speed, then at high speed until stiff peaks form.

5. Preheat broiler.

6. Spoon curd over crust; top with meringue. Broil 2 minutes or until golden.

SERVES 12 (serving size: 1 slice)CALORIES 285; FAT 10.2 g (sat 5.3g, mono 3.3g, poly 0.9g); PROTEIN 3.7g; CARB 46.6g; FIBER 2.5g; CHOL 55mg; IRON 0.9mg; CALC 27mg