Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Blackberry Pie recipe

My memories of summers in the country as a child are filled with smells, with sounds, with shapes. Hot, hot patches of sun and cool echoing forests of shade. I recall so vividly the sound of birds, unseen in the canopy, the trails winding secretly through the ferns. Sun burnt face and cool foggy evenings, sandals and sweatshirts and fingers stained purple from picking blackberries for pie.
I can’t recall the first time I went berry picking, the memory of my summer country pervades me as the loom on which my soul has been woven. I do recall from an early age the importance of the essentials for braving the thorns and gathering the blackberries.
A loose zip up sweater was a first line of defense against the grasping, entangling vines. The thorns might catch hold of the sweater, but never me. Heavy jeans were armor for my legs and the thorns would break against them Sneakers were essential for forging a path, boldly, in to the depths of the blackberry bushes seeking the treasure of those just beyond reach. A pot with a handle reaching over the top, an old beat up one that no one would miss, was best for carrying home the berries.
I would scout the hills and valleys for the best bushes, cataloguing in my mind their locations, and would check back as the summer progressed to see which ones were ripening first. It never pays to pick berries too early on. A berry that is picked too soon has nothing but sourness to offer. But a berry picked when ripe, when it falls drippingly into my fingers off the vine, has in it the sweetness of warm summer evenings.
It always takes me twice as many berries as I think it should to make a pie, no doubt due to my “sampling” them to check for sweetness… When my bucket would start to get heavy, I knew it was time to follow the winding paths through the forest back home.
To this day, when I smell blackberry pie baking I am transported back to my childhood summers in the hills.

Blackberry Pie
Makes one 9” pie

1 + quart freshly picked ripe blackberries
1 + cups white sugar
2 tbs cornstarch

Pinch of salt

3 ¼ cups Flour
¼ cup sugar
1 cup cold butter
½ tsp Salt
Cold water as needed
Egg white (optional)

Rinse the berries gently in cool water and place in a good sized bowl. Gently toss in sugar and pinch of salt. The amount of sugar will vary depending on the ripeness of the berries and the baking will evaporate out some of the sugar. Generally I aim for making the berries twice as sweet as I want them to end up. Cover and set aside. The longer the berries sit, the better the pie will be. When I can stand to wait, I will leave them in the refrigerator overnight, but one hour is the minimum I would recommend. Save the cornstarch out until later.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl cut the butter into tiny sized bits and gradually ad in the flour mixture, breaking the butter down with either your fingers or a pastry blender until it is the size of small peas. Add in the water a teaspoon full at a time until the dough holds together, being careful not to over handle it.
Separate the dough and roll into two evenly sized balls, place in zip lock bags and refrigerate for at least ½ hour.

Preheat oven to 425º
On a floured surface roll out both balls of dough to a little bit bigger than diameter of a 9” pie pan. Place one pie crust in pan, saving the other one out. I recommend folding the rolled out dough in half, then in half again to get it into the pie pan easily.
Pour the excess blackberry juice off the berries into a pitcher or large measuring glass. Mix the cornstarch with about 1/3 cup blackberry juice and pour over berries. Pour the blackberries into the pie crust. Don’t worry if the pie pan is a little over full – this is good!
Now either place the remaining pie crust on top, pinching the edges together and poking steam holes with a fork, or with a cookie cutter, cut out shapes to make a patchwork lattice of pie crust shapes. Be sure that all the pieces touch one another and the edge, and are glued together with brushed on egg white.

Place in oven on top of an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet and bake at 425º for ten minutes then reduce the temperature to 350º and bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Cool for as close to an hour as you can manage, and serve with vanilla ice cream.
* The remaining blackberry juice can be simmered down to a syrup for the ice cream, but I usually drink it straight!