Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lovliest of Trees, Blackberry Pie

The highlight for me on our trip to the produce farms was seeing row upon glorious row of cherry trees. They were in bloom. (spring came very early here, nature beat congress by weeks) I adore cherries. I absolutely go completely, totally apeshit for cherry pies. One of my favorite pies to make is a cherry/raspberry combo pie. I got the recipe off the food network. It was the overall winner on one of their pie challenge shows. But more on that later.

First, one of my favorite A.E. Houseman poems. From A Shropshire Lad (1896)

II. Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

I have far fewer than fifty springs left for walking among blooming rows of cherry trees. I was walking with the owner of the farm and produce stand. Talking about how I used to come to these farms as a kid. The young man I was walking with is the third generation of Japanese American folks to make their living on this patch of land. I told him how happy I was to see this splendor and artistry spring from one of the deeper crimes of American policy. He said that his grandparents talked about being forcibly moved from the Monterey peninsula. How one of his great uncles still volunteered for service in our army and was killed in the brutal assault on Monte Casino. Then we started talking food. The strawberries are beautiful this year. Huge, bright red and bursting with juice. The kids were walking carefully among the rows with their baskets, juice smeared over their faces. Then we moved to the blackberries. My neice came out of the blackberry rows with scratches all up and down her arms. She didn't care. She had a full basket of glorious, fat, glossy blackberries. Then we started singing "Who wants pie? Oh my, my. We're making pies tonight!" The strawberries are being dipped in chocolate, but that's another post. We'll talk about that when we take some chocolate dipped strawberries to our new farming friends.

This recipe comes from my grandmother. It is very close to the recipe that is in The Pie and Pastry Bible the difference is that Nana always kissed the berries in her pies with a little ground cloves and a sprinkle of nutmeg over the top. I'm going with Nana on this one.


Pie Crust for a 2 crust 9" Pie
1/2 cup baker's sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons fine grated lemon zest (using meyer lemons from the trees next door)
pinch kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups blackberries (if you are still doing the through the snow trudge frozen works just fine here)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
freshly grated nutmeg to sprinkle over the top of the fruit right before you put the crust on top.
a little more baker's sugar mixed half and half with powdered sugar to sprinkle over the lattice crust

Roll out your bottom crust so there's enough to cut a 12" circle and put that in the pie pan. Trim to a slight overhang, cover with plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge.

In a large, non-reactive bowl mix the all the ingredients except for the nutmeg and hand toss them gently to mix them all well and thoroughly coat all the berries. Now, walk away from it and allow it to macerate (just sit there) for half an hour so that the berries will begin to release their juices and the dry ingredients get nice and sticky. Toss gently again and transfer to the bottom shell.

Grate about half of a nutmeg over the top of this.

Because of the tremendous amount of juice that tends to bubble out of this one, I like to use a lattice crust. To make this is very simple. Roll your pastry dough out until it is around 1/8" of an inch thick and then with a very sharp knife cut it into 1/2" strips. Lay a row of strips across the pie leaving enough room for a second row between strips. Put the first cross strip down, fold the bottom strips gently back over this, lay in your second row, lay down a cross strip. Now repeat that until the pie is covered. All you have to do is fold back the strips on the bottom of each cross strip that you lay down. Trim off the edges of the strips, moisten the ends with a little water (or lemon juice, doesn't matter) tuck them under the bottom shell and crimp. Cover the whole thing loosely and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the pastry to relax.

Right before you put this in the oven sprinkle the top crust very lightly with the half and half mix of baker's and powdered sugar. This will carmelize on the top of the crust and work as a clotting factor to help control bubbleovers. Preheat the oven to 425° with your rack and a lightly greased foil covered baking stone on the bottom rung. The foil is to protect the stone and the bottom of your oven from any bubbling spillover. It is especially going to happen if you are using fresh berries. You don't want to be faced with trying to blast this off your baking stone or the bottom of your oven. Small precautions taken now will save you tons of nasty work later.

Set the pie directly on top of the stone and bake for 30 minutes (45 minutes is what you'll need if using frozen berries but you'll need to check it after 30 anyway)
After 30 minutes put a foil ring around the edge of the pie to ensure even browning. Then, check every five or so minutes. What you want to see is a deep golden brown crust and a thickly bubbling filling. I must caution you when you take this out of the oven to not dip your finger in one of the little bubbleovers! It will stick and burn worse than napalm. (go ahead think about why I feel such a need to tell you this, then giggle at me and move on)

Cool on a rack at least 4 hours before serving with your favorite ice cream or dollops of freshly whipped cream.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you pick ripe blackberries at cherry blossom time????????

