The Revealing, Secret Diaries of a Not-So-Secret Foodie

Blackberries

In Essay, Faith, Food, Gab, Photos, Recipe on March 5, 2011 at 11:25 pm

blackberries in basket

It is amazing how, even today, the sight of blackberries can always make me smile.  I smile when I spot them in the produce section at the grocery store.  I grin when I find them collected in wooden baskets displayed in neat rows on narrow folding tables at the local farmers’ market.  And, I am delighted when I spy a new use for them tucked away within the pages of Wednesday’s food section in our suburban paper.

Why all the sweet smiles over something someone else might consider bitter?  Because, these black beauties immediately bring me back to the very sunny summers of my youth.  Not to the lovely memories of vacations spent mostly on the beach.  But rather, to the unclouded daydreams of summer days spent mucking about the brambles and weeds in the untamed acre of land next to my Grandparents’ home in western Pennsylvania.

What a fairytale place a field of wild weeds can be, when transformed in the mind of a child.  Every black-eyed Susan encountered is an unexpected gift to be harvested.  That lone, vibrant orange tiger-lily bloom stumbled upon is, in a child’s imagination, as rare as the much sought after exotic Columbian orchid rooted where the Orinoco flows rapid.  Nevertheless amidst the beautiful distractions, the hidden treasure is ultimately discovered basking in the summer sun.  The tangled purple brambles underfoot couldn’t be missed.  A thorny reminder of the real purpose of the day’s expedition; wild blackberries.

On hot July days, Gramma would send me out to gather wild blackberries.  After a quick mist of Avon’s “Skin So Soft” to ward off the bugs, she’d encourage me on the exciting journey with a small but deep, stainless steel mixing bowl.  Like an old friend that little bowl held tight, keeping me on track and mindful of the time.  Once filled to the brim, I would know I had harvested enough berries to make a pie–a delicious blackberry pie.

The thought of that pie ensured the successful completion of the chore at hand.  I wonder if Gramma knew that.  Perhaps the reason she chose that same bowl whenever sending me out to gather wild blackberries.  I do not know. However, I do know she often marveled at my ability to soak up the details especially when in nature, while cooking or whenever listening to her stories on the back porch glider.  I do hope she knows just how much I relish the vivid memories of my childhood excursions picking blackberries.

In any case upon my return, the filled bowl heaping, we would begin to make the pie together in her tidy kitchen.    I would sit on her counter.  Or, sometimes even stand on a kitchen chair to get the job done.  Following a recipe written in her hand on a small white index card, we’d proceed. First, we’d cut the butter and flour into the size of small peas using a pastry cutter.  Next we’d carefully add, tablespoon by tablespoon, ice-cold water until the little pea-sized particles were able to bind together forming a much larger ball.  Without handling the dough too much, we’d wrap the large ball in wax paper.  It would have to wait in the fridge until later while the blackberries were deliciously prepared as detailed in cursive on her card.

With the dough chilled, we’d roll it into a perfect circle.  It had to be just the right thickness.  Only slightly larger than the pie plate it would eventually cover.  Then, all the berries which were so adventurously collected were poured down onto that spectacular crust. Tiny squares of oleo pieces were gently dotted on top of those berries, now covered in sugar.  Finally, another round crust that mirrored the first was put on top and sealed with a crimp.  Never forgetting to cut vent holes while dusting it all with a bit of sugar it was ready to pop in the hot oven.  Then we’d wait.  We’d smell.  We’d quickly sneak a peak to see how things were progressing.  We knew it was done when the crust was golden brown and the deep purple juices could be seen wildly bubbling underneath those tiny decorative vent holes.

Then it would cool.  And we would wait again.  Wait until later that evening when we shared it with someone we both loved very much; my great-grandmother, her mother, Helen.  Gathered close around the kitchen table, the three of us would enjoy that pie.  But more, we would enjoy the gift of each other.  We talked about how flakey the crust was and how juicy the blackberries were that year.  We recalled what a scorching hot day it was or how crazy dirty I got collecting those berries.  Or, we’d discuss Ida’s new recipe we heard on Gramma’s talk radio program.  One we were planning to make very soon.  Sometimes, we’d just laugh.

I miss my great-grandmother.   She was a special lady to me.  A kind and loving woman who really knew how to make lemonade when life gave you lemons.  Although gone for almost twenty-three years now, she made a lasting impression on me.  And her daughter, my Gramma, who took care of her for what seemed to be forever, showed me how to care for someone’s spirit with food and conversation.   Although uncomfortable with pain and prone to choking, my great-grandmother still looked forward to trying her daughter’s and great-grand daughter’s new recipes around that small kitchen table.  It was something she enjoyed.

