Wild Blackberry Pie

On Sunday afternoons in summer, our family went “a-berrying.” In late July we picked raspberries, which was challenging. Raspberries have an annoying habit of sagging in your pail. You set the pail down when it looks nearly full, rest a few minutes in the shade and come back to find that your nearly full pail is now only three-fourths full.

Blackberries don’t do that. Raspberries are like teenagers filling a car for a ride around town. I can almost hear them saying, “Hey guys, get in. We’ll scrunch together and there’ll be plenty of room.” Blackberries are different. They’re like friends who want shoulder room when you crawl into the tent. The first thing you hear is “Don’t crowd us.”

Wild blackberries are larger than wild raspberries, and unlike their red cousins, blackberries have a solid core, which explains why they don’t sag as much in your pail. The only serious disadvantage of blackberries is that blackberry bushes are equipped with thorns. Reach for a particularly nice cluster of berries and you may find your arm trapped by a cane that you overlooked in your eagerness. With luck and some patience you can often retrieve the arm with only minor damage. If not, think of the words of wisdom from my father. “Stop fussing. You’ll heal.” It’s true.

My mother would scrub our hands and arms and sometimes put lotion on the deeper scratches. Then she and Dad would sort and wash the berries. When we found “good picking” we would bring home gallons of berries that Mom turned into jam, canned for winter desserts or baked into pies.

I don’t have my mother’s recipe for blackberry pie. Perhaps she never wrote it down, as it was a pie she had been making since she was a young girl. She stirred berries, flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together and spooned the fruit into a crust she made while the oven was heating. When the wind-up timer went “Brrrng,” she would check the result and either take the pie from the oven or give it a few more minutes.

The first few years we lived in the country we had a wood cook stove, so baking a pie in August made the kitchen even more uncomfortable, but we liked them and blessed the cool breezes that often came in the evening as we ate our warm pie. If we were really lucky, our way home from the blackberry patch took us through Hayward, so Dad could buy a quart of ice cream packed by a soda jerk at the drug store. Pie and ice cream: Heaven!

This recipe produces a pie that reminds me of the ones we ate every August and September when I was growing up.

INGREDIENTS:

Double crust dough for nine inch pie
4 cups wild blackberries
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup + 1 T sugar, divided
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Dash of salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
1 T milk

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Blend the flour, three-quarters of a cup of sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a mixing bowl. Stir the blackberries into the dry ingredients. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the blackberry filling into a nine-inch pie plate lined with an unbaked crust. Drop three or four small dabs of butter on top of the filling. Using your fingers, dampen the edges of the bottom crust with water, then cover with the top crust. Seal the edges of the top crust to the bottom with your fingers, then trim the edges and finish by pressing with a fork or using your thumbs to make a scalloped edge.

Paint with milk and sprinkle sugar lightly over the surface. Cut four inch-long slits in the top crust and bake the pie on a center shelf for about an hour until the filling is bubbling out of the slits. You might want to put some aluminum foil under the plate in the oven to catch any juice that bubbles out of the pie as it bakes.

Cool the pie on a rack and serve with a scoop or two of good ice cream.

NOTES: It is a good idea to cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil if they begin getting too dark. If you bake lots of pies, you should consider a pie crust shield. It is just a ring of thin aluminum that covers the edge of the crust as it bakes.

And of course you can substitute cultivated (tame, we called them) blackberries. The pie will still taste pretty darn good.

Apple Pie

If you drive the back roads of northern Wisconsin, every once in a while you will come to a place where the “No Trespassing” signs are so closely spaced that you assume the landowner got a discount on them. On a hot sunny day in August of 1964, three fellow students and I from the University of Wisconsin found ourselves looking at a phalanx of ugly signs guarding an apple orchard at an abandoned farm near Mole Lake, Wisconsin.

Since the bottom line of each sign said “By Order of the Sheriff” we assumed three things: First, that the signs had been paid for with tax money, part of which we had contributed; second, that the orchard must be on public land; and third, that the sheriff was probably just hogging all those lovely apples for himself and his friends.

I said, “We could make some good apple pies with those apples.” An hour later we were back at the cabin on Mole Lake with two paper sacks and a T-shirt full of apples. One of the guys had gotten permission from an uncle to use the place for a week if we promised to leave it clean with the beer and bourbon supply intact. We made a quick run to the general store for extra flour, lard, sugar and cinnamon and began our pie-baking project.

While I made the crusts, the guys peeled and cut apples. We had hardly started when we discovered that we were in a truly primitive fishing cabin: There was only one pie plate in the place. However, there were three large cast iron frying pans and a 9 x 13 inch cake pan, and I assured everyone that no matter what your mother did, you don’t need pie plates to make pies.

We had apple pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days in a row to go with the bacon, eggs, bass and bluegills. Though the crusts were not the best I have made, and we had to guess on the amount of sugar to mix with the apples, we thanked the sheriff for some of the best apple pies we had ever eaten. Not that we actually said anything to him, of course, but we were sincere in the comments we shared around the table.

As Paul Kelly sings, “Stolen apples taste the sweetest,” but we all knew that long before he wrote the song.

Here is how to make a tasty 9-inch double crust apple pie like the ones we enjoyed that week at Mole Lake. If you want to bake it in a 12-inch frying pan, you have to double the ingredients.

INGREDIENTS:

Pie crust
6 to 8 large tart apples
3/4 cup sugar plus a little to sprinkle on the crust
2 T flour
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
Dash of salt
2 T butter

PROCEDURE:

Make the pie crust dough first, but don’t roll the crust until the apples are prepared. Here is my recipe for plain pie crust.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Peel, core and thinly slice the apples into a large mixing bowl. You should have about 6 cups of sliced apples. Mix the sugar, flour, spices and salt together in a small bowl and stir these dry ingredients into the sliced apples.

Line the pie plate with the bottom crust and fill it with the apples. With the right amount of apples, you should have to heap them a little to get them all in. Scatter small pieces of butter over the apples.

Roll out the top crust, dampen the edge of the bottom crust and seal the top crust to the bottom. Trim the crust and make a decorative edge with your fingers or a fork. Sprinkle the crust with a little sugar. Make four or five slits in the top crust to let steam escape as the pie bakes.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until juice is bubbling out of the slits.

Let the pie cool as long as you can wait and serve pieces with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.

NOTES: The best apple pies are made by combining different varieties of apples. If you are buying apples at the market, choose at least two different kinds. Granny Smith, McIntosh, Braeburn and Jonathan apples are good choices. If you are using whatever kind is on the tree, taste an apple before you make the pie. If the apple tastes very sweet, add a tablespoon of lemon juice before you stir in the dry ingredients.

And if you are running short on pie crust, make Apple Cream Pie.