In this neck of the woods blackberries are difficult to find at all (the growing season's too short), but cherries bloom briefly in the spring (practically defining its onset), while those berries don't come ripe until high summer (July or August), when they ripen at all. It works the same way around Philadelphia, where you can grow both raspberries and also blackberries.

- oddjob

12:44 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

we only had one freeze this year. but normally we have two picks on the blackberries. they tent with clear plastic to give them a headstart and this was a bit early but not unnaturally so.

3:00 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

our last two weeks have been in the high eighties/low nineties. (nyeh nyeh)

3:01 PM  
Blogger Sherry said...

nyeh nyeh, oh phooey on you!!! ; )

have you see the pic on my blog og our recent weather???

anyway, oh my, thanks for this.

my sister and i love blackberry pie. i will try this one later in the year.

4:23 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

yes, i saw that. of course, none of the folks down here fleeing the snow want to be anywhere near when the temps top and stick well above 100° unless you've been acclimated by long stays and know how to deal with it there can be real damage done.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

our last two weeks have been in the high eighties/low nineties. (nyeh nyeh)

That's our heat wave weather in July and August. When it gets that warm my sea breeze usually dies out and I sweat at night, but that's the only time of year that I do. Right now outside it's about 43. I woke up to a coating of light snow from last night, but it soon melted once the sun was out.

- oddjob

6:24 PM  
Blogger pissed off patricia said...

When I lived in Pa. in a second floor apt, there was a very large cherry tree just outside my window. When it was in bloom, it was the only thing we saw when we looked out the window. Such a beauty that tree.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Pogo said...

MB, now you're talking! God, damn!! Cherry pies and blackberry pies- I spent my summers as a kid crawling through a blackberry thicket down near the creek we hung around when the southern heat started to turn angry, getting scratched up to hell and back (and keeping a close eye out for snakes) while filling up a 2 qt. pail of black berries, the remains of which my Mom would bake into pies and cobblers. God, my mouth is watering just typing this. (And there weren't any cherry trees anywhere near us, but I loved cherry pies, even though they were made with canned cherry pie filling.

And, yes, Michael Savage is a liar, hypocrite and most importantly, an ASSHOLE.

7:10 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

there are some parts of the white mountain rez where i grew up that the blackberries form impassable thickets. sometimes, after braving the tangles of thorns we would come into little cubbyholes that were the favored abode of deer, elk and other critters. blackberries always do it for me. and huckleberries. and pinon pine nuts. and cattail roots. . .

8:27 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

it is very rare for the farmers here to grow pie cherries. they tend to concentrate on the out of hand eaters. my new farming friend does have eight rows of ten trees each that are pie cherries. i have promised him all manner of bribes from my kitchen for preferred access. i also have offered to show his wife how to do chocolate trees and other strawberry chocolate things. it's going to be a fun summer. i was talking with my brother in law about how i thought the kids enjoyed the day at the farm way more than their last trip to a theme park. for pies, because of a lack of accessablity to the particular fruit i have had to relax my preference for local grown and fresh as possible. pie cherries begin to degrade at the instant of picking and if not cooked immediately need to be blanched and canned right away. for pie cherries i have had to settle for canned or frozen. now that i know of a place for the fresh i will be able to get a few totally fresh pies made. after that i should have a supply of home canned stuff made up. . .then it's back to the stuff from the store. . .(sigh)

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is very rare for the farmers here to grow pie cherries. they tend to concentrate on the out of hand eaters.

My impression is that pie cherries really grow best (at least from a commercial point of view) in climates with cool summers, plus enough cold in the winter to chill the buds sufficiently. Michigan is, hands down, the pie cherry growing capital of the country. The area near Traverse City teems with such orchards. Pennsylvania is a big tree fruit growing state, but not so much for pie cherries.

- oddjob (BS, horticulture, 1981, Penn State, pomology/breeding specialization)

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cattail roots

I've read before that they're edible. Can you explain please what makes them so special?

- oddjob

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Oh, now that I think of it, while I completely understand what you mean about the beauty of the cherries when they bloom, you haven't lived until you've smelled & seen a Southern Magnolia in flower! The tree is not as impressive since it doesn't bloom en masse, but the flowers it does have appear here and there around the trees beautiful dark green, shiny leaves. And the aroma!!!)

- oddjob

12:52 AM  
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9:10 PM  

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