Everybody needs a little blackberry in their life.  A little special something that keeps you connected to your past and makes you smile whenever you run across it.    Maybe it even motivates you to whip up a little something to share with your family to tell the story of that special someone who you know is smiling down on you.  Most certainly bragging to everyone in heaven about that fabulous Blackberry Pie you made from scratch when you were ten.

cobbler without spoon

And so, you know, our little blue house is always on the look out for new ways to use blackberries.  I found the recipe below for Southern Blackberry Cobbler in the food section of our local paper last July.   It was taken from a recipe book by Joan Allers entitled, Cider Beans, Wild Greens and Dandelion Jelly:  Recipes from Southern Appalachia.  Although not my Gramma’s Blackberry Pie from my childhood, this Southern Cobbler sure fits the bill.  It is quick and easy, taking only 30 minutes to bake and about 5 minutes to throw together.   Plus, I happen to know that my sister buys frozen blackberry cobbler for her husband.  I am hoping this one makes it into her Keeper Box and she never has to thaw one out again.

You will be amazed how elegant this super easy dessert can be when served over vanilla bean ice-cream with a basil leaf garnish on top.  The crust of the cobbler is a golden, flakey delight.  The warm bubbling purple syrup and concentrated tart berries compliment the sweet creaminess of the ice-cream.  Be sure to take the extra step of brushing the top of the pastry with milk and dusting with sugar.  It gives a special rustic quality to the cobbler.  Besides, what kid won’t break into a big smile when they notice the sparkling sugar crystals that top this winning dessert?

Southern Blackberry Cobbler

Ingredients:

5 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed and drained well

¾ cup sugar  

1 tablespoon cornstarch

⅛ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits

1 unbaked pastry for 9-inch single crust pie (I like Pillsbury Pie Crust in the Red Box)

1 tablespoon milk

1 Tablespoon sugar (White sugar is just fine, but sprinkling sugar crystals will dazzle while adding a nice texture) 

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Pour the berries into a 9-inch square baking dish. Mix together the ¾ cup sugar, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the black berries. Dot the top of berries with the butter bits. Place the pie crust over the berries. Seal the edges against glass dish. Cut several slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Brush with milk and sprinkle crust with 1 tablespoon of sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees until crust is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature over vanilla ice-cream.  Garnish with Basil or Mint leaf, if desired. 

 
 
Sweet Summertime Memories that Inspire Stories & Smiles.
 

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© suebthefoodie.com, 2011.

  1. Simply a gorgeous story to complement a delicious desert! Keep up the good work Sue, you are a gifted writer, chef, and friend.

    • Angela, As always, thank you for your support. I was so inspired when I saw those blackberries at Target to share my story about two generations of woman who are so special to me. Appreciate your kind remarks! PS. I am so glad you are only a few doors down. It is so fun talking food with you!

  2. Sue how did you major in biology when your true gift is writing? I can so picture everything with your writing and the memories come flooding back of Pennsylvania.

    • thx Lynne. It is so fun. Hey, besides without the biology I would not have know about the orchid hunter or the orinoco. Right? I loved working in the lab, photographing cells I saw in such detail and meeting such great people working for cures to diseases that won’t be found for years to com. It was a blast. I also got to write for a more technical audience. Wouldn’t change a thing. XO

  3. sue…you continue to inspire me each day! Your posts are a delight to read and are quite touching, too. Can’t wait to read more.

    • thank you Jen. I can’t wait to write more for you to read. I am so loving writing these short stories. They will help me get to my lifetime goal of writing a novel. One written from the heart, so my boys can see what a creative cat their mum can be when she puts her mind to it ; )

  4. Susan, you have a wonderful way with words! I enjoy the blog and going to try some of the recipes. What about a good marinara sauce to go with meatballs?

    • Thank you Melissa. I was waiting for someone to ask. I have a wonderful marinara that goes with the meatballs. It is very special to me. An awesome meal for a celebration or just the right meal to celebrate hanging out with your family on a relaxing Sunday! I will post soon. Thank you for asking and continuing to support my dream of being a writer. I appreciate your kind words so much! Hope all is well with you and your family. PS. Be sure to plant some tomatillos this spring!

  5. Sue, your last two stories have brought tears to my eyes! You have a way with words–and you have a way of bringing back good memories from my childhood. Keep the stories coming!

    • So glad my last two stories touched you! Appreciate your heartfelt comments so much. To be honest, I had tears when I re-read what I had written. The stories came from a very personal and special part of my heart. So glad I shared them. They have been in my heart for years just waiting to get down on the page. Thank you asking for me for more stories. I have alot of them waiting to be written. I am loving pursuing my dream!

  6. I really, really, really love that Top Gun guy!!!

  7. I remember the same bowl! I remembering picking those blackberries ! Getting poked getting them. The bees on the clovers beneath our feet! It was so fun to gather them. Funny thing I have no recollection of the darn pie! I had no interest in cooking even then weird! Atleast my Marshall shows an interest. I rember grandma Zavada, despite her crippling of every digit and toe, she never complained or had a harsh word to say. I still can picture her soft skin and hear her soft voice. I hope she hears us thinking of her. I know I hear her! I’m so grateful for her! Love you so! Ps thanks for the happy tears while driving on family vacation. Wish u were here. Lori:)

    • I remember her very soft earlobes and how she loved when I brushed her hair. Very special lady! PS. Wish I was there. U are going to love it but take time to enjoy the ride along the way. So many beautiful things to take in. XO

  8. Ps, Ironic it’s my husbands favorite dessert. I know he didn’t marry me for my cooking. May have to stray from mrs smiths frozen version this summer!

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